Last year, when the #MeToo movement shook up Bollywood, most members of the film fraternity maintained a stony silence. Besides the eerie quiet, several Bollywood biggies even tried to trivialise the movement that saw individuals call out years of misconduct and abuse. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, a highly acclaimed actor who carved a space for himself in a nepotistic industry filled with star kids, is now among those who ridiculed the movement.
In a recently published interview with entertainment portal Pinkvilla, Siddiqui said: “Everyone thinks they are talented. This industry is beautiful because it also makes a non-talented person into a star…There needs to be something extraordinary in you. Then kaam nahi hoga toh gaaliyan denge industry ko. Jin logon ko kaam nahi hota, woh duniya bhar ke ilzaam lagate hai industry pe, duniya bhar ke movement nikalte hai phir (If there is no work, people will abuse the industry. People who have no work abuse the industry, and then bring out all sorts of movements).”
While reading the interview, a fan in me died.
During the course of the interview, Siddiqui even denied the existence of ‘casting couches’ in Bollywood, and said he had never personally experienced anything and felt it was all just a plot to defame the “safest place” — Bollywood.
Siddiqui trivialised a movement which exposed the culture of abuse in his industry by brushing it under the carpet. Labelling serious allegations of harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and in some cases even rape, as publicity stunts, not only makes him someone who disregards women, but also someone who is insecure — common trait among men threatened by feminism.
His comments, however, are in sync with Bollywood’s response to the #MeToo wave, as most of those accused are still thriving in the industry.
Skeletons in his own closet
Siddiqui’s derisive comments emerge in the wake of his wife, Aaliya, filing for divorce and alleging he humiliated her. She claims the actor’s family physically and mentally tortured her, and has a history of mistreating women.
Siddiqui is yet to respond to these allegations, which came out last month.
Besides the actor’s estranged wife, his niece has also come forward with shocking allegations against Siddiqui’s family. Earlier this month, Siddiqui’s niece filed a sexual harassment case against his brother. She also stated that Nawazuddin gave her no support when she approached him with her story, and refused to believe her claims.
Siddiqui’s snubbing #MeToo doesn’t look so shocking after all.
Siddiqui’s attitude towards #MeToo first came as a rude shock not just because of his impeccable acting skills, but also because of his rags-to-riches tale. The small-town born actor’s journey — from playing an extra in movies, to delivering brilliant performances as a lead in projects like Sacred Games and Manto — is inspirational. But there appears to be a huge gap between the actor’s personal struggle and his sensibility.
When an actor is known for doing meaningful cinema, fans tend to expect better of him in real life too.
As a former fan of the actor, I am still struggling to find an answer to the question in my head as to how an artist, known for delivering such mature and sensitive performances on-screen, could have such problematic views.