After #MeToo, Sruthi seeks more safeguards for heroines

Kannada heroine accusing star Arjun Sarja of bad touch tells Metrolife why she felt violated
Last Updated 26 October 2018, 12:11 IST

Kannada actor Sruthi Hariharan has accused a big name, Arjun Sarja, of sexual harassment during the shoot of an action film in November 2016.

Arjun is the hero of blockbusters in many languages: Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi. His father Shakti Prasad was a well-known actor in Kannada films, cast mostly in villain roles.

Sruthi says Arjun hugged her, pulled her close and ran his hand up and down her back, leaving her deeply shocked during the shooting of Vismaya in Bengaluru. A slick trailer of the film can be seen on YouTube.

“It happened on the sixth day of shooting. I had hardly interacted with him. The director, Arun Vaidyanathan, sensed my discomfort and said these additions were not required for the scene. I was shaken,” she recalled, when Metrolife called.

At the shoot in question, Sruthi told the assistant director she would like to avoid rehearsals. “I told myself I was going to be a professional and go ahead with the shoot. I tried to put it behind me,” she says.

Arjun got the point and wasn’t always imposing himself. But on many days he asked her to visit him after the day’s shooting was done, she says.

“I tried to deal with it like a strong woman. I put a wall around myself,” she says.

Vocal about women’s rights in the film industry, Sruthi says the time has finally come to open up and talk.

“The #MeToo movement is a collective voice of women saying what is considered okay is not. It is easier to come out now. When I read about Chinmayi Sripaada, Archana Padmini, Tanushree Dutta and others, I thought it was important for me to come out too,” she says. It hasn’t been easy, she says, as many are slut-shaming her. “I am staying away from social media as I don’t want the comments to affect me. I have to stay strong,” she says.

Fan clubs are calling her up and asking, “How can you make such accusations against a hero who has done 150 films?” The most common question in the last two days is ‘Why now?’

“I want to ask them back, ‘Why not now?’” she says.

Better safeguards must be put in place for women actors, she now says.

When a romantic scene is scripted, a rehearsal takes place. The details should have the woman’s consent, she says. Being a member of the Film Industry for Rights and Equity’s Internal Complaints Committee, Sruthi says she is setting an example.

“I was scared to reveal names but I am not anymore. I feel liberated now,” she says.

Sruthi is consulting lawyers about legal steps.

“More than justice for me, I am sharing my story for the larger good. In future, no actor should take another actor’s personal space for granted,” she says.

How should the ICC work?

Sruthi Hariharan, a member of the film industry’s Internal Complaints Committee, says it should be accessible to all women working in the movies.

“We should reassure them they are not alone. We also need to maintain confidentiality as the ramifications are many. Once a written account of an experience is shared, there will be an investigation and a notice sent to the predator within a week. An investigation should follow. Each case is unique and different,” she says.

When does acting stop and abuse start?

“As an actor, one’s intent should be to perform in all honesty. When something goes wrong, one knows it is not acting. When an actor is trying to gain pleasure and using power against you, it is dishonesty,” says Sruthi.

‘#MeToo a good warning’

It’s not just in films, anyone being forced or harassed is not acceptable. I can understand the feelings of someone scarred by incidents like the ones being narrated. As it is said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ The #MeToo movement is a good warning for people to be better-mannered.
RAMESH ARAVIND, Actor, filmmaker and TV presenter

‘Whenever we receive complaints, we will deal with them legally’

We just set up an Internal Complaints Committee a few weeks ago. We will talk to both parties involved. For me, the main thing is that people should not feel afraid to join the industry. We might be losing out on talent because of such fears. We have received a complaint from a makeup artiste last week and we will look into it. We have two lawyers in the committee, and whenever we receive complaints, we will deal with them legally.
KAVITHA LANKESH, Film director and chairperson, Internal Complaints Committee, Film Industry for Rights and Equity

‘A good platform to make industry safer’

I have been vocal about women’s rights even before the industry’s Internal Complaints Committee was set up. The committee is a great platformfor artistes and technicians to voice out their concerns. Some people have misused the #MeToo movement while others have come out with painful stories. The movement may make the industry safer for the coming generation. I cannot vouch if the latest incident has happened or not but I respect Sruthi. She is a mature person and will take the right decisions. I support the truth, whatever the situation.
ROOPA IYER, Director

Shocked, will take legal action: Sarja

Arjun Sarja told a news channel that he was shocked by the allegations and would take legal action against the actress. “I am not scared by the allegations, in fact I am shocked. If something like this had happened, she should have opened up that day,” he said. Sarja added, “She was even all praises for me at a promotional event of the film and said I was an inspiration. I have acted with 60 to 70 female leads and I am in touch with them still. I would never misbehave with a woman.”

(Published 21 October 2018, 12:49 IST)

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