The venue for the press conference on Wednesday wore a deserted feel as a handful of media persons waited for Tanushree Dutta to arrive. With most of those present in a rush to make their way to the trailer launch of upcoming big ticket film, Thugs of Hindostan, an air of restless and impatience replaced the usual media flurry that surrounds Bollywood press meets.
Former Miss India and Bollywood actor, Dutta has spent the last couple of days giving interviews about the harassment she faced 10 years ago at the hands of veteran actor Nana Patekar. In spite of relentlessly talking about the issue, the 34-year-old addressed every question addressed to her by every media person in the room. Following the press meet, in an interview to The Indian Express, Dutta, who has since relocated to the US, spoke about the incident, the impact it has had on her life and her hope that calling out her perpetrators will encourage other young girls to speak up about predators. Excerpts:
You were a part of the industry when you first spoke up. How tough was it then, given that you were aware your career was at stake?
I wasn’t thinking too much then. Following the incident, all kinds of rumours were being spread about me. I was being termed ‘unprofessional’, among other things. I spoke up out of desperation, in an attempt to defend myself.
You developed a phobia of returning on the sets and quit the industry. Were there other consequences too?
We had filed an FIR but the producers filed a counter-FIR. My dad, hairdresser and make-up artiste suffered because they would be summoned to the police station every few months. Eventually, the whole matter had to be closed. Of course I went through anxiety and depression, caused by loss of my livelihood. My healing took years and I found an anchor in spirituality. It’s been years since the incident happened but things have a way of raising their ugly head again. Not too long ago, I received a job offer from a prominent NGO in New York. It was a dream job and I had a good couple of rounds of meetings with them but eventually, they didn’t revert. When I looked up the internet, I saw all kinds of articles either objectifying or slut-shaming me, realising that could be something coming in my way.
You have been upset that your intentions for speaking up now are being questioned. Why not share a copy of the FIR and other documentation?
I can and would have if I didn’t realise how sharing the paperwork can deviate the issue. I am repeatedly pointing out that people cast doubt on the women who speak up but instantly believe the perpetrator when he slut-shames the victim. I may have documentation to prove my word but not every victim does. There may be cases that are way serious than mine but the girls probably have no proof of the abuse they have gone through. Do we dismiss their claim then? Should we not hear them out?
But why not take the legal route?
I tried and it only ended in harassment that my family suffered. I have moved on and live in the US now. And we all know that the legal process can take a long time. Also, this battle is no more about Nana Patekar or me; it’s about empowering women to speak up. But if I get justice and people stop working with Nana or Ganesh Acharya, that will be icing on the cake.