Editor’s note: Following Rituparna Chatterjee’s report — Is India’s #MeToo moment here? Women are angry and they are naming and shaming their abusers — Firstpost will publish a series of articles collating personal accounts of those who have made allegations of harassment, along with responses from those who have been accused of such behaviour. This is an ongoing exercise and will be updated to reflect new developments. If you wish to draw our attention to instances of harassment you may have experienced or witnessed, tweet to us @firstpost with the hashtag #MeToo.
#MeToo stories continue to emerge from within the entertainment industry in India on a day that saw fresh misconduct allegations levelled against singer Kailash Kher and writer-actor Piyush Mishra. Now, at least three women have named director Sajid Khan in their #MeToo stories.
In an extensive Medium blog post dated 11 October 2018, actor Saloni Chopra has detailed harassment she underwent while working in Bollywood. Two individuals she has raised specific allegations include filmmaker Sajid Khan and actor Zain Durrani.
Chopra has given Firstpost permission to quote from her blog post.
Chopra describes how she had just moved to India in 2011 (from Australia) and was trying to find work in the film industry, when she met Sajid Khan. She sought to assist a filmmaker to learn more about moviemaking, but claims Khan’s “interview questions” included queries such as if she masturbated and how frequently, if she had been sexual abused, if she would agree to get a breast job, and if she felt sex was all about a mental connection.
Chopra’s account of working for Khan cover a gamut of demeaning experiences.
This account includes allegations of Khan calling Chopra at all hours of the night (and insisting she answer), abusing her verbally, talking about the sexual acts he engaged in with his then partner, and asking her (Chopra) to touch his genitals.
According to Chopra, this torturous behaviour escalated over the months until one day, during an argument in his cabin, Khan allegedly dropped his pants. Chopra writes in her blog post that this was when she finally walked off the sets and did not return to work for Khan.
Chopra says that in a later phone conversation, Khan asked her to report back to the sets. When she refused, he allegedly threatened to end her career.
Sajid Khan was also named in a second #MeToo story shared on Thursday.
Journalist Karishma Upadhyay — who is also a contributing columnist at Firstpost — accused Khan of having sexually harassed her.
“The first time I interviewed Sajid Khan in the early 2000s, he called me to the house he shared with his sister. Through the interview he talked about how large his penis was, and (that) he knew how to satisfy a woman,” Upadhyay wrote in a post on Twitter, that she has given us permission to republish.
Also on Firstpost — Sajid Khan steps down as Housefull 4 director; Akshay Kumar urges film’s producers to cancel shoot
Upadhyay says she ignored what she describes as Khan’s “trash talk” and got back on track with her interview. A little later, Khan left the room saying he wanted to show her a DVD from his collection; Upadhyay alleges that when he returned, his penis was exposed. She also accuses Khan of kissing her without her consent at this point, forcibly pushing his tongue into her mouth.
Uapadhyay says she rushed out of the house. She filed the interview because it was her job.
However, she says a few years later, she encountered Khan once again when they were to work on an MTV project together. She writes in her Twitter post that she warned Khan to behave himself, to which he allegedly replied: “You are fatter than you used to be. I won’t touch you with a barge pole.”
A third allegation against Khan was made by actress Rachel White. In a series of tweets on Thursday evening, White wrote that she had been sent to meet the filmmaker by her agency (during the pre-production and casting for) Humshakals. Khan allegedly conducted the meeting with White while he was on the treadmill in his bedroom. She says that she felt uncomfortable under his gaze, and that Khan referenced her breasts in their conversation after he finished his workout.
White has further alleged that Khan told her to strip since the film would have bikini scenes; she refused saying that photos of her in swimwear had already been shared with Khan. She claims that Khan then said “the role would be hers if she could seduce him in five minutes”.
“It ended with me saying I wasn’t mentally prepared for this and leaving his house,” White tweeted. White confirmed the account to Firstpost in an email interview, adding that she had told a few of her industry friends about the incident. She also said that she never approached Khan for work again, nor did he contact her after the incident.
Firstpost messaged Sajid Khan a set of questions pertaining to these allegations on Thursday night, in addition to making several phone calls to his number. The filmmaker did not answer our calls or reply to our request for a statement. Follow-up calls over Friday morning yielded no reply.
However, Khan did tweet on Friday, a little after noon, that he was stepping down as director of Housefull 4.
“In the wake of the allegations against me and the pressure being put on my family, my producer and the stars of Housefull 4, I must take the moral responsibility of stepping down from my directorial post, till the time I can allay the allegations and prove the truth. I kindly requst my friends in the media to not pass judgment until the truth is out.”
The tweet followed statements by Housefull 4 star Akshay Kumar that he had requested the film’s producers to cancel the shoot until the allegations were investigated. Read the full report here.
In her second allegation (that appears later in the same Medium post), Chopra says she was subjected to physical and mental abuse by the actor Zain Durrani,who she was in a relationship with for over a year. Durrani, Chopra alleges, engaged in behaviour that was not only deeply traumatising, but also hit her on several occasions. It was when Durrani allegedly hit her in a friend’s presence on two different occasions (and this friend exhorted Chopra not to submit to the violence) that she finally walked away from the relationship.
A DesiMartini report last updated in June 2018 features an interview with Onir, in which the filmmaker says he regretted working with Durrani on the film Kuch Bheege Alfaaz after hearing of (and verifying) Chopra’s account of abuse at a later time. “It was so disheartening to know… physical assault is something that I would never support,” Onir was quoted by DesiMartini as saying.
Onir told Firstpost that hearing about the allegations against Durrani had come as a shock; he heard similar accounts from not only Chopra, but also a second woman Durrani had dated. “It hurt to know this about someone I mentored. But I was very sure that I will stand by these girls, because if I don’t — despite knowing what they went through — it would be double standards,” Onir said.
Firstpost‘s repeated calls and messages to Durrani, over Thursday evening and Friday morning, went unaswered. This article will be updated if Durrani responds.
In her blog post, Chopra writes of why #MeToo isn’t just about Hollywood or Bollywood, but about uncovering sexism everywhere. She also explains why she chose to give voice to these allegations now:
“I’m tired of being silent. It has been really hard for me to have relived these memories… but if I didn’t today, I might never have. I can’t preach what I don’t practice. People will ask why I haven’t filed any complaints, but as of now, I’m not looking to legally punish the people mentioned because in a society where this is so prevalent, I believe putting these individuals in jail for what they did to me won’t eradicate the problem. This is about wanting change. If I want something to come out of this, it’s for more people to voice themselves without being afraid and (for them to) remember — that you are not alone. We’re here, and we believe you.”
Read the full text of Saloni Chopra’s Medium post here.
Network 18, of which Firstpost is a part, has received complaints of sexual harassment as well. The complaints which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our PoSH committee for appropriate action.