Is the Hrithik Roshan-Disha Patani controversy really just idle gossip, wonders Nichola Pais
In the post-MeToo era, reputations must be even more fiercely protected and slurs dealt with effectively. Frankly, we are a little amazed that Hrithik Roshan resorted to sarcasm as opposed to sending across a legal notice at the very least! One would have thought the website would get its comeuppance for claiming that Roshan had flirted with Disha Patani to the extent of making her ‘uncomfortable’, leading to her quitting an upcoming film that was to pair her with the actor onscreen.
Roshan, who had been soundly dragged through the muck not long ago courtesy his alleged ex, Kangana Ranaut, instead resorted to a touch of biting wit. He advised the journalist in question to go to the gym and clean his mind, recommending 20 donkey kicks, 20 monkey rolls and two dog jumps. “And love you too,” he signed off, with a smiley.
An uneasy smiley, perhaps. Especially since the lady in question herself soon piped up in defense of the actor. Dismissing as “completely untrue” the “childish and irresponsible gossip about Hrithik sir” and her, Disha underlined that in the “minimum interaction” she had had with him, he has been one of the “most dignified and joyful people”. If this character testimonial resulted from a li’l nudge from the man himself, Ms Patani would probably never tell…
Hindi film heroines rarely do. Without doubting the redoubtable Hrithik Roshan in the least, it must be said that Bollywood’s leading men but always come in for glowing praise. At least in public. No matter the whispers of tacit ‘compromise’ that is allegedly expected of many a heroine, nothing really rocks the status quo.
As one-time Bollywood actress and talk show host Simi Garewal had put it at the height of the West’s #MeToo campaign, it is unlikely that Bollywood’s influential men will ever undergo the same scrutiny as Hollywood’s. Her rationale – “Here, if you criticise a male star, you’re not going to get any roles,” sums up exactly how the cookie crumbles. Incidentally, young Disha also points out that she has high regard for Roshan, who features amongst the top names on her wish list to work with.
However, while we might be years away from any real transformation – Kalki Koechlin believes it will be at least a decade before it becomes difficult for those in power to get away with sexual harassment like they have in the past – the signs of change are there to see. When a certain director at Phantom Films was accused by a woman employee of molestation on a trip to Goa, the matter was escalated to Reliance Entertainment with whom Phantom has a 50-50 joint venture. A committee was set up as per the Vishakha guidelines to hear the grievance and the filmmaker in question was apparently asked to step down from his position, following ‘multiple complaints’.
While accepting that anything that starts off even in a small way will have an impact further on, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, actress and co-owner of theatre production company Poor-Box Productions, has her doubts about how much things have changed. “In Bollywood, nobody has the guts to come out and often when they do, it’s with very silly things, often to promote their films. Other than a Shabana Azmi or a Ratna Pathak Shah, I don’t find people in Bollywood committed to empowering women – not even the women themselves because everybody has a hidden agenda. Everybody wants to promote their career. Either they don’t have the guts or their mindset is a little different.”
Dr A L Sharada, Director Population First, believes that more and more women are willing to talk about it, who were previously uncomfortable and could never articulate because they were not sure if it was harassment. “At least we are finding an open environment where you could talk about someone’s unwanted behaviour. What’s more, both men and women are willing to acknowledge it.
Men are also becoming more aware that certain behaviours are not liked by women,” she says citing the example of the Tamil Nadu governor who had to apologise to a senior woman journalist after he set off a firestorm by patting her cheek at a press conference at Raj Bhavan. “Earlier we would not even talk about about the legitimacy of the girl to feel offended and think she’s over-reacting but now we feel she has the right to speak about what she felt. These are the kind of conversations that are currently happening.”
The next step, according to Sharada, would be to have the courage and freedom to speak up immediately and address unwanted actions. Of course, that also means one pays the price, whether a denied promotion or a lost film.