had become a victim of people’s perceptions’: Tanushree Dutta further opens up on Nana Patekar controversy – In the last few days, the Tanushree Dutta-Nana Patekar controversy has gripped the nation. After the former reiterated the latter’s alleged ‘sexual misconduct’ in 2008, what followed could well be the start of a #MeToo campaign in Bollywood. But Tanushree says it’s too ‘early to call it one’. “Other girls need to have the courage to share their stories, only then will it become a movement,” she says. The Aashiq Banaya Aapne actress discusses the 10-year ordeal she and her family have been through and why this time, she won’t retreat in silence. Excerpts…
How difficult have these 10 years been for you?
It’s been extremely difficult. Whenever I would remember the incident, I would be enraged. Of course, the intensity of it has reduced over the years and now, I’ve learnt to make peace with it. The anger was not just about the harassment, but also the mob attack and the kind of trouble my family had to go through at that time. And despite all this, Nana Patekar goes to a set behaving as if nothing happened. On top of this, they are standing in front of the media, spinning lies — one after the other. All four of them (Nana Patekar, Ganesh Acharya, Rakesh Sarang and Samee Siddiqui) and the entire Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) gang were against one person, which is me. Back then, the reporting also didn’t happen out of compassion. There was no one raising an issue or speaking out for me. Today, people have understood that this is an issue that needs to be talked about, thanks to the #MeToo movement in the West. There was no awareness about sexual harassment because it was an unspoken issue in our industry. We are conditioned to accept it because in our films, heroes harass heroines who then fall in love with them. We come from that kind of a society that believes thoda chhed diya toh kya ho gaya? Nana is pretending not to understand the concept of harassment.
Do you agree that things are different today?
Absolutely. Previously, it would be all about ‘Tanushree claims’. Today, TV channels and publications are reporting it the way it is. Earlier, it would be reported in a way where Nana’s picture would be a dignified one whereas that of mine would be from a sexy photo shoot. The imagery itself had set me on a path of defeat. The perception was that this girl was not good. I had become a victim of people’s perceptions. It’s not just me, I think all actresses are.
In what ways?
From the time I entered the film industry, the perception was that I was a bold, sexy actress. In India, when someone calls you sexy, they don’t mean it as a compliment; it has derogatory connotations. I was a quiet person and hadn’t seen this perception building around me till the time this incident. It took me a long time to understand how people were playing it out. I would feel bad about the lack of compassion among my colleagues from the industry. Gradually, I realised that people had an opinion about my films, roles, songs, dressing and overall personality. I was always sassy, I had the sex appeal. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to take such things lying down. It has got nothing to do with my character. The worst thing about our country is that we sometimes fail to differentiate between an actor and her on-screen character. From a slut, I became the problem child, tantrum queen, etc. When you defend yourself, you are called muhfat. And when you keep quiet, people base their judgment on what you wear in your films. It’s always been a double-edged sword.
When you spoke about it for the first time, not many stood by you. Today, an army from the industry is behind you. Did you expect that?
There’s a huge change compared to 10 years ago. Firstly, I was young; I was naïve and had been in the industry for only five years. Also, social media wasn’t big and the #MeToo campaign had not happened. We didn’t discuss things like personal boundary or harassment. In fact, our society always normalised the latter. It was only corporate offices that followed an international structure and had a sense of things. Now, there are people like Swara (Bhasker) and Richa (Chadha) who have been vocal about their activism. Farhan Akhtar has always had an opinion and their tweets were heartfelt.
Did you expect the trolling on social media, calling the controversy a publicity stunt?
I didn’t expect anything. I didn’t come to India to raise this issue. I recently moved to New Jersey where I was busy finding a footing. I had three months to spare, so mom asked me to come home. At the airport, the press noticed me and I was fatshamed. But I spoke my heart out. Then, there were other questions — why I was away, did I stop getting movie offers, was I thrown out? One journalist asked me about the #MeToo campaign. I told them about my incident and how I didn’t get justice. Little did I know that it would spiral into something this big but I’m happy it has. Some trolls think I’m suddenly bringing the issue up now but if you check YouTube videos, I have spoken about it each time I’ve been asked about it in the last decade. So, I never thought of the support or the backlash. I’m anyway used to the latter. How long can the same thing hurt you? It can only destroy you once.
You were given several labels when you accused them of sexual misconduct…
(Cuts in) Yes, because that’s what they could do best. I suddenly became an unprofessional tantrum queen but people tend to forget that we associate these terms only with actresses. So many times, actors report late to the sets or don’t even show up. But most women will tell you how we don’t even have the luxury to be five minutes late. We always are extra careful because it’s easy to pull up a woman and throw these words at her. Wasn’t Nana’s behaviour on the set unprofessional? All of them were wasting everyone’s time and then they did what they had to. I kept telling the director and the producer that I was uncomfortable around Nana. Then I went to my vanity van, really upset. When I came back, I got to know they had decided to include an intimate step between him and me. It was ridiculous and I sensed what was going on. Now, destroying my reputation and credibility is only a way to stop me from speaking out against them.
How has your family reacted to the episode?
Their emotions are getting triggered. I have to counsel them. They aren’t opposing me, but they are breaking down at times. I did take time to detach completely, but I went through the process of healing because I took up this spiritual path. However, my family has not had that and I feel terrible seeing them go through this. They have been in it with me together — they were with me in the car when the goons attacked us. At that point, the only thought I had was whether we would end up at our house or at the hospital. Today, articles and videos are popping up and my parents are reminded of the episode.
What do you expect out of this case?
I want to see if this ends in a similar way like it did the last time. They are trying to do the same things —threatening me with a lawsuit, calling me names and intimidating me. The only difference is that today, people are also living it with me. It’s not about me or anyone else. It can happen to anyone. I had to quit my profession, which I was passionate about and settle somewhere else, because of this man. He should also get an equal punishment. At least for eight years, industry people should stop working with these four men.
Do you want other actresses to come out and share their stories too?
I don’t know. There’s a lot of fear in coming out and speaking about it. Nobody knows it better than me. But now is the miraculous moment when somebody who’s gone through this before is willing to go through it again for you. What’s stopping others from coming forward and sharing their stories? Then, they shouldn’t complain about their voices getting stifled. I hope people get their retribution in some form. Even in the last 10 years, I wasn’t this damsel in perpetual distress. I stayed away from this toxicity because I didn’t get justice and support. With what confidence should I go back to a film set? I can’t trust anyone. What if someone else does it again? People will think Tanushree has an issue with everyone. I was put off by that thought. The faces might change but the situations will remain the same. Today, I don’t have such thoughts.