Preity Zinta's Giggling Dismissal of #MeToo is a Reminder that On-Screen Feminism isn't Always Real
'Aaj ki Sweetu kal ki #MeToo ho sakti hai', Preity Zinta said in a recent interview.

Hello Preity Zinta,

I am a woman who grew up watching you play the character of a 'bubbly' girl in one film after another and this a fan-letter of grievance. I watched you play the role of Preeti, the vivacious teenager in Kya Kehna who became pregnant in college and chose to keep her baby despite opposition from parents and peers. I watched you as Nisha, helping out a bunch of boys and their specially-abled older ring-leader save an alien in Koi Mil Gaya while wearing kick-ass minis. I was inspired by Salaam Namaste when your Ambar refused to take shit from Nikhil and chose to call him out on his juvenile lack of responsibility rather than put up with it. These films, in which you deliberately chose to portray your characters as strong, independent women, made me believe in you, and believe in your films. For the longest time, I was a fan and wondered why you stopped doing films. However, films are fiction and your recent tweets have been a harsh reminder of that.

On a show on Bollywood Hungama to promote your film 'Bhaiji Superhit', you went out on a limb to victim-shame and deride the #MeToo movement that recently engulfed India and brought out several horror stories about sexual harassment and abuse. In most of these instances, victims who had suffered abuse in the past, mostly women, took to social or legacy media and called out their alleged abusers. The movement was especially relevant to the film industry and the media sector as it was from these bastions that some of the first accusations started to come in.

However, to you, it was all just 'rubbish'. To you, sexual harassment is the victim's fault as you so brazenly went on to imply. You criticized victims, claiming that one only got the treatment that they asked for. "If you go and say I can do anything (for a role), then it would be stupid of them to not make you do anything," you said. Your words, not mine. Basically, you said that when women in the film industry get sexually harassed, it is because they were asking for it. You also concluded that it was the way women conduct themselves. If they are hardworking and serious about their jobs, then they can never get harassed. Because you did not. Do you really believe that only women who did not work hard were getting sexually harassed? You also said that while there was sexual harassment in Bollywood, it wasn't even close to the kind of sexual misconduct and violence that exists in the media sector. That Bollywood, in fact, was a better place because there is a 'spotlight' on everyone and women have an easy way to complain about it. But what about skeptics like yourself who choose to laugh at the movement? How are you making it easier for victims to come out?

Q. Did you ever have a #MeToo experience?

A. Giggle. Giggle. Ha ha. I wish I had!!!

"Aaj ki sweetu, kal ki metoo ho sakti hai, ha ha": The lovely @realpreityzinta does some unexpected victim shaming

— Prasanto K Roy (@prasanto) November 18, 2018

According to you, a lot of women were using #MeToo to serve personal vendettas or avenge relationships gone sour or even take revenge for not getting certain roles. You giggled when you were asked if you had ever experienced sexual abuse in the industry and said, "I wish".

Damn, Preity, that was especially insensitive, not just to the movement but to each and every victim of sexual abuse. The fact that you think women get sexually abused in order to be able to talk about it later on talk shows is the kind of thinking that pushes so many women who face violence to keep quiet about it. Imagine what a young girl who faces abuse at work or college must feel when icons like you who they grew up watching, giggle at something so serious and sensitive as sexual harassment? Living in 'America', as you explained, you now have a deeper understanding of male-female behavior and can understand the cultural differences in male-female interaction. That women from Bollywood should learn to take things easy and maybe let some of the lighter trespasses go. Let me remind you that the #MeToo movement is a child of the US, born in Hollywood against the exact issue-- a world of patriarchy and entitlement.

And while I'm at it, maybe it is also pertinent to remind you as well as readers of your own allegations of sexual harassment against former beau Ness Wadia. Back in 2014 when #MeToo was non-existent, (as was any meaningful conversation about sexual harassment at workplace), you had filed a case of sexual molestation against Wadia. You had claimed that on May 30, Wadia physically abused you in Mumbai's Wankhede stadium. Wadia denied the allegations two years later in 2016 and several people at the time questioned your own claims. Many said that the accusations were the result of the break-up of your five-years-long relationship with Wadia and that the accusation was just a way to malign your ex. In October 2016, Mumbai High Court quashed the case after you and Wadia reached a 'mutual settlement'. You have been through it and you know what it feels to be not believed, then why would you make it difficult by laughing at all the women who have gathered the courage to speak up? After receiving backlash for your words on Bollywood Hungama, you have tweeted that the interview was edited badly to make you look like the bad person. You blamed the journalist who interviewed you of tailoring your comments and misrepresenting your words. But the derisive giggles that you eject and the venom that you spew for victims cannot be doctored. To crassly promote your film, you further added, "Aaj ki Sweetu kal ki #MeToo ho sakti hai," (Today's Sweetu can become tomorrow's #MeToo). Are you serious? The shrewd editing may have made the clip more suggestive, but those were your words, weren't they? 

In another video that you shared shortly after the controversy, to perhaps clarify your stand on #MeToo, you further shamed survivors by saying, "People treat you the way you want to be treated". No, Preity. That's not how it works. No one ever wants to be sexually harassed. This is the same argument that a woman was abused because she 'asked for it'.

You then go on to advise women, suggesting that they should only talk about harassment when they have 'concrete stuff' that they can take to the police station.

— Preity G Zinta (@realpreityzinta) November 19, 2018

It is surprising because just some days ago, you had come out in support of Tanushree Dutta and said that no woman accuses someone for publicity. Maybe you should go back to your own previous interviews and review everything you have said so far on sexual harassment. The sudden outburst is disconcerting and rude. Whether it was to get yourself in headlines before the release of your upcoming film or just a lapse of judgement on your part, your words will always remind me that making films about strong women is not the empowerment women need today. Strong women who believe in other women are the heroes we need and sadly, it seems you, Preity, are not one of them. I would like to end with an excerpt from a Facebook post you had made at the time of the Ness Wadia controversy:

"It saddens me that no one at work or around ever stood up for me in the past when i was abused and insulted publicly. This time i was left with no option but to take this stern step as this incident happened in front of way too many people."

Well, more power to victims and those who stand by them.