These days, Bollywood actors can do anything to promote their movies. They come on reality TV shows, delete their social media feeds and even travel in trains with their fans. However, the marketers need to draw a line somewhere - and that line needs to be #MeToo.
In an interview a few weeks ago to promote her movie, Preity Zinta made insensitive remarks about the #MeToo Movement in India and faced flak. Now, it's another '90s actress who has dug a hole for herself. Rani Mukerji's name is headlining, not because of her upcoming movie, but for her ignorant remarks on sexual assault and victim blaming.
There were six brilliant women in The Actresses Roundtable edition of the latest episode of Rajeev Masand's Bollywood Roundtable: Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Anushka Sharma, Tabu, Taapsee Pannu and Rani. The actresses talked about aspects of their roles and the shift in the industry around movies have. However, when the conversation shifted to the #MeToo Movement in India, there was one actress at that table whose opinions caused an uneasy shift for others around her and the thousands watching her on screen.
Image source: YouTube
In her bright yellow glasses and matching earrings, Rani Mukerji began the conversation with powerful statements about what it was to be a working mother in the industry. Her stories of fear and anxiety of going back to work for the first time in four years were relatable. Her concerns about missing her daughter Adira's first walk were frightfully real for all women in her position.
Midway through the show, the conversation drifted to Bollywood's most pressing issue of 2018 - the #MeToo Movement - and that's where the Mardaani actor lost the plot. While her peers stated that the root causes of #MeToo lay with men with power, Rani's opinion was frightfully shocking.
Image source: YouTube
Here are some of the statements that she made:
1. "As a woman, you have to be that powerful within yourself, you have to believe that you are that powerful, you have the courage to say 'back off'. Everything relates to what you want out of your life."
2. "For me, I would not say that the situation has happened, but whenever there has been the slightest insinuation, with my voice and the way I look, half the people run away with that only. They will not take a chance."
3. "I think it is important for women to believe in themselves and say that if they don't want this to happen, it will not happen. And if they are ever in that situation, they should ensure that the man should suffer right there and then. Either give him a kick between the legs or give him the jhaapar of his life so that he remains fearful of the girl and he is fearful that he will not do it to the ladies henceforth."
4. "You have to have to be able to have the courage to protect yourself and be able to say it."
5. "So those are the women we need to talk to and tell them that they need to change" - in response to Deepika saying that not all women can fight back and there are those who feel cornered in such situations.
6. "In life, we cannot always depend on how the other person is going to behave. We have to take responsibility of our own selves. Let's all learn Krav Maga. In school, please let's make martial arts important and compulsory."
7. "You cannot go and tell hundreds of mothers out there how to bring up their children. It is women who are making these boys, who are doing this. All the mothers have to then get together and have a movement to teach their sons and daughters equally."
The Hichhki actress was adamant that women should be taking responsibility for themselves because "you can’t tell mothers how to bring up their children." She also expressed that women should learn martial arts to defend themselves and they should have the courage to speak out when they see or feel that they are being harassed.
Anushka and Deepika tried to counter Rani's point-of-view, explaining that not all survivors can react in the same way to these situations. Rani, meanwhile, showed off her best karate moves and mocked martial sounds while doing so. She even went on to say that, "Everything that happens to you, relates to what you want out of your life."
Is that what Rani was really trying to say? That women (and men) who are victims of harassment actually want to be harassed?
Let's take a quick pause here and look into Rani's privileged background where these opinions are stemming from. Rani is a celebrated star and married is to a big-time movie producer, Aditya Chopra. She was also born into a family of filmmakers, and Bollywood actress Kajol and filmmaker Ayan Mukerji (also Ranbir Kapoor's closest friend) as are her cousins.
So, before we take her opinions seriously (which we wouldn't because it feels like she's out here to make statements to promote her movie), we should really ask ourselves if she even knows what she's talking about. She was never a newcomer in the industry with no one to turn to; she has not been subjected to what Vinta Nanda or Tanushree Dutta faced; she doesn't even seem like someone who understands privilege and power. With her statements, Rani also omitted an entire section of the society who are unable to fight back by learning martial arts and raise their voices.
Rani had learnt martial arts for her movie, Mardaani, and clearly, this was a direct reference to her character in the movie. Intentionally or unintentionally, her reel-life character spilled into real life and she forgot an important detail - she is acting on screen, while harassment is happening on a daily basis to men and women around the world, and it's not something that can be solved with martial arts or brute force. Being able to defend yourself is important, yes, but it has nothing to do with abuse or violence against men and women. In fact, it's important for both the sexes to learn self-defence. Overall, statistics show that the crime rate has gone up in the country and men are equally vulnerable to being attacked. But self-defence is a topic of discussion outside of #MeToo, and you can't say it can prevent harassment and assault.
Moreover, the #MeToo movement and sexual harassment cannot be trivialised to someone making mock karate sounds and asking women to kick their perpetrators in their private parts.
Rani's entire "You need to change" reasoning to women who are not speaking up is flawed. You're part of the problem Rani, because you, too, are holding women accountable for sexual assault. Women all over the world have been answering the 'Why now?' question, so you really need to pick up a newspaper and read about it. It is not easy to tell your story, because Rani, this is not a movie.
It is never a woman's fault. Stop victim blaming. Period.
For just a few minutes, the actress should have stopped talking and listened to those in the room. Taapsee Pannu, whose movie Pink dealt with issues of harassment and abuse, was a few seats away and tried to speak on the topic, but Rani's ignorant opinions drowned hers. Anushka and Deepika were given the same treatment. You were the white noise, Rani, and we wish you had just listened to the younger actresses and learnt something about what's happening in the world out there.
Image source: YouTube
And yes, mothers AND FATHERS can bring up their kids better. Like Deepika pointed out, it is better if such issues are nipped in the bud, instead of bringing the 'Boys will be boys' nonsense into your homes. Fathers are equally responsible to teach a child good from bad. It's the last day of 2018 and you are still blaming the women - survivors for not knowing how to defend themselves and mothers for not bringing up their kids better. Isn't it just shameful?
Bollywood has never portrayed women fairly. If you look back at Rani's debut movie Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, you will remember the cringe-worthy, abhorrent plot: a school teacher is raped in the movie and the court orders her to marry her rapist. She falls in love with him later and even saves his life. Two decades later, the same actress is seen in powerful movies such as No One Killed Jessica and Mardaani. Her roles may have evolved with time (thanks to a more conscious audience), but her thinking needs major cleansing right now.
Dear Rani, it's time to take off your tinted sunglasses and look at the world the way it is. Your privilege may be colouring your judgment.
Featured Image Source: YouTube
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