When Indian actress Divya Unny flew into Kerala in 2015, she thought it was for a business meeting with an award-winning director about a role in his upcoming film.
Instead, she was called to the director’s hotel room at 9 pm, where the man propositioned her for sex and told her she would have to make compromises if she wanted to succeed in the film industry.
”You always hear of actresses getting called by directors to hotel rooms at night, but I didn’t think twice because I was going in with a reference,” she told Reuters.
Unny said she rejected the advances of the director, whom she declined to name, and left without a role in the movie. Reuters was unable to confirm her accusations.
Three other women involved in India’s film industry, the world’s largest, told Reuters that Unny’s experience isn’t unique. But even after allegations of sexual assault and harassment levelled at Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein prompted a wave of similar complaints, Bollywood has been reluctant to name and shame perpetrators.
“The way men are being called out in Hollywood right now, I don’t know if it can happen in India,” said Alankrita Shrivastava, a director whose last film, “Lipstick Under my Burkha” was acclaimed for its examination of women and sexuality.
“In terms of how our psychology is, how patriarchy functions, it is much more entrenched,” she said.
The vast majority of Bollywood’s biggest producers and film-makers are men, many from prominent film families who until recently controlled most of the industry.
Mukesh Bhatt, who co-heads production house Vishesh Films, said India’s film industry should not be singled out and was limited in what more it could do to prevent harassment.
“What can we do? We cannot do any moral policing,” Bhatt told Reuters in a telephone interview. “We cannot keep moral cops outside every film office to see that no girl is being exploited.”
The industry also had to be cautious about false allegations, said Bhatt, who was previously the chairman of apex industry body, the Film and Television Producers Guild of India.
“I am not saying men have not been exploitative. They have been for centuries. But today’s woman is also not as simple as she pretends to be,” he said. “But just as there are good men and bad men, so also there are women who are exploitative and very cunning. Also blatantly shameless to offer themselves.” He declined to provide any examples.
Despite laws requiring Indian companies to form internal committees to investigate sexual harassment at the workplace, very few of cases are reported to the police, said women’s rights activist and lawyer, Flavia Agnes.
“They (companies) may have a committee or they may not have one. They may do an investigation or they may not do one. And they may or may not file a complaint. It could go wrong at every stage,” she said.