Its never going to happen to the Indian entertainment industry they said, its woven in the fabric they said, women accept it silently or are discarded if they speak up they said.
But the last couple of weeks have seen a different kind of narrative playing out. India’s Harvey Weinsteins, not one or two, atleast a dozen have been named and shamed. Skeletons tumbling out of every closet everyday. Unfortunately, mistreating women in India’s entertainment industry, especially cinema, is an open secret, accepted as part of the ‘deal’. Ironically, most movies carry a disclaimer about animals not being hurt in the production of a film but nothing is ever said about the hurt caused by the derogatory treatment of female actors on set or female staff in the offices!
Multiple apologies have been posted on social media, a couple of production houses have closed down but chances are ‘naming and shaming’ would soon become part of the norm. It would be forgotten and the men guilty would carry on with their ‘business as usual’. What was an open secret would just be something out in the open with the take it or leave it attitude further entrenched. The thing is, business of cinema is all about box office collections, and that’s what really matters. Working conditions are the least of anyone’s worries whilst production and distribution houses chase profits on their multi-million dollar projects. Global media companies have only recently ventured into Bollywood and previously it has been mostly successful actors setting up their own production houses. Establishing and maintaining professional standards wasn’t ever a prerequisite, hence the exploitation would at best be ignored. There is a real chance things will get back to ‘normal’ UNLESS a new player in the industry decides otherwise.
Media content service providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have made inroads into the Indian entertainment industry and how. Netflix is targeting 100 million subscribers in India and has reported the highest revenue amongst its competitors. Apart from streaming, Netflix and Prime have also commissioned Indian production houses for original content. Strong commercials aside, working with the likes of Netflix is coveted by many production houses as it means creative freedom which isn’t possible in the traditional route of film making due to the need to generate mass appeal and the issue of heavy censorship. Therefore, more and more media houses are jumping on this bandwagon.
AND this could very well be the lever for change that the industry needs. Netflix and Amazon Prime can and should hold their supply chain - production houses, to high professional standards especially around ensuring safe and non-discriminatory work places for film crews and employees alike. This means conducting due diligence around sexual harassment related grievance procedures which have been lacking in the past and in some cases even conducting their independent reviews. This would also mean pulling the plug on engagements where these standards haven’t been met. Losing out on lucrative deals would give the industry a strong message to clean up its act and its high time it did.
Chakshu is the Founder of Ignius, a technology company focussed on solving real world problems, issue of sexual violence being one of them.