Sex Lies and Videotape, The Crying Game, The Clerk, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Jane Eyre, Emma, The English Patient, Good Will Hunting, Jackie Brown, The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, The Shipping News, Kate & Leopold, Iris, Gangs Of New York, Chicago, Cold Mountain, both volumes of Kill Bill, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, The Reader, Inglourious Basterds, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, The Artist, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, August: Osage County, The Hateful Eight, The Founder, Lion, and the Scream, Spy Kids and Scary Movie franchises…
Most filmmakers would give an arm and a leg to be associated with any of these iconic and/or hugely successful films. Yet one man was involved, either as producer or distributor, with all these movies. Mind you, this is by no means an all-encompassing list but just a small sample of this person’s crowded filmography.
The most coveted film trophy in the world – an Oscar for Best Picture – adorns his mantle, an honour he received as a producer for Shakespeare In Love. Add to that mix seven Tony Awards for his musicals and plays, multiple Emmy Award nominations for his television/online properties and you would be hard-pressed to find a man as prolific, influential and powerful in the world of entertainment as Harvey Weinstein was.
It wasn’t the mortality of The Weinstein Company and Miramax founder, nor an ebbing of his relevance that caused his overnight fall from grace. Instead, it was an inexcusable character flaw that led to the demise of his career as a filmmaker and, more importantly, his reputation and legacy. For all his glittering trophies and awe-inspiring filmography, his name shall forever be tainted by that shameful descriptor: serial sex predator.
The sordid revelations of l’affaire Harvey Weinstein that have dominated news headlines ever since the scandal broke a few weeks ago don’t really have any direct impact on us, the Indian film industry. Yet, we would do well to treat it as a cautionary tale. After all, the environment that allowed Weinstein to get away with so many abusive transgressions over such a sustained period of time isn’t exactly alien to us.
An industry that is almost impossible to break into but one in which the pay-off, in terms of glamour, fame and fortune, is massive if you do succeed. A high-profile, aspirational industry in which the obsessive adulation of fans can sometimes distort one’s awareness of what is appropriate and acceptable. An industry that attracts beautiful people and one with working conditions that are often at odds with conventional norms of employment – erratic hours, outstation schedules et al. An industry that may peddle tales of selflessness and nobility on screen but one that is highly transactional when it comes to anything that anyone does for anyone. An industry where a few men (and they are, with virtually no exception, men) wield massive power on which films get made and who works on these projects. All these descriptions are as true of the Indian film industry as they are of Hollywood.
If anything, given the unfortunate Indian tendency of viewing victims of sex crimes with derision, and our widely shared inclination to avoid getting involved in protracted legal proceedings to seek justice – unlike the US which is a highly litigious nation – one would argue that our industry offers even more leeway to those inclined to misuse their power than Hollywood does.
That being so, it is indeed fortunate that our industry hasn’t been ravaged by a scandal of such wide-ranging and damaging proportions as is playing out in Hollywood now. However, before we start patting ourselves too hard on our backs, let us concede that our track record on this count isn’t exactly spotless. Let us not pretend that we have never heard of work assignments being offered as quid pro quo for wanton favours in our part of the world either.
To clarify, this note is not intended to be a puritanical sermon on morality. As a trade publication, one of our founding mandates has been to eschew personal gossip on these pages, even though web traffic numbers and social media reposts thrive on salacious details, true or imagined, pertaining to our high-profile stars.
However, when someone’s activities go beyond consensual behaviour between consenting adults and enter the realm of exploitation and harassment, it ceases to be a private matter. Instead, it becomes an unfair – and illegal – trade practice that brings disrepute to the profession and can bring down powerful empires, just as it has for The Weinstein Company.
While no tears are going to be shed for Harvey Weinstein, who could well end up in prison once investigations conclude, it is unfortunate that so many others – employees, crews and suppliers of the many projects that have been shelved in the wake of this scandal – shall be collateral damage to one man’s depravity.
One hopes that the Weinstein case will serve as a wake-up call for some amongst us to clean up their act. That one cannot misuse one’s position to exploit others is one of the most fundamental social and moral principles that should be obvious to all. If not, please switch on the news to appreciate the repercussions