The MeToo hashtags can become the pivots of women empowerment & societal change

In certain jokes floating through the social media I have seen the phrase “That escalated quickly”. Given the situations it gets used, I find it hilarious. The same happened with the MeToo and MeTooIndia hashtags on Twitter but in extremely serious way. They started trending slowly but then hit the high notes so loud that mere hashtags are on the brink of creating a social movement.

It all started with the details of one powerful man floating around. But no one was ready to take out his name. Then someone did. Women journalists pounced on it and his name became a raging wildfire. M J Akbar, a lion in journalism and now a cabinet minister in the central government. Turns out he was a predatory lion, using his mammoth stature in the journalism industry to sexually abuse young women journalists and use his cape of fear of power and influence to devour their self respect and dignity. Then came Alok Nath’s name out. The epitome of culture, decency and manhood. Turns out he is a good old rapist. The burning embers had caught fire. Names of corporate honchos and familiar names from the movie industries followed. Social media has lit up. Journalists and common people alike are baying for the blood of sexual predators.

I got into a row with popular South Indian singer Chinmayi on Twitter. She had called out the name of Vairamuthu, a song writer of almost legendary status who has collaborated on many of the Tamil songs of A R Rehman. Many aspiring singers and artists who had been abused by him were reaching out to her and taking her help in disclosing their experiences anonymously. My problem was two fold. How did the situation deteriorate to the level where so many women in the case of M J Akbar are reporting their abuse sagas and some of them happened 2 decades back? They kept quiet. So I wrote to Chinmayi requesting her to reveal the names of the victims as keeping quiet for so long and hiding behind anonymity are the reasons why sexual abuse has become a daily affair and common practice in the corporate world. She replied saying they have their career to worry about which is why they cannot call out their abusers. Exactly. Abusers are feeding on this fear to continue abusing. If Chinmayi had spoken out about her experiences long back, many younger singers may have escaped being preyed on by Vairamuthu. This is just one aspect of the situation. Victims are compromising on their self respect and dignity by choosing to suffer the indignity in silence. What is more, all men have become potential predators in the eyes of women. It is scary how women see men trying to engage with them in lighthearted conversations as flirting.

Women are also complicit in helping create such a toxic work environment. They have waded into a male bastion demanding equality in work and social status. This is not a Utopian world where men would step aside and let women take over the reins of power from them. What would men seek from women in return other than sexual favours? The ones who agreed laid the foundation stones of the system. From then on, everyone who went on to enter the system were conditioned to live in the system. From bedrooms sex became an accepted practice inside boardrooms. Women who couldn’t digest and come around to accepting all of this were scarred mentally with abuse. The heritage of the system has been handed down to the next generations of men who have only grown on to become more brazen in their actions.

What is astounding now is, other than a few murmurs in the movie industry and corporate offices, there is almost a deathly silence. It is improbable that the world of glitz, glamour, fashion and wealth could be a perfect world. Rather, it almost seems like everyone has taken shelter for the storm to pass. Shobhaa De the acclaimed writer and journalist was on TV to talk about sexual abuse in Bollywood and she said the ones who have been caught in the net are the expendables and small flies. The big and the mighty ones are hiding in plain sight. She was right on the money. Women have had to go through hell and back especially in the movie, aviation (airline) and healthcare (nursing) industries to even hold on to their jobs. But not a single mouth is opening to complain. Goes to show the heights of male dominance which in turn shows how low women have allowed themselves to be buried in the mire of sex, abuse and oppression.

Every individual’s responsibility in the society is to make it better for the next generations. It is not enough that we only try to make our children’s lives better. A life with self respect and dignity should get priority over everything else in society. All urban men who become influencers in the society are raised up in similar environments. Then how do some go on to become such wily predators? It is upon every individual to introspect and ask do we want to continue living inside such a slimy system where we have to keep worrying about our women’s safety and well being all the time. MeToo and MeTooIndia is a desperate call for change. They are the atomic bombs of the urban society. Their explosions have been triggered. What the abusers and predators fear is the mushroom cloud that emanates from it and envelops one and all. This may be the only chance for women to go up in arms against their tormentors. This has to become a movement, cleanse the urban world and it’s fire should then spread into rural heartlands. Women have always called out for equality and empowerment. Their time to take centerstage seems to have finally arrived.

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Death of an actor and media’s insatiable celebrity frenzy

Two days back I started the day with the big breaking news that celebrity Bollywood actor Sridevi had passed away the previous night. Initially I thought it was a hoax news as such news of the deaths of famous Hollywood actors keep coming up on social media but then TV news channels started confirming the news. It was first reported that she died of cardiac arrest but yesterday, the entire narration took an abrupt turn. Autopsy reports confirmed that she had died of “accidental drowning”. For the past two days, news channels have been salivating over her death and have become her propaganda machines. Nirav Modi has been buried and forgotten and they do not even seem to care what else is happening in India and the world.

Sridevi was a commercially successful actor whose acting for me was over the top at her best. She started acting at an early age in South Indian movies and moved to Bollywood as her stature grew. She was popular at the time when serious actors like Shabana Azmi and Smitha Patil were doing wonders in the parallel world of art cinema and Sridevi was no match to their acting abilities. She had 3 distinct looks across her career. The purely South Indian look she had when she started off was significantly altered to fit into the glamorous Bollywood roles she used to revel in. In her most recent avatar, her face looks drawn and haggard, a la Michael Jackson in his last times.

Movies can be categorized broadly into entertainers, ones that highlight social issues and ones that create social impact. Then there was another divide, the urban and the rural class. Movies were made either for the urban or the rural class. Each movie style had it’s own staple menu as well. Into all of this came the movie Dil Chahta hai in 2001 in which all the 3 categories were so skillfully interwoven by Farhan Akhtar that even though Dil Chahta Hai was a completely city based movie, it found success among the rural class as well. The after effects of the movie has not only persisted in Bollywood but has permeated across all regional movie industries and transformed movie making as a whole in India.

Movies make revenue in millions and billions of dollars these days. People spend so much money watching movies and what do they get in return? Secret Superstar, a recently released movie was made at a budget of Rs. 15 crores and reportedly earned Rs. 900 crores at the box offices across the world. No movie has ever been made with a ROI of 6000%. It tells the story of a 15 year old girl born into an extremely orthodox Muslim family who aspires to be a singer interwoven exquisitely with domestic abuse. Now what is the marker of it’s unprecedented success? In China, cases reported of domestic abuse dramatically increased after the movie was released. This is how movies should connect with people and this is the essence of movie making.

Sridevi was never really part of meaningful or socially relevant movies. Neither her movies nor her style of acting would have been successful at any other times. Himmatwala, one of her successful movies from 1983 was remade in 2013 with different actors and it was a commercial disaster. She even reportedly asked for a monstrous amount to be part of the Bahubali franchise. Her face has looked gaunt and haggard in the last few years, probably because of all the chemicals she had to use to look glamorous for so many years and maybe because of her luxurious lifestyle which became even more clear when it was revealed that alcohol traces were found in her blood.

There is a reason why mainstream media is glorifying her in spite of all of this. For a day, they bombarded the people’s psyche with information about cardiac arrest and hospitals because rumors abounded that she had died of a heart failure. A day later their narration quickly switched because autopsy reports revealed that she had died of drowning. I don’t understand why they cannot wait for the facts to come out before they report incidents. People love speculations and gossips and news channels thrive on these to improve their TRPs. People are mesmerized by all the glitz and glamour of the celebrities and media uses this to report about them to the people which satisfies everyone. The celebrities get to remain in the limelight and attract people to them so that people spend more money to watch their movies. People get to be entertained with celebrity lives and gossips. Media gets everything else. No wonder people have become media’s best commodity and their money making machine.