Just about a year ago, the numerous allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein poured out of the mouths of his accusers one after the other. Then, a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano, calling for victims of sexual harassment and assault to use the words “me too” on social media, became the catalyst for the popular whirlwind movement in the U.S. Now we’re seeing the birth of #MeToo in Bollywood.
There have been conversations about whether or if ever #MeToo would take flight in the Hindi film industry, with many doubting it would happen in the near future. Since Tanushree Dutta’s recent sexual harassment accusations against actor Nana Patekar, choreographer Ganesh Acharya and director Vivek Agnihotri, other major allegations against a lengthening roster of the nation’s public figures have come to light. It seems that survivors are now finding the courage to speak out and name their abusers.
A Television and Film Legend’s Sexual Transgressions Exposed
One of the most harrowing accounts came on Tuesday, Oct. 8 from television writer, director and producer Vinta Nanda. In a Facebook post, Nanda detailed her memories of being raped on the way home from a party 19 years ago. The perpetrator was none other than popular ‘90s actor Alok Nath, a colleague at the time and the husband of a close friend.
“I started to walk home on the empty streets although the distance to my own house was long,” Nanda wrote. “Midway I was accosted by this man who was driving his own car and he asked me to sit in it and said he would drop me home. I trusted him and sat in his car. I have faint memory after that. I can remember more liquor being poured into my mouth and I remember being violated endlessly.”
She also described other instances on the sets of “Tara” when the now 62-year-old actor reportedly sexually harassed the lead actress of the television show. The post spoke to a culture on the sets that both encouraged and turned a blind eye to such actions:
“He was an alcoholic, shameless and obnoxious but he was also the television star of that decade, so not only was he forgiven for all his bad behaviour but many of the guys would egg him on to be his worst. My lead female actor was being harassed by him. He would mess with her on the sets and everyone would be silent.”
“Neither I am denying this nor do I would agree with it,” he said. “It (the rape) must have happened, but someone else would have done it. Well, I do not want to talk much about it as for the matter if it has come out, it will be stretched.”
He went on to say that he was responsible for Nanda’s professional success and that it would be wrong for him to comment on the situation because only a woman’s account would be taken seriously in “today’s world.”
Since then, in solidarity with Nanda, actresses Sandhya Mridul and Deepika Amin also disclosed their own experiences with Nath and continued to expose his terrifying transgressions.
Phantom Films Vanishes into Thin Air Amidst Sexual Assault Controversy
A Huffington Post India article published on Saturday, Oct. 6 revealed serious allegations against another influential Bollywood personality. A former female employee of production house Phantom Films accused director and producer Vikas Bahl of sexual impropriety following a 2015 “Bombay Velvet” cast and crew party in Goa.
The woman, whose identity has not been disclosed, said Bahl walked her to her room in the early hours of the morning, seemingly concerned about her safety due to a limp acquired from a previous injury. According to the article, the pair said their goodbyes at the door, but Bahl snuck into her room while she was in the bathroom and then pretended he could not move from the footrest of the bed where he had placed himself.
After repeatedly asking him to leave, the woman eventually created a barrier between them with pillows. Bahl then allegedly pushed his hand up her dress, and as she attempted to push away his advances, he exposed himself and began to masturbate.
“What Bahl did to me that night in that hotel room in Goa has had a lasting impact,” the woman said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “I am still healing. It has affected my relationships, my spirit, my social life, everything.”
She also said that she delayed confiding in Bahl’s Phantom Films partner Anurag Kashyap because of the disastrous failure of “Bombay Velvet” that sent the film’s director into a depressive spiral. When she finally told him, he claimed he would look into the matter. However, the former employee said no meaningful action was ever taken until early 2017 when Bahl’s three business partners—Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Madhu Mantena—were looking to distance themselves from him. Bahl’s verbal harassment of the woman continued during the interim period until she left the company.
“I was disappointed in Kashyap. He knew everything,” the woman said to the Huffington Post. “He had the power to do stuff. He could have if he wanted to. He didn’t. And I don’t think so I will never be able to forgive him for that.”
Kashyap was the only member of the quartet of producers who responded to the Huffington Post’s inquiries, according to the outlet, and he admitted to his mishandling of the situation.
The day before the article was published, Kashyap took to Twitter to announce that Phantom Films was being disbanded and all four partners would part ways.
Phantom was a dream, a glorious one and all dreams come to an end . We did our best and we succeeded and we failed. But i know for sure we will come out of this stronger, wiser and will continue to pursue our dreams our own individual ways. We wish each other the best.
As names of the accused begin to pile up in a matter of days (the list of offenders include other well-known figures like actor Rajat Kapoor, author Chetan Bhagat, politician MJ Akbar and Hindustan Times journalist Prashant Jha), the #MeToo movement has already knocked on the doors of men in various positions of power. Not only are perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault finally being held accountable, but the men and women who have stood by and quietly watched from the sidelines are also being called out. While some have denied such indictments outright, others have apologized and publicly claimed to recognize their failure to promote safe social and professional spaces for women.
However, it will be up to the survivors to continue the momentum of the movement without fear. Nath and Bahl are prime examples of men whose major influence hushes others into silence, creating a culture that perpetuates sexual misconduct.
The hushed whispers are getting louder and are finally being heard. We all need to be in it together. Let’s give courage to those who want to speak up but haven’t felt able to yet. https://t.co/d2mvRYPYPV
The Huffington Post reported that sources within the film industry begged to remain anonymous for fear of ending their careers when asked about the accusations against Bahl. Kashyap said in his personal statement that lawyers informed him Phantom Films could not take any legal action against Bahl because he was part owner of the company and there was no clause in their contracts pertaining to sexual misconduct.
Nanda also explained that channel executives brought Nath back onto the sets after being written off the show for misbehavior and how she allowed him to take further advantage of her after the initial rape because she could not afford to lose her job.
It is only people in even higher positions of power in Bollywood that can help to eradicate this vicious never-ending trend. Hrithik Roshan released a statement on Twitter saying he could not continue working with Bahl on the upcoming film “Super 30” and asked the producers to use the facts of the incident to “take a harsh stand” if necessary, as he was out of the country at the time:
The Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI), in support of #MeToo in Bollywood, dropped two films from its festival lineup due to the accusations against Kapoor and members of comedy group All India Bakchod. Actor Sushant Singh tweeted he would issue Nath a show-cause notice as a member of the Cine & TV Artistes’ Association. While these are certainly steps in the right direction, they are all reactionary, taken after survivors have already gone through the painful ordeal of making their trauma public.
“This is an open secret in the industry,” Amin said about the allegations against Nath in an interview with Firstpost. “When actors sit around and chat, I’ve heard male actors say that women on set were upset with Alok Nath because he would knock on their doors at night. I wish some of these male actors would come forward.”
Actions need to be taken in a timely and serious manner by those who are witness to or are made aware of such attacks. At the very least, support for the victim should be offered, expressed and acted upon. Preemptive measures must be put in place to discourage and penalize inappropriate sexual behavior on sets and outdoor schedules, as well as in company offices. The men of the film industry must become better allies for women now during #MeToo in Bollywood, a role that largely entails active listening and open eyes and minds.
There is still much to be done, but the brave survivors who have reclaimed their voices in this new #Metoo in Bollywood movement have empowered others to speak up, proving there is hope for a safer future for all.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.
It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.
“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.
The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.
Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.
Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.
There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra, and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.
Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.
Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.