The former Miss Universe in Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Bollywood actress and producer Lara Dutta, who is in Dubai to attend the Maritime Standard Awards 2017 as its master of ceremony, weighed in on the #MeToo campaign and expressed her desire to see more women speak out against sexual abuse.

The hashtag was triggered by Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano last week to underline the pervasiveness and magnitude of sexual abuse, after movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of a series of sexual assault crimes.

 I can walk into any room and command respect. Nobody can take that away from me.”

 - LARA DUTTA | Actress 

“It is fantastic that women are coming out and speaking about it now. Even though it happening in Hollywood, the spillover is happening and it’s reflecting in Bollywood too. But we can’t allow the movement to die down. I genuinely believe that women in the industry should come together and say — come what may, my career is independent of any producer, director or male actor,” said Dutta in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!.

The former Miss Universe and actress, whose credits include Chalo Dilli, Andaaz and Azhar, spoke to us on a variety of topics. Here’s her take on:

Akshay Kumar and Dutta in ‘Andaaz’ (2003).

Surviving in Bollywood on her own terms:
“I never got into this business saying that I want to be the number one actress or the highest-paid actress. It was never my prerogative. The idea [was to] make a decent living, have some fun and be financially secure. There has never been any compromises, no disrespect that I have felt for myself. If nothing else, I can walk into any room and look the director, actor or producer in the eye and feel absolutely nothing — no feeling of being belittled. I can walk into any room and command respect. Nobody can take that away from me. That to me, is having it all.”

Facing discrimination in Bollywood and being asked sexual favours by producers:
“I have never had a producer or director demand that. Let us leave the actors out of it because their moves were more bumbling than overt advances. I have never faced any such discrimination. It’s also about the person that you are. If you leave yourself open and make a man think that he can make a move on you, he will take his chances. If you are extremely strong and no-nonsense, then nobody will mess with you. But having said that, the victims who have suffered those incidents weren’t inviting it either. The reason why men have gotten away with it all for so long is that we have made it a norm making them feel, ‘what have I got to lose’. In a large way, it is also because the women have allowed it to happen. Their fear to speak up due to the taboo associated with it or fearing that their career is over has empowered those men.”

Dutta and Vinay Pathak in ‘Chalo Dilli’ (2011).

Her future film projects that is a comedy around Bollywood films awards and a tale of a single mother in search of the donor father:
“A lot of the choices that I have made in my career is to do films with friends. So, even the film we are talking about — the Awards one — is because I have enjoyed a great relationship with Wizcraft [the film’s producer and International Indian Film Academy Awards organisers]. I have hosted six Iifas in the past, including the edition in Dubai, and we have a long-standing relationship. They had a comedy in mind and I love making people laugh. I am good at it. The second film is about a single parent in search of an anonymous donor father. The idea is to do unconventional stories that don’t require formulas. Today, we have films like Secret Superstar and Tumhari Sulu releasing. People don’t want to see the usual formulaic, masala films.”

Her biggest fight as an actor in Bollywood:
“I have never been your conventional Hindi film heroine. Andaaz, my debut film, was as close as it got to a typical Bollywood film. It was the perfect training school. But as an actor, I have always fought against being stereotyped and being put in a box with a label. Perhaps, that’s one of the reasons why I ended up doing so many comedy films. I exuded a certain persona — as this thinking Miss Universe — and I wanted to change that. To do a comic role was to break the elite persona and it gave me an opportunity to be this goofball who has the ability to connect with every kind of audience.”

‘Azhar’ (2016).

Women having it all:
“Women can have it all. It isn’t easy. But it all depends on what your definition of ‘all’ is.”

On being trolled on social media:
“When you have a presence on social media, it’s rather naive to think that you will only hear lovely and wonderful things about yourself. Trolls will come at you and the dose of reality is that the person sitting on the other end of the smart phone has sometimes [a bad or worse] life than you do. But you have to keep your sense of humour about you.”

Dutta with Boman Irani at the 2007 Iifa awards.

On nepotism:
“It’s tough for rank outsiders, but you cannot keep true talents down. Agreed, doors will open a lot more easier and more frequently for an industry kid than a rank outsider but at the end of the day, whether it is a Kangana or a Rajkummar Rao, true talents prevail.”

“My life is absolutely, brilliantly fantastic. I can promise you that I know a couple of million people who would happily step into my shoes.”