Happy Monday! I haven’t done a news post in a while, but I have been reading the news. Rest assured that all the various big stories have been processed in my brain, I just choose not to address all of them. These few here are the ones I find interesting.
More Rape Stories
Following up on Jeetendra, there are two new rape stories coming out from Zeenat Aman and Daisy Irani. And, like Jeetendra’s, I want to look at the details and consider how they relate to Indian culture/Hindi film culture in particular.
Zeenat Aman’s is the simplest. She filed a rape case against a businessman that she had previously filed cases against for stalking and harassment. Zeenat, today, straddles the culture of the film industry and business and Bombay society in general. Knowing nothing else besides the fact that this is one of several recent cases she has filed against this individual, and that he is described as a “businessman” with no name given, I am assuming he is someone who is not famous, who she met outside of film, and who stalked and attacked her because she was a woman and not because she was a movie star. What makes this a “filmi” story, is that Zeenat (knowing anything she does will be news) still chose to file the case, taking a stand that she has nothing to be ashamed of or hide.
Daisy is a little more complicated. It is directly related to film, and also not. Daisy says she was beaten and raped as a child by a man who was serving as her guardian on a film set. And that she told her mother, and her mother did nothing. Remove the “on a film set” part of this story, and it is very familiar. Rape, especially of children, is most likely to happen by someone trusted by the family, often part of the family. And because of the complicated family ties, it is also common for the parents of the child to not believe them, or to choose to do nothing.
(Remember Monsoon Wedding and Rajat Kapoor? Preying on a family that had nothing, knowing their daughter would be too scared to say anything, and that there was a good chance her family wouldn’t do anything even if she had?)
But I wonder if it is also directly related to film because, in the era Daisy is talking about, child stars were often the only support of their families. I assume that her guardian on set was also the family’s link to the film industry in some way. To cut off that connection would be to cut them off from the income they were receiving through Daisy.
And that is definitely true for Daisy’s additional stories, she says as a young girl she was dressed up with a padded bra and paraded in front of producers, looking for work, they would fondle her and molest her. Which, yep, matches what has always been my impression of that level of the industry and the awkward switch from child to adult star. Again, Daisy would have been the primary support for her family. Once she got too old for child roles, they would have hurried her into adulthood in order to keep her career going. And child or not, the freedom to take advantage of an actress desperate for work would be one of the perks that kept small-time producers in the industry.
Notice Daisy doesn’t say “rape” whens he describes the molestation later. There is a difference in quality between rape and molestation. I could be misreading it, but it seems like the molestation by producers was less about a need to exert power cruelly over others and more about feeling like she was there and available. Like they weren’t actually breaking any rules or forcing anything, because as an actress, she was offering it to them.
That’s what is so tricky in general about the #MeToo stories. Some of them, many of them, are just straight up rape, the man knew he was breaking all rules of humanity and enjoyed doing it. But there are these fuzzy areas where what the man was doing was wrong morally and humanely, but not against the commonly accepted rules of that world. If the assumption is that all actresses at a certain level are available for fondling, and the actresses know that is part of the job, then there is a different kind of judgement being made. The decision would not be to do something, it would be to NOT do something. A producer would have to decide to actively go against the accepted practices because they know in their hearts it is wrong. And the actresses would have to actively speak out and say “No! Don’t do this! It is not okay” because otherwise it will be assumed that it is okay. For example, Zeenat Aman is filing a case against a businessman who raped her. But not (apparently) against Sanjay Khan who was widely known to be abusing her while he was producing her movies and dating her. Because that relationship is harder to define.
For the actresses who are saying “it is not okay”, you don’t have to actually SAY it. You can say it by actions. This is why some actresses constantly had a family member on set with them. It was a message to the world “I am off-limits”. And this is why Rishi Kapoor adopted Neetu as his little sister and later gave her such strict directions while they were dating, he was taking her clearly off the market for anyone else. And for producers, you don’t have to actually say “I have made a decision in my own heart that I will buck the commonly accepted practices and never molest an actress”. You show that by action too. Like bringing your wife with you on film sets, or your children. Or just generally being known in the industry as someone actresses want to work with. This is why I would be very surprised to hear similar stories about Yash Chopra, or Aditya Chopra, or even someone like GP Sippy. And this is, once again, why film parents are so desperate to get their children launched by one of those few “safe” producers. Karan Johar will not allow anything like this to happen in his company, and I doubt that Aditya Chopra would either. Your children are “safe” with them.
(Daisy also said that when her younger sisters joined the industry, she watched out and made sure the same things didn’t happen to them. It is possible, you just need to have someone watching out for you)
Mercury in Retrograde!
We had a discussion on my “venting” post yesterday about all the bad luck we have all been having, and Asmita suggested it was because Mercury is in Retrograde. And here is more evidence!
Two random irritating bad luck illnesses have hit filmsets. First, Shahid had his wife and daughter with him on location (back to the last story, this would be one of those signs that Shahid is probably not interested in molesting his co-stars, at least not now), the kid got sick, and then the Mom got sick, and finally the Dad got sick. Which is how it goes, right? Kids pick up all kinds of things, Mom is usually the primary caregiver, and then she gives it to Dad. So Shahid has lost his voice, right when they were going to be filming a big courtroom scene. Filming halted, everyone twiddling their thumbs while he gets better, very irritating.
Meanwhile, in Bulgaria while filming Brahmhastra, Alia suffered a severe shoulder injury. So severe that she will not be physically able to do stunts or action for at least two years. Which means her role in Brahmhastra has to be rewritten a bit, and a semi-planned action film for later will now not be happening. She isn’t dying or anything, but it is very inconvenient. Oh, and again relating back to the last story, this announcement was made by her mother who was with her on location. Alia is NOT available, is the message we get there.
Well, this is FASCINATING!!! Copyright in Indian film is being challenged again. Which happened a few years back with Zanjeer. There are some really interesting legal aspects to copyright in Hindi film (can’t speak to other industries). For one, traditionally, the producer owns everything. The songs, the plot, the dialogue, the look of the characters, it is all considered part of the film and the producer owns the film. It is very rare for an artist to hold out and demand individual rights to individual areas. Salim-Javed, for instance, pushed to retain rights to their scripts if possible, but they could do that because they were Salim-Javed.
The other thing that is messy is that producers are private individuals meaning the copyright passes down in a family way. So you will see disputes sometimes that are literally brother against brother, one son selling the rights and the other one furious at the insult to their father’s legacy.
And of course there is the different cultural attitude towards copyright. Years of being inspired by films from other industries and picking beats and pieces for Indian films without regard to their source. Years of handshake agreements and “blessings” for remakes with no legal document supporting it.
But, now there is a new challenge. Jacqueline Fernandez is doing a new version of “Ek Do Teen” for the film Baaghi 2, choreographed by Ganesh Acharya. The song sequence is, frankly, terrible. You can watch it below.
I just want to clarify, I don’t find this sequence any more or less terrible than plenty of the less imaginative song sequences which have been made lately. The heroines’ bodies are sexualized by simply removing the maximum amount of clothing. There is no effort to display something uniquely attractive about them as people, to flatter their particular figure, to give them dance moves which will show off the grace of their body. There is also no particular effort to interest the audience through visuals, no costume changes, no elaborate chorus movements, not even interesting sets. It’s cheap and boring and unimaginative and very unsexy. I can think of dozens of songs that showed the same amount of skin on the heroine and had similarly untalented dancers as the leads, and yet were really fun to watch because there was some effort put into them. I can sympathize with Ganesh here, this is Baaghi 2 after all, why put in the effort? But now the poor man is getting blindsided because people are paying way way more attention to this little last minute promo item number than he expected.
The problem is, it’s a remix. One of many in recent years. And they are all different, “The Humma Song” had the blessing of AR Rahman and, I think, did something actually interesting and new. And the visuals were joyful, made something special out of it. The “Dhak Dhak” remix was kind of boring, but it was respectful. The concept being to show several younger actress imitating Madhuri’s iconic move in an homage to her. And it was distinctly different from the staging of the original song, they weren’t trying to compete with her, just follow in her (literal) footsteps. It feels, to me, like something these young women (and men! Not for nothing, the male cast joins in) would have been happy to have done in front of Madhuri herself, to show how she influenced them.
But this remix is taking both the song and the dance moves, and then putting them into a lazy terrible song sequence that no one likes. And no one should like, it is lazy and terrible. The song is famous enough to get people to watch the video, people who normally wouldn’t bother with a stupid item song from Baaghi 2, and it is making them go “Hey! This is TERRIBLE!”
(It’s only slightly worse, as a song sequence removing the remix part, than this song from Tiger’s last movie. But almost no one watched this song, except for Tiger Superfans, and their long-suffering friends who were dragged to Munna Michael against their will)
And one of those people is Saroj Khan. Which is where we get into copyright. It was announced by the Baaghi 2 team, before the song came out, that Jacqueline took blessings from Madhuri and Ganesh took blessings from Saroj before they began work. That is the usual handshake kind of agreement that controls copyright. A personal blessing to redo your work. But in this case (and in the case of Zanjeer where Ram Charan took a blessing from Amitabh and Jaya) that has been disrespected. I’m not going to blame Jacqueline, she did the work her choreographer gave her, but I am going to blame Ganesh. He promised Saroj (presumably) that he would work hard and honor her vision. But he didn’t work hard. He can do A LOT better than this, and he didn’t bother. He just threw in a couple moves from the original, a bikini top and string skirt in the same color family on Jacqueline, and called it a day.
(Ignore Madhuri’s dancing, look at the set around her, her costumes, the chorus, this song as a whole is just sooooooooooooooooo much better)
Saroj is furious, but she has no legal rights necessarily. So she went to the person who does have rights, the original producer of the film. Who didn’t even know this remix was happening. Saroj was the artist in charge of it, so she was approached for her blessings. The producer was the man with the legal rights, no one bothered to call him up and get him to sign anything, because that’s not how the film industry works. Legal rights can be swept under the rug, no one will actually try to enforce them because it’s not worth the effort. Until suddenly it is.
It’s a fragile ecosystem. Ganesh and the Baaghi 2 producers were counting on the “blessings” from Saroj protecting them from any legal issues. But Saroj was counting on her “blessings” protecting her legacy from being tarnished. The extra-legal personal trust system was abused, and so the ecosystem failed, and Saroj is bringing in the legal options. Just as Salim-Javed did with Ram Gopal Verma’s Sholay and the Zanjeer remake. It’s extremely rare, but it does happen, when the insult is great enough.