Another MeToo post! What fun for you all! This one is kind of a big picture one, I want to talk about what was known and what was unknown, by everybody, including the general public.
The carrot and the stick. The usual concept is that you are offered both. The carrot is the reward if you do the thing you are being asked to do. The stick is the punishment if you don’t.
But, in reality, I don’t think you are usually offered both the carrot and the stick. Because I think the kind of man who would offer the stick is the kind who really wants to use it. The carrot is an illusion, an excuse to make you stay calm while he beats you to his pleasure. And the kind of man who is truly willing to offer a carrot and receive peaceful cooperation would not be willing to use a stick, would rather simply go off and find someone else who will take the carrot.
That’s what I am seeing in these MeToo stories, that there were some men who offered a carrot and everyone knew about it, and other men who used a stick and no one knew that.
There is a story I read years ago, on an AMA on reddit that I friend sent me a link to. It was from a white man who worked in Indian films, and along with all his other questions, someone asked him a question about the casting couch (link here https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/573vhe/iama_white_guy_who_worked_as_a_bollywood_actor/?utm_source=mweb_redirect&compact=true ):
Pretty real. Particularly for girls. Girls would really, really struggle with this, apparently even the famous Indian ones, but certainly the white ones. Continually get taken out to dinner by a ‘producer’ who wanted to talk about a role for a film; and the dinner would be in the Marriot or somewhere where he’d already taken a room upstairs. As far as I could tell the only real way around it for girls was to make do with small roles or get hitched with someone quite famous.
For guys, I didn’t deal with much except when I did any modelling. I mean, except for people getting handsy on-set, which was kinda common (I was touched up two, maybe three times). But in modelling it’s explicit as fuck.
Story time: I was on set for a film, and a really famous fashion designer was there because he was friends with the director or someone. He’s there, just checking things out and drinking chai and stuff. Anyway, he starts talking to me about whether I want to do modelling and I said “I suck at it, but a ramp show does seem like a lot of fun”, so he takes my name and connects with me on FB. That night, he starts sending some pretty crazy explicit messages, basically saying “If you don’t fuck me/suck me off, you ain’t getting any work” (just with him, not threatening to ruin my career I should add). I mentioned it to an Iranian guy the next day on another set for another thing, he was a model, and he unloaded. Said his agent was about to send him back to Iran because he wouldn’t ‘play ball’ and as a result wasn’t getting any ramp work. Said it was pretty much the understood thing that if you wanted to get ramp shows and serious modelling work, you pretty much had to bend over for it; then recounted about seven or eight really dodgy incidents which were kinda rapey as fuck.
So, two things jump out at me from this story. First, he starts off by stating the casting couch is real, but then goes on to imply he is talking about the white women in movies primarily, he isn’t as sure about the Indian ones. And then he describes a “producer” inviting you to dinner at the Marriot.
So the casting couch is real, yes. But what he is talking about is the fly by night financiers, the ones who are “producers” in quotes, and taking you out to dinner at a hotel with an expectation of sex. That is very gross and wrong, yes. But that is the carrot, not the stick. If you go to dinner and have sex with them, they will arrange for you to get a part. He isn’t talking about women being threatened or blackmailed by people with real power to carry through on their threats. Not in the film industry (in fashion apparently yes, which is interesting but I have no real comment on that beyond to point out this abuse is clearly a cultural issue not a film industry issue).
And the second thing, his own story, supports that as well. Manish Malhotra (it’s obviously Manish) offered him a job and then told him that sex was part of it (basically) and he turned down the job. He wasn’t going to Manish asking for work, he wasn’t starving and desperate, he wasn’t even that interested, Manish came to him. And he specifically says when he turned him down, there were no threats and it never came up again. Manish tried offering him a carrot to get him to do something, he turned him down, and that was it. No stick appeared.
I knew this was happening, everyone knew this was happening. Scuzzy producers and who were just in film for the sexual perks, scuzzy directors who weren’t adverse to taking some sex on the side, and of course the actors as well who expected a sexual relationship in return for their “mentoring”. But everyone assumed it was all carrot, no stick. It’s wrong to pay for sex, it’s wrong to pay for sex with film roles, it’s wrong to only give out film roles in return for sex, but none of that is the same as forcing a woman to have sex with you. Bottom line is, she (or he) always has the option of saying “no” when all you are offering is a carrot, not a stick.
I am talking about a very specific carrot. An actor or actress or model who is making enough money to survive without starving, which is usually the case now since those are higher class careers, always has the option of saying “no” and simply moving on to a different career. It’s not a choice they should have to make, it’s not fair, but they are not trapped, they are still able to make an actual choice. A desperate woman looking for work to feed her family, being told she will only get the job if she sleeps with someone, that’s more stick than carrot, but that’s not the situation for actors and models.
(Interesting thing is, often when there is a stick, it’s being wielded by the family of the woman, not the man involved. Helen, for instance, was forced into films by her mother and ended up trapped in a relationship with a horrible producer)
The stories about Sajid Khan (link here: https://medium.com/@salonichopra/after-all-the-years-of-silence-heres-metoo-9818ebac15e2) and Vikas Bahl (link here: https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2018/10/06/queen-director-vikas-bahl-sexually-assaulted-me-phantom-films-did-nothing-survivor-speaks-out_a_23552623/), the woman did not have the option of saying no any more. The carrot was only used in order to trick you into standing still while you were hit by the stick. Sajid and Vikas, they didn’t WANT them to say yes, not really. If you pick a woman who is injured and drunk as your prey, you want someone who is entirely in your power. If you hire a woman who takes the job despite a demeaning interview and then continue to break her down psychologically and emotionally, then what you are enjoying is the torture, you don’t actually want her to say yes to sex. In fact, when Sonali finally did offer sex just to end this, Sajid had no interest, he didn’t want her to do something she wanted to do, he wanted her to do something she didn’t want to do. That’s what got him off. Vikas, she said “no” to him and he couldn’t handle that. He had to break her down, torment her as punishment for saying “no” instead of just laying there and taking it.
I don’t think we will hear that many “carrot” stories. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think so. Even in that AMA I posted, he didn’t want to identify Manish. Because there weren’t really any hard feelings. It is possible for there to be this sort of transactional sex without hard feelings. They offered something, you gave them sex in return, you got what they offered. And if you said “no” or were at all reluctant, they let you alone. If a man or woman said yes, perhaps they feel they are complicit in the transaction. If a man or woman said “no” and there were no consequences, perhaps they feel it’s not worth bringing up.
Or even (and this is the part that’s very hard to parse out) you may have said “yes” and discovered feelings that arrived later, that made it less of a transaction. Salman Khan, obviously, helps your career if you are his girlfriend. But it’s not a matter of one night together and you get a film role. Katrina, Illu, even his fake-Katrina Zarine Khan, he keeps them close. He helps them for years on end even after he has moved on to another relationship. I don’t know the inside of how this works, but it’s clearly not a quick clean “spend the night with me once and you get the part” sort of experience. They meet his family, go to parties with him, it’s an actual relationship, not just a transaction. Or at the extreme end, Akshay Kumar appearing in a movie his wife is producing, where do we put that? I assume their marriage includes sex, does that mean he is sleeping with the producer for the part? Or that she is getting him in her movie by paying with sex? No, of course not, it is totally different. But if Akshay and Twinkle are at one end, and Sajid and Sonali are at the other, where does Katrina and Salman fall? Or Anurag and Kalki? Or Jacqueline and Sajid? Or Rani and Aditya? Siddharth Roy Kapur and Vidya Balan? Preeti Desai and Rohit Shetty? Sridevi and Boney? Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar? Sajid Nadiawala and Divya Bharti? The list goes on and on.
(Remember Chori Chori Chupke Chupke? It started as a straight money transaction, but then they had to spend time together in close association and everyone inevitably caught feelings. It happens)
And so this is the “carrot” everyone always knows about. The carrot that is hard to follow and hard to understand from the outside, hard to be sure if it was an offer made from one side, or a request from the other, or a demand and a threat rather than a request, hard to be sure if it might turn into true love in the end, hard to be sure if it is not already slightly less than true love. If all you have is what you see, what you think you know, does that tell you the proper way to act or not? Best not to, it’s their business, you can’t tell from the outside if it was a quid pro quo for a movie role or a real relationship that happened to start at work. The problem is, sometimes the carrot has a stick hidden inside and no one knows that.
Alisa and I were talking about this in the comments, the problem of the lessor crime and the greater both being done by the same man. I will call it the “turnstile problem”. Criminologists and so on have discovered that the same man who will rob a bank will also jump a turnstile to get a free ride on the subway. Which makes sense to me, once you have stopped respecting one rule of the law, all others will become easier to break.
Now, let us expand that to this situation. Let us say that everyone knows Sajid Khan jumps turnstiles in terms of his interactions with woman. I mean, I knew that! Jacqueline Fernandez was rumored to be his girlfriend for years, during the same time he was making sure she was the heroine in all his movies. Obviously there was some kind of messy quid pro quo going on. Not to mention the way his films objectify all woman. And so the industry, the media, the public, assume he is probably a little creepy with his actresses, maybe uses the casting couch in the good old-fashioned “do this, you get this, don’t do this, you don’t get this” simple way, and so on.
The problem comes when a woman who has, let us say, seen Sajid jump a turnstile and then kill a man on the subway says something to someone about Sajid “misbehaving on the subway” and they all say “oh yes, we all know about that” meaning “we all know about him jumping turnstiles” which gets translated in her mind to “we all know about him killing a man on the subway and we don’t care”. And when Sajid himself is telling her over and over again “everyone does this, everyone knows, this is how the world works”, it just makes that feeling stronger. And for the other people, the witnesses, they write it off as more of the stuff they already knew about, jumping turnstiles is obviously wrong and they may not do it themselves, may not like it when it happens, but they aren’t quite at the point of being willing to step forward and stop someone else from doing it. After all, what would happen after that? You capture him, and then what? Make a big fuss and try to get the police to arrest him just for jumping turnstiles, try to shame him for this little crime?
The answer of course is yes! You do! But not because jumping turnstiles is the worst thing possible, rather because the same man who might do that is likely to have also killed a man on the subway. Sajid Khan with his creepy interview questions and strange relationship with his girlfriend, if you dig a little deeper might turn out to have so much more inside of him. Just like Subhash Ghai and his rumors of offering film roles for sex, Alok Nath getting handsy when he was drunk, all the other little problems that everyone knows about and pretends not to know.
That’s the lesson of this #MeToo, to me. Not that it is revealing rampant sexual favor exchanges, we all knew about that already. But it is revealing that the film industry needs to learn not to just assume that it stops at the film roles as payment for sexual favors level. That they should listen closely and look closely at every moment and see just how deep it goes. And set up some kind of standards and system to deal with even the carrot situations, the ones that in the past there was no way to handle. It may not go any deeper, most of the time it probably doesn’t, but if they watch closely, they might learn to recognize the differences, see the stick and not just the carrot.