Tanushree Dutta, who made her debut with Aashiq Banaya Aapne, spoke this week about being abused by actor Nana Patekar 10 years ago. The incident happened on the sets of Horn Ok Pleasss, where nearly 80 crew members were present.
Patekar persuaded his friend and choreographer Ganesh Acharya to changed what was supposed to be a solo song into a duet and insisted on including an intimate dance step. When Dutta protested, saying it wasn't part of the deal, Patekar got aggressive and misbehaved with the actor.
She then locked herself in her vanity van. Patekar called up members of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), who banged on the door of her van and even vandalised her car. Dutta had spoken about this ordeal back in 2008 as well, and she's speaking about it now. What remains the same both times, she says, is the attitude of people who continue to shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.
The incident has been corroborated by journalist Janice Sequeira, who was present on the sets at the time of the incident.
Patekar had denied the accusation at a press conference at the time, saying that Dutta was his "daughter's age".
HuffPost India has reached out to Patekar and will update this story if he responds. Choreographer Ganesh Acharya, who was also on the sets at the time, said that "nothing of this sort" had happened then.
At the time of publication, no Bollywood actor had come out in support of Dutta. When asked for their reactions, Amitabh Bachchan said his name was neither Tanushree nor Nana Patekar, while Aamir Khan's answer didn't really communicate much.
In an interview with HuffPost India, Dutta spoke about what she went through at the time and why she thinks Bollywood is "complicit".
You spoke about Nana Patekar assaulting you then, you are speaking about it now... are you sensing any difference in how people around you are responding to the situation?
When it happened 10 years ago, my heart was in my mouth all the time. 10 years ago when I was speaking about the issue, my heart was perpetually in my mouth. I had peer intimidation. And the media didn't quite help. Has anything changed? I feel like I have a lot more support. And more importantly, I am fearless and rebuilt myself up. But the third-world mentality of this country hasn't changed. Even now, I've got some very condescending reactions. Recently, a woman spoke to me and her attitude was like, "Oh 10 years ago, now suddenly you are talking". She suggested that through her tone. She cut me off in between. Her tone was not very compassionate. Her tone was more like. "Let's try to put her into the spot, let's make news out of this for the TRP. This is the new monkey dance."
The condescension of the press and the mistrust directed at the survivor, which is part of us as a society, scares off those who may be wanting to come and speak out against abuse.
There are subtle signals that the mind catches, which is why I had to be stronger and charge at her. She (a TV journalist) was talking about how Nana Patekar is a very respectful actor and I said, "So yeah so was Gurmeet Ram Rahim..." In our country, anyone can be made to look like a saint. They are so pure and pious unless you find about the skeletons in their closets. But the thing is, why should I come back from America with an American brain or an American spirit to fight a battle here that someone else should be fighting? Today, I have all the spiritual energy and all the strength but most victims who are suffering don't. Not at the time when it happens. As a people, why do we not listen to women who are weak and vulnerable?
I think it comes from years and years of patriarchy which has been embedded in our consciousness.
It took me 10 years to find that strength, do an interview and charge at that person to prove my point. 10 years. My spirit has been trained through all of the processes, the knots that grow within you, and the numerous fights. It has been trained to be very, very strong. I don't care what people say about me. Bring on the worst. 10 years back you spoke shit about me, it affected me. 10 years later, say whatever you want to, it won't affect me. I will go home, eat chaat and go to sleep. I'm not the same girl anymore. The power lies with me, not my monster.
What would you say to people who think 'oh if she did a film like Aashiq Banaya Aapne, she is 'easy' and who's she to accuse anyone as she's anyway 'exposing'?
Oh, yeah, it's this desi mentality. People here look at actors in a film that has sexually suggestive scenes, lecherously. And not as artists doing their job. For every single dude saying 'oh she did Aashiq Banaya Aapne', understand, that's out of consent. This incident was a violation. I didn't sign up for it. But I do think that Nana Patekar is such a problematic person that he'd try to do this with me irrespective of me having done Aashiq. He's a sick man.
For every single dude saying 'oh she did Aashiq Banaya Aapne', understand, that's out of consent. This incident was a violation. I didn't sign up for it.
Do you think having spent in time in America created a distance from the incident and gave you the courage you needed to fight this battle all over again?
Absolutely. My ecosystem in America was so different. Over there if a guy troubles you and you dial 911, the cops come within 3 minutes no matter where you are. They will ask you if you want to press charges without looking at how you're dressed, even if you are a hooker. Then it's your choice whether to press charges or to let it go with a warning. Because of the law and order system over there, they know that will not get away with anything because of the law. I have lived in a society and I have been emboldened by it. No one tries to misbehave with me, even as a tourist. All you have to say over there is that I have my rights. Two years staying over there, living away from Bollywood and its suppressed ecosystem, helped me regain my confidence.. While I was away from the public eye, I wasn't sucking my thumb. It was an intense spiritual journey which emboldened my spirit.
What led to that journey? Was it this incident that triggered it?
It was. I was so disappointed. There was a sense of apathy. The attitudes of people were disappointing. We have seen it in movies where rape survivors come and file complaints and everyone blames the victim instead. Growing up, we have also seen it in news reports, about how the victim is the one called characterless.
You don't understand the extent of what it does to your soul unless you are in that situation. Like right now, people are turning around and saying that I am speaking up to get into Bigg Boss. I mean, seriously guys? Bigg Boss is not the high point in my life. I come back to India after two years and my aspiration should be Bigg Boss? I think I deserve to be headlining a major feature in Hollywood or Bollywood. I don't see myself as a fighting and bickering reality star whose entire life is telecast publicly. No offence to the people who choose that but sorry, I hold myself to better standards than that.
Tell me about your life and what you do there.
I stay in New Jersey, I work and do events over there. A lot of my work is because of my background. People call me to their events as a chief guest because it is easier than to fly someone from India. I have set my base there. I wanted to start my own business but it took me one-and-a-half years to get my green card. Now that I have it, I can get any job and get on with my life. I think in a way, the safe space that America created for me, which was almost like a refuge, helped me in speaking out about Nana Patekar again. I don't think women who are still making their careers here, or have a thriving one, have that privilege as the social and professional repercussions are huge.
The safe space that America created for me, which was almost like a refuge, helped me in speaking out about Nana Patekar again. I don't think women who are still making their careers here, or have a thriving one, have that privilege as the social and professional repercussions are huge.
Is Bollywood a closed chapter now? What made you shift continents?
That is something I had always thought about. I wanted to settle abroad. I saw the difference in the awareness levels of people settled there. They were much more relaxed and aware about world affairs. I aspired to have that life. There is too much strife in India unnecessarily. I love my country, I have achieved a lot here but at one point of time I was reminded of those dreams again. I thought, "Why not now?" after I was disappointed with everything around me.
I pursued a lot of things like trekking and hiking and cycling...
Did that work as a coping mechanism? Cycling to pedal away your fears and anxieties?
Yes it was, and it was a wonderful one. When you decide to get into the muck, it gets the better of you but when you decide to move away, the mulch stays with you because complete healing takes time but at least you're not rolling in it. You pedal away. This spiritual process is highly recommended to anyone who is going through difficult times. You can have that alongside your therapy.
What was your support system?
My family. They were there on the set. They have been through the whole ordeal. That is what makes it so personal. They were in the car with me when it was attacked, these goons (people from the Raj Thackeray-led MNS, a right-wing party based in Mumbai) were called by Nana Patekar and the gang. They had the audacity to think that I was going to let them get away with it. My journey has revitalised my spirit, I am in a very different space in life today. I am not doing this battle to expect any certain kind of a result. Like the Bhagavad Gita says that you do your actions, do not think about the result.
Was this an isolated incident? Do you recall any other instances of abuse or predatory behaviour?
Intimidation is a very common thing. If they see that the girl is not very 'flexible', there are sly comments that are made. I have always been friendly, but everyone in the industry says otherwise. By this, they mean that I don't bend down. I don't give up on my moral values for someone else. This is a basic human instinct, I have not come from the medieval age. If it's not right for me, then it's not. If my body, my heart and my spirit are telling me that I don't need this, then I don't. I never needed to please anybody.
How were you dealing with the aggression?
It's not like people were coming and screaming at me. I was a different person than everyone else there, a lot of people had issues with me. They'd call me "uptight". I couldn't camouflage myself with sweet talks. It was and continues to remain a very misogynistic industry.
Was it traumatic to go back to work every day? To face this sexist attitude?
I didn't go to work after that. I mean, not a lot. I just did a couple of films here and there and that was that. You actually build walls around you when you see this behaviour. Despite my strong sense of self, this incident broke me. Because my defences didn't work. They were dense people. Nana Patekar, Ganesh Acharya, these are not bad people, they are evil people. Toughness works with intelligent people. There is a point where it becomes like 'she is being tough, don't mess with her'. My understanding and dealing with stuff comes from a very sophisticated area. These people are old-school sleazebags. They'll not get body language if you are trying to be tough. Their attitude comes from the fact that I am a man, I can do whatever the hell I want. I was so scared that I ran and sat in my van. He was misbehaving, he was grabbing my hands and pushing me around and started teaching me how to dance with rough behaviour.
How did you gather the courage to get back on set?
It took a lot of convincing and a lot of pep talk from my parents. It was a tough time.
Did the sense of your voice not being heard disillusion you with the industry, and by extension, the power structures that perpetuate such behaviour?
They changed the narrative. I did speak up at that point in time. I spoke how much ever I could. But It turned to, 'oh she had a fight with Nana Patekar, she was trouble on the set, she was thrown out of the set and that she is no more in the industry because of the allegations'. My question is, who decides these narratives? Just because he won a National Award doesn't mean that he is not a sleazeball. More than that, the common sense people are missing here—if he is such a great man why did they call the MNS goons on the set? Why couldn't he back off like, "hey if you have a problem doing an intimate step with me, then I don't want to do it with you". Why would he insist? Why would you have everyone else insist if you are such a gentleman? It's all image-building. You wear a white kurta-pyjama, you call the media for Ganpati Puja at home, you donate to the farmers. He's an actor and he knows how to create characters. That's just what he has done. And this country has some weird complex where we worship those who act authoritatively.
He's an actor and he knows how to create characters. That's just what he has done. And this country has some weird complex where we worship those who act authoritatively.
It's a show of toxic masculinity, a projection of invincibility.
Shouldn't you just understand non-verbally? I'm even breaking it into specific words and moments. Only a person who is healed can break it down like that. I am wondering what will happen to a girl who is actually recently suffered? My concern is for that girl.
What do you have to say about the silence of the industry?
They are all bloody complicit. And please don't give me bullshit about Patekar being powerful. He isn't. He's been a side actor who's leeched on to more powerful actors. He has barely managed to survive. If he thinks he can get away with it, just imagine the horrors actors with real power may have inflicted on women.
Did any actor stand up for you?
No actor stood up for me. No actor has even now. Not a single call or message from any actor. There's just one word that comes to my mind, hypocrisy. Bollywood is synonymous with bullshit. They have bullshitted their way to the top. Worn these guards of righteousness. Everyone is a saint. All you need is a little bit of polishing to be a saint. Everyone is showing by their silence what their actions are.