Mona Das is a difficult actress in Bollywood. She came to Mumbai five years ago to try her hand at acting, around the same time that the Hindi film industry – as Bollywood is officially known – was rocked by a series of #MeToo scandals.

Not much has changed since then. Das remembers being asked for sexual favors in exchange for work.

“They are clearly demanding a ‘compromise,’” Das told DW, referring to certain men in positions of power.

“’Compro’ is a very short, simple, sweet term for a one-night stand… you sleep with me and get a job. They called me so many times for dinner and said we were just going to have a ‘good time.’ “They say unless you compromise, open up or do bold scenes, it won’t work,” Das said.

Unchanged performance dynamics

Life in India’s city of dreams is expensive and work is insecure for Das and her roommates, who live in a shabby old apartment complex in Mumbai’s Andheri suburb. They try to take on small roles until they get their big break and are regularly confronted with predators at their workplace.

“When a production coordinator came back after a shoot, he took away all the female actors. I was the one who dropped him off last. I still don’t have the words to describe what happened next. He started touching himself and me. “I just froze,” Das said, visibly shaking as he recalled the traumatic incident.

The situation that Das and many before her have experienced shows how little the power dynamics in the industry have changed in the five years since #MeToo in Bollywood.

#MeToo in Bollywood

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#MeToo in Bollywood

The multi-million dollar company has been rocked by allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior against several prominent producers, directors, actors and celebrities. Actress and former Miss India Tanushree Dutta accused her co-actress Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her while shooting a song for a film. Janice Sequeira, a journalist at the time, says she was an eyewitness to the alleged harassment.

She took the story to Twitter, now known as X, where it spread like wildfire.

“I remember it was retweeted like crazy in less than a few minutes,” Sequeira said, recalling what happened after she first posted what she saw.

“Then the #MeToo movement took on a life of its own. For a few days that was it, it was like every day either a film personality or someone from another industry, comedians, actors, everyone was being taken to task.”

The industry produces more than a thousand films every year, which are seen by around 3 billion people worldwide. The impact seemed to push the industry in a positive direction. Production houses like Phantom Films and All India Bakchod (AIB) were dissolved, streaming giants demanded better compliance, the wave sparked a debate about consent and complicity.

Mona Das, a struggling actress, says not much has changed since Bollywood was rocked by a series of #MeToo scandals. Image: DW

But who was punished?

However, there have been no convictions so far, with only a handful of cases reaching court and later being dismissed for lack of evidence. The defendants eventually returned to work, some more powerful than before.

Sona Mohapatra is a prominent singer in Bollywood. It called out some big names in the music industry. However, she wasn’t ready for what came next.

“The fact that I spoke out was disturbing to them; “It created a kind of tectonic wave within the sets, there are so many other men there, nobody knows what’s going to happen,” Mohapatra told DW.

She lost projects and became an outcast in the industry.

“All the men have been rehabilitated. And you don’t know whether you talk to each other and feel discouraged like us, or whether you go out and talk on social media and say you’re watching India?” Mohapatra said.

“Little by little, everyone was rehabilitated. They are celebrated, it is as if there is no memory of all the allegations, almost as if our voices do not matter.”

Filmmaker Alankrita Srivastava has brought the #MeToo conversation to Netflix in Bombay Begums. Image: Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection/Picture Alliance

What has changed?

#MeToo inspired the work of Alankrita Srivastava – one of the 11 filmmakers who pledged not to work with proven sex offenders – when she made a popular show on Netflix about the topic.

“I did a show called Bombay Begums which is about sexual harassment in the workplace and when this young girl who is new or junior in the bank tells her story and no one wants to believe her , but it is a trigger “For the older character who is the CEO of the bank, played by Pooja Bhat. The character finally calls her perpetrator to account after many years,” said Shrivastava.

The unprecedented growth of streaming in India has helped less-told stories find their audience. Its success also means that complex storylines about difficult topics such as abuse are discussed, while at the same time women are portrayed in a nuanced way.

In the #MeToo industry post, another new role has emerged: intimacy coordinators. Aastha Khanna leads the Intimacy Lab, a collective of intimacy experts who work to set ground rules for Bollywood film sets and focus on creating a safe space for consent during intimate scenes.

Scenes involving sexual encounters often left actors feeling violated.

“There is resistance to new things, but our role is growing. International studios that have experienced the use of intimacy coordinators internationally and are open to the idea of ​​bringing this change to India too for their own safety,” Khanna said.

Meet Aastha Khanna: Bollywood’s First Intimacy Coordinator

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However, according to Sequeira, known serial perpetrators remain in the public eye and no one can harm them.

“Can you really go after a superstar who is carrying millions of rupees? [roughly equivalent to hundreds of thousands of euros or US dollars] on him for a film? No, that’s not possible,” said Sequeira.

“There is no figurehead like Harvey Weinstein here. We’re a long way from that.”

Edited by: Alex Berry

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