At a press meet for a campaign, championed by Farhan Akhtar’s MARD (Men Against Rape and Discrimination), to end violence against women, the actor-filmmaker hesitatingly addressed the issue of sexual harassment in Bollywood.
As a journalist asked Farhan Akhtar if he felt film industry members should come out and speak against sexual abuse of female artistes and if they should name the abusers, Farhan said that wherever there are power dynamics, such issues will always be there.
“First of all, it would be important for women to speak out. It would be important for women who have been subjected to this to speak out. I think wherever there is an industry where there is power dynamic at play, be it the corporate world, the film, there will always be these issues, unfortunately.
Right now, the environment, which exists world over, the dialogue and discourse that’s happening related to gender violence and discrimination the world over, it is absolutely the perfect time for people to feel enabled and empowered to come out and speak,” he said.
The mediapersons mentioned to the actor that even those, who are speaking about sexual harassment are not taking names of the abusers. Farhan replied, “Everyone who has their mind and heart in the right place is going to be supportive of them and encourage them to speak names and tell the truth. I would encourage anyone who has a story of this description to share what they have experienced or know someone who has experienced, to please come and speak. They definitely will find people who support them.”
When asked if he ever faced a situation where he was asked to compromise for work, the actor denied any such incident and said that harassment is not restricted to the film industry and the media should talk about every workplace with “equal emphasis.”
“I haven’t faced it and so I can’t comment on it. But I do know with the kind of work that we have been doing with MARD, also the kind of industry that we would want the film industry to be and other industry to be, because whether it is molestation or any other kind of violence at the workplace, it is not unique to the film industry. We hear it happening in other workplaces too. And I feel emphasis on all of them should be equal. We have heard stories in the legal world, in the corporate world so wherever we can encourage people to speak up, we must.”
Referring to Hollywood’s strong action against disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey, a journalist asked Farhan if Bollywood would ever name and shame abusers here and react harshly towards them.
Farhan cited two examples of the fact when according to him Bollywood did react strongly against sexual offenders but the actor did not name them saying, “he finds it strange to take names,” and instead asked the scribe to Google about them.
“Well, I think it would happen. There have been two such incidents in the past. It feels strange to take names of the people who have been through these times. It has happened in the past when there have been industry people who were embroiled in these cases – whether it is rape or sexual harassment – and there has been a reaction to it,” he said.
The actor was further asked for his opinion on a lot of actresses not sharing their incidents of abuse fearing they would lose their job. Farhan chose not to respond.
When pointed out repeatedly by scribes that Farhan was being asked about the issue pertaining to Bollywood because he is a part of it, the actor, at one point during the event, said that the mediapersons were talking about the film industry because it has people we enjoy, while others we “find very boring to talk about.”
Just before making this remark, when a journalist asked him how can a safe environment for female artistes be ensured so that they feel encouraged to speak against abuse, Farhan suggested they take help of the HR. Reacting to the suggestion, mediapersons pointed out that if the concepts of HR actually imply to the film industry, to which he replied, “Every production house has an HR. Every studio has one and everyone, who hires you, does have an HR. Maybe there won’t be any HR on a film set, that, of course, won’t happen. But the fact is there is definitely someone.”
When Farhan was asked about the solution to the problem, the actor said he does not have one right now but he definitely believes that no one will be at loss of work if tomorrow they make public their stories of sexual abuse.
“There’s no question of anyone getting out of films and not being taken into work because they have come out and spoken about it. At the end of the day, films are about demand and supply. You might be the biggest star in the world but three of your films stop working, people will stop working with you. It has nothing to do with that.”
Farhan also added that producers will give work to actors if they consider them sellable irrespective of their personal tales of abuse.
“If tomorrow, somebody wants to come out and share the story, it’s not going to affect their work. If people are going to watch your films, they will continue watching your films. Producers are going to work with you if they think you are successful. If tomorrow I want to tell a story and I think someone is suitable to sell that story, whom audience would come to watch in theaters, if they have spoken about a harassment case, I am not going to stop with that person. These are two completely different things. Please don’t confuse between them and they should not be confused,” he further said.
The filmmaker again insisted that women should speak up against the harassment so that they give strength to other men and women, who have been at the receiving end of sexual violence but haven’t found the courage to speak about it.
“When someone (in Bollywood) has come out and spoken about people, who harassed them, there has been a reaction to it. It may not be the kind of reaction you expect, maybe you want more, maybe you expected more but there has been a reaction to it. Like I said earlier, if someone has an incident or a story to share, this is the perfect environment, world over, for you to come out and share it. You will be doing yourself a favour, other women a favour and even other men a favour.
“There have been young men, who have said that they were abused. So, there are many such issues. We are here to highlight them, have a dialogue about them and through that dialogue, hopefully arrive at a place where we have a solution. I don’t have all the solutions as of yet. Neither do you. You have anger inside of you. We all have anger within. And we are trying to find solution. So, let’s work together and try to arrive at that place,” he concluded.