How Bollywood Films Intimate Scenes Leaves Room for Sexual Harassment

Allegations of rape, sexual harassment and misconduct against many of Indian actors, filmmakers and producers have rocked the country’s show business ever since Tanushree Dutta – for the first time, in detail- spoke to media about being physically and verbally abused by actor Nana Patekar while filming a special dance number on the sets of 2008 film Horn OK Pleassss.

Dutta revealed how she was made to dance with Patekar even when her contract clearly stated that it was supposed to be her solo song. Dutta alleged that the nature of the dance with Patekar was intimate. The fact that, despite her reluctance, the film’s director, choreographer and producer went ahead with the shoot, made it all the more shocking.

It was certainly not the only case in Bollywood which indicated consent violation. In 2016, actress Chitrangada Singh had walked out of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz citing discomfort shooting intimate scene with co-star Nawazuddin Siddiqui. The actress alleged, despite her pleading it was not in her comfort zone, she was “threatened and bullied” into performing the scene by the director.

Actor Dalip Tahil, in a recent interview, revealed that 25 years ago, while filming a rape scene an unnamed director told him to “tear the girl’s clothes apart without telling her”.

This, in particular, raised many questions about whether the industry has any protocols or on-set guidelines to film such sequences.

A media asked several production houses, directors, actors and other artiste association members to inquire if the industry has any unique standards to shoot scenes involving physical intimacy or simulated sex.

The detailed questionnaire sent by us made some of them back off from what they have been talking about off the record. Some cited their busy schedules and promised to get back to us. We will update the story as and when they respond.

“A certain sensitivity and sensibility is mandatory for the comfort of actors when doing intimate sequences in films. It is something I as a filmmaker have always exercised, way before and irrespective of the #MeToo movement,” said Raazi director Meghna Gulzar.

Actor and Cine and TV Artistes’ Association (CINTAA) General Secretary Sushant Singh said that there has been no such protocol for filming intimate scenes in the Indian film and TV industry. Though he said actors are notified of any nudity, sex acts or intimate scene (s) expected in the role in the very first meeting itself, second-by-second details are mostly given on the same day of the shoot.

“Till date there are no such guidelines to film such scenes. But when somebody approaches you for a script, they do clearly mention that there are certain intimate scenes. I do ask them what kind of intimate scenes (they want) or ‘How much are you going to show?’ ‘Is it full nude?’ I do ask for details and I’m given details. However, frame by frame details is not narrated. It’s mostly on the day of the shooting or two days before that. But I prefer to hear it in front of the person who performs it with me. So that nothing is hidden or misunderstood,” he said.

Singh, however, said that CINTAA is now strictly working towards implementing Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) guidelines in every production house to ensure the safety of those who work on film sets and outside.

SAG-AFTRA is the entertainment industry labour union in the US that represents over 1,60,000 film and television actors, singers, recording artistes, broadcast journalists, dancers and stunt performers among others. SAG-AFTRA has designed a series of contracts that come into effect when any of its members is engaged in a production. For instance, it designates a nudity clause or Nudity Rider, which must include “a detailed description of the scene(s), the type of nudity or physical contact required, limitations on use of the footage and production stills (if any), and any other conditions that you and a producer have agreed upon.” Its aim is to address all of the possible issues that might arise from excessively sensitive nature of filming such scenes.

“We are looking into much more detailed and professional approach so we have asked for guidelines from SAG-AFTRA. (There) it’s a common practice that everything is included in the contract. We’ll be sending the same to the production houses. I think it’s about time we become more professional in our approach,” said Singh.

After the #MeToo campaign, there has been a dramatic change in the way sex scenes are filmed in the West. Leading networks and productions houses are hiring intimacy directors to ensure the absolute safety and comfort of their actors—both male and female— while filming scenes involving physical intimacy. The job of an intimacy director is to facilitate simulated sex to make sure that the directors and producers tell the story they intend to tell.

When asked if Indian production houses should consider hiring them as well, given multiple actresses reported harassment while filming such scenes, Singh said, “I don’t think we have such professionals here. This whole situation is very new. Intimate scenes are part of our profession so how do we deal with it now. This whole thing has just come up and we’ll have to figure it out as we go along. We’ll have to train ourselves first.”

Singh said CINTAA has already set up a special committee on sexual harassment and has been having a lot of meetings with producers and writers to ensure highest standards of safety for artistes, employees and crew members at the workplace.

“We seriously need a course correction. As far as internal complaint committees are concerned, almost every production house is right now in the process of constituting these committees. As unions, Producer Guild (India), CINTAA, Writers Association, Directors Associations, all have constituted their bodies. But these are cosmetic course corrections. These committees are to handle complaints so let us not wait for the complaints, let’s look at the root cause as to how we eradicate this. We are also looking at a common 24X7 helplines.”

Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) member Vani Tripathi Tikoo said a major flaw that needs to be immediately addressed is that the film industry never put in place any mechanism to implement the Vishakha guidelines.

“One thing which the film industry and the production houses have not followed over the years is the Vishakha guidelines. There has to be a committee set up for probing sexual harassment within production houses. In the wake of the whole movement becoming so predominantly mainstream right now, there will be more pressure because I don’t think whether they will do it with great ease and happiness, because at the end of the day, it also democratises the process of creating content,” said Tikoo.

Tikoo said not just the production houses, but film associations like CINTAA, Producers Guild India and Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPPA) also need to “beef up their act”.

“At the end of the day they are not just there to do settlement on cases where money doesn’t come in. Their ambit of work is also to look at the harassment and (safety of the artistes),” added Tikoo.

When asked if the Indian film industry could come up with an association of professionals whose job would to make sure there is consensual workspace for the artistes on set, Tikoo said, “The whole industry has to get together if you have to look into choreographing into the scenes. I think most directors by far are very sensitive to the fact when intimate scenes are shot. People not required on the set are removed. I don’t think there’s a lack of sensitivity in my experience but if that sort of vertical has to be looked into, I think the whole industry has to get together and take a decision. This cannot be mandated from the top.”

She further said, “This can’t be a policy decision because at the end of the day filmmaking remains an unregulated space. There is no regulation in creation of content. It’s only certification where they come into the ambit of governance and policy. They should be democratically voting towards it. The industry has to look within and decide whether it requires this or not.”

Bhushan Kumar’s T-Series shared details of the members leading the Internal Complaint Committee .

“A large part of our identity comes from our work. So, it is imperative that both men and women feel good and safe about their work environment. As per government guidelines, T-Series has a Women’s Complaint Committee in place. The committee comprises of senior women office bearers from within the company. The committee also has on board a representative from NGO SHAURYA,” said T-Series HR head, Samir Mukherjee.

Media’s, in no way, is equating on-screen physical intimacy with sexual harassment or advocating for films without simulated sex or intimate scenes. This is just an effort to demand better and nuanced depictions of such scenes on screen to ensure the safety and comfort of both male and female artistes.

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