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MeToo: Sruthi Hariharan accuses Arjun Sarja of harassment, says he wanted foreplay scene at last minute

Kannada actor Sruthi Hariharan says actor Arjun Sarja touched her inappropriately on the sets of their 2016 movie, Vismaya.

regional movies Updated: Oct 20, 2018 16:43 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
MeToo,Sruthi Hariharan,Arjun Sarja
Sruthi Hariharan and Arjun Sarja worked together in 2016’s Vismaya.

Kannada actor Sruthi Hariharan has accused actor Arjun Sarja of sexual harassment on the sets of their 2016 movie, Vismaya. She says ran his hands up her back while they were shooting for a scene and demanded an unplanned foreplay scene between the two.

Sruthi shared a long note on Twitter on Saturday, detailing the incident and the need for women to share their stories of workplace harassment so that others may be warned of the perpetrators’ actions. “#metoo #comingout against all odds. Inspite of the all the comments, backlash and misogyny that will follow, I share my experiences below cos this is about a larger change! Bring it on ! #Speakup men and women . It’s time,” she wrote in a tweet.

In her note, Sruthi wrote about how every woman has been sexually harassed multiple times in her lifetime. While she did talk about workplace harassment, she also gave credit to the film industry for the opportunities it gave her in realising her dreams.

Sruthi talked about casting couch and how it’s one of the most common forms of harassment. She wrote that it would be presented as a prerequisite for work opportunities and failure to comply would result in getting kicked out of a project.

She then went on to share the incident with Arjun Sarja on the sets of Vismaya in which he touched her inappropriately. During the film rehearsal, the 54-year-old actor, who has appeared in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films, had to do a romantic scene with the actress, who played the role of his wife in the film, which she has not named in the post. “We delivered our lines and Mr. Arjun hugs me. With no forewarning or permission, he runs his hands intimately up and down my back. He pulls me closer with my body taut against his and asks the director if we could use this idea of foreplay in the scene,” the 29-year-old recalled.

She said the film’s director had “sensed her discomfort” and that she had shared the incident with her make-up team and informed the direction department that she was not interested to be part of rehearsals. She added that Arjun would make her uncomfortable with his innuendos and invited her to meet him after work.

Sruthi said the #MeToo movement is to make sure “no man ever takes a woman’s personal space for granted, whoever she is to him. Read her entire note here:

The #metoo movement has made many of us comfortable with sharing our uncomfortable realities! This movement has empowered survivors of sexual violence to come forward and share their stories with the world! I often see individuals refraining from talking about experiences of sexual violence because they feel they don’t embody what it means to be a “Perfect Victim”. Sexual Violence is about power and privilege, every time a perpetrator is called out, it’s like saving more vulnerable girls from being vilified under their shadows. With the current reckoning happening around the world, #metoo has helped us fervently resist systems of oppression that have been maintaining power for far too long.

I thus believe that the #metoo movement is one of the most efficient use of social media that will attempt at cleansing our patriarchal, sexist and misogynistic society.

Having said that, it is time to break my silence.

Growing up, I have been sexually harassed multiple number of times. I am pretty sure, most women have. An obscene remark or unwanted sexual advances, in a social or professional setting, have made many of us uncomfortable, uneasy and terrified.

When I first started working on films, I was looking forward to great learning experiences and challenges, all in a professional and conducive environment. But today I write this with immense ignominy towards the industry I belong to! This industry has helped me achieve my dreams, explore my capabilities and inspired me to be versatile. It breaks my heart to share that I have felt unsafe, disturbed and disappointed in far too many situations.

The most common attempt at harassment in the film industry is the Casting Couch which would be presented as a prerequisite for work opportunities. Non-compliance of the couch would result in losing that opportunity. Sometimes they simply say, “compromise, or, someone else will”.... the stories get darker.

Honestly, I have been lucky as I have managed to escape physically and mentally scarring situations. However, in late 2016, there was one incident that left me startled and took a while for me to recover.

I was shooting for a bilingual film which starred Arjun Sarja. A man whose movies I have grown up watching. I was excited avout the opportunity. The first few days seemed normal, I played his wife in the film and that day we were to do a romantic scene where we had to hug each other after a brief dialogue. During the rehearsal, we delivered our lines and Mr. Arjun hugs me. With no forewarning or permission, he runs his hands intimately up and down my back. He pulls me closer with my body taut against his and asks the director if we could use this idea of foreplay in the scene. I was aghast. I am all for depicting realism in cinema, but this felt absolutely wrong. His intent seemed anything but professional. I hated that he did it and angry that I didn’t know what to say then.

Scenes are rehearsed before we roll camera and begin shooting. It helps understand staging, body language, actor dynamics etc. That’s the ideal process. You talk, enact, and finally find the balance in a given scene. As an actor, I am entitled to know/be consulted with, about the details of a scene especially when it involves something intimate. I’d also like to share with you that every actor I worked with before and after him, have never resorted to this kind of “improv”. The director sensed my discomfort too. I made sure I let the direction department know that I was not interested to be a part of rehearsals and will come directly for takes. I also shared the incident with my make up team right after.

The incident happened in front of at least 50 people on a shooting set- it happened at my workplace. I wanted nothing but to stay away from him rather than be tolerant and put up with his lewd and complete un professional behavior.

I didn’t want to go back, but as a professional, I had to finish what I had signed for. I continued shooting. During the course of production, every smutty innuendo he made, created an unpalatable work environment for me. His salacious invitations to meet him after work appalled me. Looking back I remember attempting to normalise his behaviour and ignore his comments- lest there be issues in the production of the film in entirety. I maintained a cordial distance. All the while knowing he was wrong and wondering why he never stopped.

I choose to come out now, ‘cos henceforth I think Mr. Arjun Sarja needs to make sure he doesn’t cross the thin line between two actors and use his position of power to cause another person discomfort or hurt.

I choose to do this publicly - cos this movement is more than you and me and our individual experiences. It is a collective voice to question an existing system of power play and to call a spade for what it is. The point is to be part of a larger battle against years of female oppression and abuse. It is a movement to make sure no man ever takes a woman’s personal space for granted, whoever she is to him.

Women have been taught that sexual harassment or anything abusive, is only a part of being woman. It’s time we come together and lift each other than push each other down. It’s time we change the future for younger women where she can say with conviction “Wait, he can not speak to me this way” or “ He can not touch me that way”. It’s time we as women understood that sexual harassment is not comparative but subjective. Each case is different, each individual reacts differently. It’s time individuals who hold themselves in power, and conduct sexual impropriety, are brought down. It’s time we give courage to the survivors, to take their perpetrator’s name. It’s time we create history for the future men and women. It’s time we become more powerful than ever.

It’s time.

#metoo #metooindia #noitsnotok #noitsnotnormal

Arjun, popularly known as ‘Action King’, has acted in over 150 movies across Tamil, Telugu and Kannada languages. He has dismissed the allegations as “false”.

“The allegations being levelled against me are entirely baseless. I am shocked to hear such false allegations,” Arjun told a news channel responding to the sexual harassment allegation.

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First Published: Oct 20, 2018 16:39 IST