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Bollywood’s #MeToo Moment – Production Houses Need To Own Up & Prevent Sexual Harassment

 

The film industry is a unique employer of women. On one hand, it provides employment to lakhs of women, enables them to work and be financially independent and on the other hand, there is rampant exploitation.

 

The industry is unconventional – the conventional understanding of a workplace goes out of the window – meetings happen in coffee shops, homes, over drinks, dinners, parties and pretty much anywhere where 2 or more people need to meet and discuss. Unlike corporates, there is no defined structure either, and often very little rules around appropriate behavior.

 

Abuse of Power is Frequent.

The #MeToo movement might prove to be a watershed moment in the history of women’s struggle against exploitation and for greater equality in pay and opportunity. The film industry will need to adapt very quickly to the changing environment and large production houses will need to lead the way in this regard.  

 

The POSH Act, 2013 is 5 years old – yet many production houses have been lax in complying with the law. Both in letter and in spirit. If production houses had taken care to comply with the POSH Act, many instances of sexual harassment that we are reading about today could have been eliminated, and women would’ve had an avenue to seek immediate redressal.

 

Some of the Immediate Steps that a Production House should take:

  1. Creation of an Internal Committee (“IC”) – Each production house irrespective of its size should set up an IC comprising of at least 4 members (3 employees and 1 external member). The IC must have a minimum of 50% of women.
  2. Awareness – While this may be time-consuming, however, a small awareness program of at least 30-60 mins should be conducted at each set making every person involved in production process aware of what constitutes sexual harassment, as well as the impact and consequences.  This could be as simple as playing a short video for all those present on a set.
  3. Workplace – it must be clearly conveyed to all those employed by the production house, whether on a full time or contractual basis, that the workplace extends pretty much to any place where meetings or conversations are held and including the virtual world.  Just because shooting has wrapped up for the day, doesn’t mean that one will be off the hook for sexually harassing a colleague. A workplace can literally be 24 / 7.
  4. Posters – A set falls under the definition of a workplace under the  POSH Act. It is the Producer’s responsibility to ensure that at each and every site where a shoot takes place, posters containing the definition of sexual harassment, details of IC and penal consequences of sexual harassment are displayed in prominent places – at a minimum in English, Hindi and/or the local language.
  5. Contracts – Production houses should ensure that contracts which are signed with actors, directors, artists etc., should also contain an anti-sexual harassment clause.  This clause must clearly lay down consequences of any breach of the sexual harassment provision including being fired from that production and damages due to the breach.  Every individual working on that production needs to be reminded that the IC has the powers to award damages if a person is found guilty of sexual harassment.
  6. Intimacy Director – Hollywood has a concept of an Intimacy Director (mostly female) whose responsibility is to ensure that the concerned actors are comfortable in every scene involving intimacy or physical contact and do not experience sexual harassment.   Given the proliferation of “item numbers” and of course intimate scenes in movies, in my view, this is an idea whose time has come.The Intimacy Director could also be a member of the IC and be a go-to person, in the event any actor or a professional is feeling sexually harassed or experiencing discomfort.

The posters should clearly specify the punishment for sexual harassment, which could include getting fired from that production if found guilty by an IC in addition to the punishments prescribed by the POSH Act. 

 

Further, everyone should also be made aware of the fact that sexual harassment is a criminal offense as well, and is punishable by up to 3 years in jail

Costs and budgets may well be an issue however, I do believe the larger production houses should lead the way and create a position on these lines.  

 

If these were in place on every Phantom set and the above guidelines followed to the T, then Phantom may have still been in existence, sans Vikas Behl (assuming an IC found him guilty of sexual harassment). 

 

The time to make far-reaching changes and building a more egalitarian film industry is now, and the clock is ticking.

 

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