More than two weeks ago at the trailer launch of De De Pyaar De, Bollywood star Ajay Devgn was asked what he felt about rape-accused Alok Nath being a part of the film. "This is not the right place to talk about it. The film was completed before the allegations surfaced against the concerned person," Devgn replied.
Cut to Thursday evening when the actor issued a lengthy statement mentioning Nath at several places and defending himself. What happened in the course of 17 days? Dissent. Devgn's short essay on why he shouldn’t be attacked came hours after Nath’s accuser and writer-producer Vinta Nanda slammed the makers of the film, saying, "When it comes to the box office, nobody (in the industry) follows any other religion. There is no right and wrong."
Even before Vinta, people had taken to social media to criticise the star and makers for not publicly acknowledging the allegations against Nath let alone working with him. Unfortunately, even in the statement, which is a clear case of damage control before the film’s release, Ajay Devgn does not spare a single word to condemn the disgraced actor.
That Alok Nath completed the film before the allegations against him surfaced is known to all. In his statement, Devgn explained why it would have been a loss for the producers, Bhushan Kumar, Ankur Garg and Luv Ranjan, to reshoot Nath's portions, which were shot in a span of 40 days. The question is if Devgn and his team were as sensitive to the #MeToo movement as he emphasises in his statement, couldn’t they have for once priortised morality over money? That would have definitely made a better statement than the one Devgn has released.
If Bollywood is quick to laud its American counterpart’s significant actions against the accused in the #MeToo movement, how difficult was it for the De De Pyaar De team to take a leaf out of Hollywood director Ridley Scott’s book? In November 2017, the director removed actor Kevin Spacey from All the Money in the World immediately after allegations of sexual harassment against him were reported even as the film was weeks away from its release and its trailers were already out. Scott, while announcing his decision, had told The Guardian, "My decision was almost immediate. I said: 'We need to re-do this.'" He even called it a business decision because he understood the toxicity from the allegations would infect the movie. Guess, all the money in the world combined with heaps of arrogance is all that matters for Ajay Devgn and team.
Even if one buys that it would have been a difficult call to remove Alok Nath because of monetary issues, despite T-Series being one of the most powerful production houses in the industry, what would have taken the team to issue a statement before the film’s promotions to condemn Nath and express its support to Vinta Nanda and all other survivors of sexual abuse? How much of Devgn’s precious time would have really gone in addressing the issue at the film’s trailer launch? How many tweets would he have really needed to speak about it even as he posted the film’s trailer and song links? There were enough options and opportunities and the Bollywood star made his choice every single time.
Pausing for a moment to note that De De Pyaar De producer Luv Ranjan himself was accused of sexual harassment in October last year. While the filmmaker denied the allegation, he did say "I apologise to whoever I have caused hurt, whoever I have not made feel comfortable enough. I apologise for not being able to communicate my intent. I apologise for not being able to make someone feel that I am the man that I have aspired to be and I believe I am." Devgn is soon going to star in a film directed by Ranjan, and expectedly hasn’t spoken on the allegations against him. That itself should make one expect little of the star, who in a bid to appear virtuous, tweeted after the #MeToo movement picked steam in Bollywood, "If anyone has wronged even a single woman, neither Ajay Devgn Films nor will I stand for it."
It’s amusing how Bollywood actors put themselves on a pedestal at their own convenience. In his statement, Ajay Devgn writes he could not take a call on removing Alok Nath alone because filmmaking is a "collaborative process". Howsoever noble this sounds, he should be asked where does this process vanish when stars use their power to get the director of their choice, the co-stars of their preference and of course the screenplay that benefits them? De De Pyaar De was initially supposed to release on March 15 alongside Devgn’s Total Dhamaal. To avoid a clash with his own film, the former was pushed to a May release. Yes, filmmaking is collaborative, when box-office numbers are at stake, and Devgn implying that he is at the mercy of his producers is funnier than both his comedies.
It would have been a tad easier to look past all these glaring loopholes in Devgn’s sob story, had he outrightly condemned Nath even once in his statement. But he made his choice once again as he went on to express how hurt he was to be at the receiving end of an attack, making it all about himself.
The privilege that the powerful in Bollywood enjoy is to hurt and to be hurt. As for the rest, they are left with little to say, except, "me too."