Tanushree Dutta’s Bollywood sexual harassment case back in spotlight

Tanushree Dutta was sheltering inside her trailer on the set of a Bollywood music video. Outside, she recalled, a crowd of men were banging at the door. They demanded the actor emerge and finish her shoot. She refused.

When Dutta’s parents finally arrived and picked her up, footage from the 2008 incident shows the men surrounding the car, shattering the windshield and trapping the family inside.

Dutta, a former Miss India, had walked off the set after alleging that she was sexually harassed by Nana Patekar, a leading Bollywood actor. For a few days after the incident, her allegations were widely reported. Then the story vanished. “There was no compassion,” she said. “Nobody was really listening.”

Patekar denies the allegations. But in the past week, Dutta, 34, has become the face of a #MeToo campaign in Indian cinema that is pushing the industry closer to confronting its treatment of women.

Suddenly, A-list stars such as Priyanka Chopra are tweeting about the imperative to #BelieveSurvivors. New witnesses are going public in support of Dutta’s account. The industry’s biggest male stars are being asked about the allegations at press conferences. “Neither is my name Tanushree, nor Nana Patekar, so how can I answer your questions?” was the curt reply of superstar actor Amitabh Bachchan.

Dutta said she was surprised by the attention over her story, a decade after she first raised the allegations. “Being heard is something I had given up on,” she said.

She stepped away from the Bollywood spotlight around 2010, and emigrated to the US for a quieter life two years ago. There, she followed the accusations against Harvey Weinstein closely. When she returned to India for a holiday in July, an interviewer asked why the country was yet to have a #MeToo moment.

“I said we are not going to have one until what happened 10 years ago is acknowledged, addressed and brought to justice,” she said.

The journalist tweeted the quote. “Her tweet went viral. And then the interview went viral. I would say everyone’s conscience got pricked,” Dutta said.

Few actors in Bollywood have dared accuse a high-profile figure, says Paromita Vohra, a filmmaker and writer. “You can only do it when you have nothing else to lose,” she said.

Patekar says it is impossible that he could have sexually harassed Dutta unnoticed on a crowded shoot. “There were 50-100 people on the set with me,” he told Times Now TV. He has threatened to lodge a police complaint accusing Dutta of spreading false allegations.

Initially, Dutta’s renewed accusations drew little response from Bollywood. Then a woman came forward with her account of what she saw that day.

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