Some incidents that take place even a decade ago remain fresh in your memory. What happened with Tanushree Dutta on the sets of “Horn Ok Please” is one such incident – I was there.
I was a cub reporter in 2008, assigned by Aaj Tak and Headlines Today (Now India Today) to cover the BTS of a song being shot for this film. When I arrived, I was told shooting had been stalled because the actress, Tanushree Dutta was “being difficult”. I could see Tanushree on the set, visibly upset about something. Nana Patekar, choreographer Ganesh Acharya and a man (who I later found was the producer) were having a conversation, while 50-odd dancers sat waiting. The official version was that the “heroine was not cooperating”. A while later, shooting resumed. Tanushree resumed work, and a couple shots later, Nana Patekar joined her. Not long after that, Tanushree walked off set. Shooting halted again. She locked herself in her vanity van, refusing to come out.
Out of nowhere, goons turned up and began banging against the vanity van door. I was told the producers had called them to set. Cops arrived. Amidst this chaos, I got hold of Nana Patekar. All he said was, Meri beti jaisi hai, which didn’t really make any sense at that point. Eventually, Tanushree’s parents arrived to pick her up. Her car was attacked, the windshield broken. I tried to get in touch with Tanushree to get her version of events. Around midnight, she asked me to come to her place. In tears, she narrated what really happened.
Tanushree told me that after three days of rehearsals, Ganesh Acharya changed every step on the day of shoot. Nana Patekar was never meant to be part of the choreography, but coerced the producers into getting him to shake a leg with Dutta. Later, she said, a lewd dance step was introduced on the insistence of Nana Patekar, so he could touch her inappropriately. That’s where alarm bells rang, and Tanushree decided to walk off set. What she didn’t expect was the aggression shown by the producers after.
The chat I had with Dutta hours after the incident was identical to the account she’s come out with now. How could a person’s version remain the same a decade later if there wasn’t any truth to it? [Our chat was off-the-record, even though she went on to give interviews later.] For anyone who’s either going to be ignoring or downplaying Dutta’s account as a desperate call for attention and question why she didn’t speak out earlier – she did. Interviews by Dutta were followed by a press conference by Nana Patekar where she was branded “unprofessional”.
This was a decade ago. It could have possibly been the first instance of a Bollywood actress calling out sexual predators, and her voice was silenced by more powerful men who continued to have flourishing careers. Now she’s found her voice again. Shouldn’t we listen? Things aren’t the same anymore (even though, they aren’t exactly different either). The #MeToo movement has encouraged women to come out and speak about sexual misconduct in the West. If it’s, in turn, inspiring women in India to speak out, we need to find a way to encourage it.
We all know there are hundreds and thousands of women who are too afraid to speak out against sexual assault and misconduct, lest they be called “unprofessional”. They will only speak up if we appreciate – even laud – the courage of Tanushree Dutta, and not look the other way.”
(Janice Sequeira is a journalist and the content above first appeared on her Twitter timeline. Views expressed here are the author’s own. Janta Ka Reporter is not in a position to confirm the details of the event.)