Sexual Assault Allegations Against Indian Filmmaker Spark #MeToo Controversy

While many in the Hindi film industry say the accusations have a political agenda to malign the filmmaker's image, there are concerns about not believing the survivor.
SJ
Mumbai, India
September 23, 2020, 8:32am
Sexual Assault Allegations Against Indian Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap May Turn #MeToo Into Ideological Conflict
Indian filmmaker Anurag Kashyap at an international film festival in Los Angeles, California in October 2019. Photo courtesy of Amy Sussman / Getty Images / AFP

Indian filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, known for actively criticising India’s ruling government, has been accused of sexual harassment by actor Payal Ghosh.

On September 20, Ghosh said in an interview with a local news channel that Kashyap “forced himself” on her five years ago. Ghosh claimed that Kashyap tried to convince her to give in to his advances by saying that actors he worked with often gave him sexual favours. Ghosh also named other actors claiming that they had fallen prey to Kashyap’s sexual advances.

Responding to Ghosh’s allegations, India’s National Commission for Women chairperson Rekha Sharma posted a tweet asking Ghosh to file a detailed complaint with the Commission.

Kashyap is a vocal critic of the ruling government and often shares his opinion on crucial issues over Twitter. He has called the allegations against him “baseless” and an attempt to silence him.

Kashyap has received overwhelming support from the film industry. Huma Qureshi, one of the actors Ghosh mentioned in her allegations, denied that Kashyap ever misbehaved with her.

Richa Chadha, another actor named by Ghosh, has filed a legal complaint against her. “No woman should misuse their liberties to harass other women with unsubstantiated or non-existent, false and baseless allegations,” Chadha’s lawyer said in her statement.

Kashyap’s ex-wives, film editor Aarti Bajaj and actor Kalki Koechlin, put out statements in his support, saying he always created a safe environment for women to work in.

Actors Tapsee Pannu and Siyami Kher also tweeted supporting Kashyap.

“As a feminist, I support due process and investigation into this matter, but the timing and way in which it happened seems suspect,” Nikhil Taneja, film producer and writer, told VICE News. Taneja feels that the film industry has emerged as a soft target to divert public attention from pressing issues like India’s contracting Gross Domestic Product, farmer suicides and surging COVID-19 cases. “We are holding celebrities more accountable than our politicians. It is a demonisation and vilification of Bollywood as an industry, and mainstream news channels have realised this gossip gets them higher [ratings],” said Taneja.

In the past, prominent members of the Hindi film industry have faced public wrath and threats of boycott for voicing their opinions. Actor Aamir Khan was trolled when he expressed concerns about the growing intolerance in India. Shah Rukh Khan drew flak when he expressed similar concerns.

In January this year, Deepika Padukone met students of Jawaharlal Nehru University who were protesting against the proposed citizenship law, called Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Multiple right-wing outfits called for a boycott of Padukone’s film which was to be released the same week.

Actor Taapsee Pannu faced a similar reaction for her anti-CAA views.

Kashyap, who quit Twitter last year after his parents and daughter received threats for his strong views, resurfaced on the microblogging site to condemn the surge in violence against students in India.

“The main argument made by those who support him is that it [allegations] come at a time when he was speaking against the right-wing. But just because someone does not fit the narrative of who a harasser is, does not absolve him of the allegations,” Rutuja Shinde, a Bombay High Court lawyer, told VICE News. Shinde has been offering legal aid to survivors who called out their perpetrators in India’s #MeToo movement since 2018. She is concerned that the ideological conflict prompted by the recent allegations may influence one of the movement's most important tenets: to believe all survivors. “Even Nana Patekar [one of the first actors accused of sexual assault in India, which triggered the #MeToo movement] did a lot of social work. A person’s public image is not their private persona,” pointed out Shinde.

In 2018, Bollywood director Vikas Bahl was accused of sexual assault. Bahl and Kashyap were partners in production house Phantom Films.

The survivor alleged that though she had made a complaint to Kashyap about his colleague’s predatory behaviour in 2015, no action was taken. Kashyap apologised for this, claiming his company did not have the legal provisions to fire Bahl at the time. He expressed solidarity with the survivor and dissolved the production house. In 2019, when an Internal Complaints Committee cleared Bahl’s name, he filed an INR 100 million (about USD $13 million) defamation case against Kashyap.

Suparna Sharma, a journalist and film critic slammed Ghosh for including other actors in her statement.

“While I stand by her right to name her perpetrator, my problem is that she mentioned three other actresses, and called them ‘nominal looking’,” said Sharma. Sharma said it was ironic that Ghosh called Kashyap a hypocrite, while not bothering to find out whether his alleged statements on the other actors were true. “It creates this separation that suggests she [Ghosh] is a ‘good girl’ and morally superior to the others, and tarnishes their image,” she said.

After India’s #MeToo movement gained steam in 2018, several well-established Bollywood personalities were accused of sexual misconduct. Some struggled to get work for a few months. Others moved court to prove their innocence.

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