It’s nearing midnight in Mumbai in India on Thursday, but Bollywood’s woman-of-the-moment Tanushree Dutta — who outed Indian National Award-winning actor Nana Patekar as a sexual predator — shows no sign of slowing down.
“This is just about me speaking up my truth and creating awareness so that other women can come forward,” said Dutta in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid!.
Just like how Hollywood’s silence breaker Rose McGowan triggered a #MeToo movement that toppled Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Dutta is a lone first voice to name and shame her aggressor in Bollywood. Her revelation this week is being branded as a watershed moment in the closeted male-dominated Hindi film industry, where there’s an unspoken bro code of silence.
Last week, the US-based former Miss India and actress Dutta accused and renewed her charges against Patekar on the sets of Horn Ok Pleassss in 2008, in a television interview.
On both occasions, Patekar dismissed and denied Dutta’s harassment claims by laughing it off. But Dutta labels Patekar as a “the bully, the manipulator and a person who doesn’t shy away from using any pressure tactics.”
“Look at that audacity of that man … Trying to threaten me with court cases again … If he thinks that he can threaten, intimidate and pack me off to the US … Let me tell you it’s a strategy that they employed last time and this is what he’s trying now … He’s just exposing himself now. There’s no remorse in him and he’s still trying to bully his way through a situation where everyone can see through him,” she said.
Dutta, as she wolfed down a late dinner while attending this overseas call, added that she has no plans of backing down. She will engage in a “full-blown war” if he pushes her against a wall again.
This is her attempt to reclaim her dignity.
“They had broken my spirit by [expletive] shaming me, claiming I am a tantrum queen back then… But I am here to set the record straight.” said Dutta, who’s visibly emboldened by the current survivor-friendly climate.
Patekar had allegedly made sexual advances during a song’s choreography, which led to her unceremonious exit from that movie. A witch-hunt allegedly orchestrated by Patekar ensued.
Ten years ago, the narrative wasn’t in her favour either as her words were taken as ramblings of an unstable woman.
“Why is it that when a woman speaks up, words like ‘allegedly abused’ is used, while they speak [expletive] about me, the words used are ‘they said’. It’s such a misogynistic way of presenting two sides. By default, the narrative shifted in their favour then,” she said.
tabloid! sought a comment from Nana Patekar, but he is yet to respond.
Here are excerpts from our interview with Dutta…
What prompted you to re-visit the traumatic 2008 sexual harassment episode?
It’s not traumatic anymore, but it’s bothersome. Given the nature of the media, you keep repeating the same story over and over again, but the emotional charge of that story has gone. Ten years ago, it was hard for me to speak about it. At that time, my heart was in my mouth but I had to speak up about it because I had to defend myself. I underwent harassment, extreme evil manipulation, saw goons bashing up the windshield of my car and being threatened from all corners. They also tried to malign my professional repute. I spoke up 10 years ago because I come from a space where it was necessary for survival. I didn’t want to believe those evil men and the industry will stop giving me work. It was a good thing I spoke then because I still got around 30 or 40 film offers.
I am so glad I spoke up then, but I knew that on a psychological or spiritual level I was deeply damaged. They had broken my spirit by [expletive] shaming me, claiming I am a tantrum queen and claiming anything goes with me. They discredited me and destroyed my reputation. Ten years ago, it was self-defence. But now, it’s a whole different scene where there’s a dialogue about sexual violence and harassment. I felt I needed to speak up now because there’s a new narrative that was spun recently that I was a failure and that I couldn’t make it in Bollywood. But the way it happened this week was out of my control. I didn’t anticipate that I would speak about it.
When I returned to India from the US this time, many journalists asked me if Nana Patekar had driven me out of Bollywood and I had to set the record straight. I had to let people know that the narrative that’s being spun about me that I am a loser and a failure isn’t correct.
Even though I was away from the public eye, I was in the public memory. In America, I was kicked about a certain job offer with an NGO. It was a prestigious organisation and it was a wonderful opportunity, but I didn’t even make it for that interview. So when I googled myself and those horrendous, nasty articles that were based on the narrative spun 10 years ago stared at me. Also, a tweet about me not getting justice 10 years ago went viral. So that set the ball rolling.
Are you disappointed that you did not get instant support from your Bollywood peers? The lack of support from major stars such as Amitabh Bachchan upset you? [Since the interview, actors including Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar have tweeted their support]
It’s not surprising at all. Ten years ago, this was the exact situation. So their silence does not shock me or surprise me. But it disappoints me though. If they can speak up about mob lynchings or random important topics on grounds of humanity, why do they still keep silent about this? Two things run in my head: there’s a deep-seated prejudice against me or they don’t think I am valuable enough to comment. Or they may feel that if they support me, they are making a personal support towards Tanushree Dutta, the actress, and not the cause. All this talk about women empowerment and being socially relevant are empty talks when they remain silent when such an opportunity crops up. It’s happening in their backyard. It’s disappointing but having been in the industry, I know how it functions. It’s a cop out. Perhaps it’s their fear.
What’s your take on the survivor of an assault being questioned?
My case is watertight because I had filed a FIR [First Information Report] with the police as they had saved us from the goons back then during the mob violence. While filing my FIR at the police station, I got to know that they were counter FIRs against my dad and hairdresser already. We underwent a lot of harassment back then. They couldn’t file a FIR against me because I was the victim, but they filed a FIR against everyone around me to intimidate me. I used to get threatening calls not to take his [Nana Patekar] name. Then the real ordeal began.
My next two years were spent in and out of police stations. We spent money, energy and resources behind it. But nothing came out of it.
Finally, there came a situation where they told us they if we dropped the FIR, they would drop theirs. At that time, we were getting harassed so much that we thought let’s just forget it because justice for me was never in sight. It happened organically. When the FIRs were dropped, the harassment from them stopped. In India, going to a police station is not the most pleasant experience. We were threatened that if we take it to courts, they would ensure that we spent 10 years in and out of court proceedings.
Nana Patekar has dismissed your claims in an interview and threatened legal action … What is your take?
He’s trying to diminish and trivialise me by making me looking like a woman who’s blabbering. The next part of his strategy to threaten me with lawyers in the hope that I get intimidated and think: ‘oh [expletive], what case is he going to put on me’. He has no valid case against me. So what’s he speaking about it. A criminal suit will be thrown out because anyone can invoke the freedom of speech … What kind of a good human being threatens a woman? This is coming out of his fear from his side.
Are you less fearful now than in 2008?
I have learnt that bullies use fear and intimidation as their primary weapons. In his case, he’s threatening to have his lawyers on me. What does he have against me? I have decades of harassment against, decades of damage of my property, mental torture. If I start putting cases, he will be drowning in them.
Are you planning to return to the US?
I have a green card in America and I cannot stay outside the US for a long time to maintain my green card status. So I will go back. But I am emboldened by the support I am receiving. If he thinks I am going to stand by and watch, he has another thing coming. I will go to the top echelons of the government to ensure my safety. If he messes with me any further, it’s going to be a full-blown war. I am fully prepared to do whatever it takes. He cannot get away with harassing me. If he tries any stunt, I am going to move heaven and earth and crush him completely.