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I wear the epithet of boring as a badge of honour: Dia Mirza

I wear the epithet of boring as a badge of honour: Dia Mirza – Dia Mirza weighs in on the casting couch and the Harvey Weinsteins of the show world

As more and more Hollywood and European actresses come forward to accuse Hollywood movie moghul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, the question that the Indian entertainment industry needs to ask is, how much longer before the Weinsteins of Bollywood are exposed?

Actress-activist Dia Mirza, so vocal on issues pertaining to women and gender topics, is greatly concerned about the dynamics of the casting couch. “Before we judge, condemn and convict Harvey Weinstein in the media, we must examine the circumstances that foster and encourage such people to misuse their power. I think there is almost nothing worse than empowered men using their power to get sexual favours out of upcoming aspirants, both women and men, too. Let’s not forget men are as susceptible to being sexually exploited as women.”


Dia agrees with Amitabh Bachchan in Pink when he says a woman’s no means a no. But Dia is also concerned with how persuasive and convincing that no is. “I’ve been a part of this entertainment industry for 20 years. I’ve seen how ambitious youngsters avail of sexual favours to make their way up the ladder, not realising that the shortcuts are never a dependable route to success. Why should the onus of such youngsters’ moral compromise only be on the exploitative elements in the entertainment industry? If you are old enough to seek job opportunities, you are old enough to know when you are being told to compromise for the sake of the opportunities. After that, the choice is entirely yours. I never took that route of seeking favours by being ‘nice’ to people, who matter. For this, I’ve been called boring. I refuse to see that epithet as an insult. I wear it as a badge of honour.”


However, Dia can also see why a woman’s silence in matters of sexual exploitation cannot usually be taken to mean compliance. “Disclosure is easier when you are more established. When you are starting out, and you speak out or point out to harassment, you become the attention-seeker, the troublemaker. People’s attention spans are limited. Speaking out then means you are not known for your work, instead are known for having spoken out. People often ask, why not name these men, expose them. It’s important, of course, but sometimes these men are related to the women we adore. Sometimes, the silence is to protect our friends and not out of any misplaced sympathy for these abusers. Also, I am ashamed to say this, but any fight, calling out, naming-shaming, takes time and energy. As artistes, we don’t always have the luxury of time. There’s a constant clock ticking away — and that reminds people that they can only choose some battles, not all. We must, therefore, respect women’s silence too.”


The actress is aware that Weinstein is the product of a deeply patriarchal mindset where men are allowed to behave in a sexually-aggressive manner. “We must also remember that many of these women, who are coming forward to accuse Weinstein, go back with their horror tales to 20 years and more. Back then, the social construct was different in America as it was in our country. What was considered an acceptable masculine behaviour is today rejected as being completely unacceptable.” Dia looks forward to a balanced gender equation where empowered men would not be given space to misuse that power. “For this to happen, women must create an environment for themselves where men have no choice but to treat women as their equal. There should be no coercion of force for this equality to come into being. It should be natural. I want to see women stop playing up to men to get jobs. Only then can we talk about gender equality without a few rotten apples spoiling the basket.”


At the moment, Dia, an idealist when it comes to gender equation, sees women themselves fostering inequality. “Look at the way Twinkle Khanna was trolled when she questioned the validity of Karva Chauth. An anonymous female blogger insulted Twinkle’s parents, marriage, everything. If this is what a woman can do to another woman, how can we hope to build a healthy gender equation? We cannot navigate ourselves to a state of self-sufficiency and zero exploitation without our sisters holding our hands.”


Dia also reminds us that ambition doesn’t mean compliance in sexual favours or greasing the exploitative machinery. “Career women take years to speak out against sexual exploitation because they need to make a name for themselves. Otherwise, they run the risk of not being taken seriously. There is also the question of self-definition. We are where we are because of what we have endured, fought against and emerged triumphant. We are what we’ve become. We are not what once we were reduced into being. We refuse to allow abuse to pack us away into victimhood.”

I wear the epithet of boring as a badge of honour: Dia Mirza

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