Disclaimer: The exploitation of women is not unique to film or media industry. Wherever there are gazing male eyes, in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, "She would like to be invisible; it frightens her to become flesh and to show flesh".
Speak up women, the shriller the better
"This is the paradox of public space", says the maverick Slovenian philosopher, polemicist Slavoj Zizek,"even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything."
Sexual exploitation of women in the film and media industry is now dominating the headlines because someone has gone ahead and uttered the well-known secret. Sex as a perk that comes with power has been so well understood on both sides of the gender divide. The entitled demand it as a mode of privilege and the exploited cope with it as best as they can, taking it on their chins, or deeming these as occupational hazard. They may repulse the overtures but to take umbrage at the solicitation itself would be considered signs of prudishness.
Sex as a route to accelerated career advancement for the aspiring – the infamous casting couch – has been scorned, mourned or vehemently denied by the film industry but this also is a fact of life. The hiatus between success and failure here is so great, the stakes are so high, that refusal to abide by the rules of game spells the difference between being and nothingness. Hence it requires courage of heroic proportions to annoy the powerful. But some day someone has had enough of it, the person goes ahead and breaks the code of silence. Gradually more allegations pour in, the fellow is "revealed". It is not that the fellow was known to be anything else! The mere act of speaking up makes the difference, because it is the silence of the lambs that had made a lion of him. Speaking up is subversion in the system where the rest of the industry revolve like satellites, in silence and sufferance around the star.
But the act of speaking up has reverberations much beyond the local disturbance. Moral revulsion, shock and dismay become the stock reactions because they are the safest alibi, the alibi of ignorance, because to be seized of the guilty knowledge would entail a responsibility to act.
The cyclone me-too which originated in Hollywood has been a hugely disruptive force. After having wreaked havoc in its place of origin it has reached Indian shores to rock our own glitzy Bollywood. The Nirbhaya episode which shook the nation to its moral foundation had already created an area of low depression and this storm hit at a time when it could cause most damage. The film industry has been dogged by scandals and rumours. Media is facing a deep crisis of confidence because of fake and paid news. Now it has been "revealed" to be a bunch of leches also. The serial disclosures make one wonder whether there would be any media man left who would be "me-too-compliant" and any media woman who did not carry victimhood like a secret petal of fear in her heart? It hit the bohemian part of our world whose ethos and life style are entirely different from the humdrum world of middle-class morality, or subaltern exploitation and yet rattled the outside world as well.
Thirty years back I wrote a very mushy paper, "Reflections In the Year of the SAARC on the Rights Of the Girl Child", for a UNICEF seminar, which won me some obligatory applauses –wherein I had expressed the confident hope that as we go on to acquire a full membership of the cybernetic and knowledge society, where brain would have supplanted brawn, women for once will escape Freud’s ‘anatomy is destiny’ and defy Simone de Beauvoir’s, ominous pronouncement , "the body of woman is one of the essential elements of her situation in the world".
Where does the resounding refutation come from? From a group of people to whom the society looks up, who constitute the brains trust, the very moral core of society: from our media men, our creative geniuses, our artists and intellectuals. Liberal, egalitarian, progressive and non-sectarian in outlook, they talk big, they make elevating and inspirational films, and they are the most conscious antenna of the race. Sadly, when it comes to women their ethereal minds are equally slaves to the instincts of Neanderthal men.
India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Pataliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.