Wednesday, 28 September, 2022
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Kevin Spacey film earns $126: When will India be ready to do the same to criminal actors?

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When it comes to movies, we need to stand up, not just for the national anthem, but also for what is right.

126 dollars. That’s how much Kevin Spacey’s latest film Billionaire Boys Club made on its opening day. Sounds about right for a movie featuring an alleged sexual offender facing at least 30 accusations of assault. Ironically, Spacey plays an immoral guru in the film who teaches his mentees how to con people for a living and get away with it.

Also read: Even after #MeToo, powerful men like Ali Zafar will always win in Pakistan

The meagre ticket sale for Spacey’s movie is even more delicious when you compare it to the Rs 100 crore or even Rs 200 crore Bollywood box office openings for films that star or endorse actors facing criminal charges.

When the first allegation came out against Spacey in October 2017, he did the most unthinkable thing. He used it as a moment for himself and came out as gay. Sure there are 365 days in a year, but why miss an opportunity to misuse the limelight.

But pay Spacey did. Netflix fired him from the popular House of Cards series in which he played the lead role. As did director Ridley Scott from his film All the Money in the World. Scott then re-shot all the scenes with Christopher Plummer. Netflix also cancelled the Gore Vidal biopic in which Spacey was supposed to star.

These firings did not come free of cost. It cost production houses millions of dollars, but the statement they were sending out was probably worth even more. The #MeToo movement rattled the film industry like no other. For the first time, powerful, rich sexual abusers were realising that silence cannot be bought.

Also read: Unlike West’s ‘MeToo’, subcontinent’s men don’t hang their heads in shame. Women do

So, when movies like Billionaire Boys Club rake in 126 dollars, it’s a message. People won’t see films that have any association with paedophiles, rapists, sexual abusers or criminals.

Are we Indians ready to do the same?

No. Our #MeToo movement seems to be caught in a limbo. Raya Sarkar’s crowd-sourced list of alleged sexual predators in academia itself received a huge backlash (here’s looking at you, Kafila). Most Indian actors either don’t want to comment on #MeToo or think that we are far from one.

And why won’t they be sceptical?

Here is a country that practically worships its film stars. All sins are forgiven for those at the top. Some men, who have served time in prison, get endearing biopics and a fresh lease of stardom (here’s looking at you, Sanju). Others suddenly become human. Salman Khan will possibly never go to jail, even though he was convicted by lower courts in both the 2002 hit-and-run case and the 1998 blackbuck poaching case. But Brutus is an honourable man; courts later overturned these judgments or granted him bail.

When he was initially sentenced to five years in jail for the 2002 case, the film fraternity broke down. An actor even tweeted, “No prison can hold a heart so big”.

Since then, Khan has gone on to star in movie after movie, raking in crores for the industry. His fans dote on him.

However, is every actor/producer clean? Surely some of them have dark histories lurking in the shadows. But here we have a nexus of power-money-stardom that stands sentinel against any trembling complaint.

We have deified our heroes to the extent that we’ve made it impossible for them to fall, like a house of cards.

When Telugu actress Sri Reddy stripped on the streets to protest casting couch in the industry, actors and directors called her a ‘prostitute’ and said she was bringing ‘shame’ to the nation.

In such an atmosphere, where we victim-blame first and defend later, boycotting movies to make a statement is still a tall ask. We need to stand up, not just for the national anthem, but also for what is right.

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  1. I don’t think the reading is accurate here. On one side, you have a first world nation which has enjoyed unparalleled cultural and socio-economic privileges for over the last 20 years and then, you have a country like India where the average movie-goer is just glad to be able to afford the luxury of watching a movie in an ac theatre without having to deal with death threats from the boss.

  2. Raya Sarkar’s list was a good effort but a lot of people were largely unverified and because of that nobody took it seriously. The problem in India is people operate on the basis of furthering personal agenda or vendetta which is what happens everywhere. But India is slightly special We are unable to stand for what is right for our sense is clouded by what we can get out from the person or situation. I think largely Raya is not that different, sadly. She failed to take accountability and that is why it is so hard for SJWs to be taken seriously. A real dialogue is becoming impossible.

  3. So people should punish someone without any proof?

    Victim blaming for everything else is wrong – but not for unexplained delays in complaining.

    Anyone can gather 20 people who will blame any celebs of sexual assault in the past with verbal accusations without explaining why they did not protest at the earliest possible moment.

    • No one was punished without proof. They were not just random accusations, they were all verified by independent sources. What do you think NYTimes, Post, NewYorker… are your typical republic, ndtv or toi? Big claims require big proofs. Their investigative journalists go to painstaking lengths to thoroughly verify any such claims.

      There were hardly any unexplained delays, most of the delays (in the genuine cases) were well explained (like news suppression, trade-offs for career prospects, fear of being targeted by the perpetrator, embarrassment from social stigma etc.)

      Of course, anyone can gather 20 people and accuse. In fact, one single person can make up fake twenty people and accuse. Such news is typically published in tabloids (like postcard, lankesh-patrike), republic, local news channels etc.
      But no one questions the authenticity of any explosive reportage from the likes of NYTimes, TheHindu, BBC etc. Because, the evidence they gather for such news are backed by strong evidence, which are strong enough to stand well in courts.

  4. That’s asking too much from Indians and also a bit unfair. In US, the fight against misogyny began in 1950s. After 70-80 years of numerous civil rights and feminist movements, the entire country was socially conscious about women rights. Decades of popular Hollywood movies/music/series/novels had trained most people to easily see through victim-blaming and other straw-men attacks. Under already ripe conditions, the #MeToo movement served as a trigger, and no one was spared. The success of Roman Polanski and other such people in 70s through 2000s show that a #MeToo movement could not have had the same impact if it was before 2010s (in fact, a metoo-like movement in the 90s lost its juice in just 2-3 years).
    Coming to India, where to begin? A large majority of people are unenlightened and at the risk of being blunt, somewhat stupid. Other than the book reading “elitists” (god forbid, don’t include those who read the likes of chetan bhagat), no one else gets trained to think critically. There are no mainstream, entertaining movies/shows which compel one to think critically. The entertainement-industry (which includes the “news” channels) are making sure that people keep worshipping the idols and remain stupid. Until masses are somehow trained to subconsciously think critically, the country will remain a collection of largely brainless brutes.

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