Amid Phantom Films' dissolution, woman who accused Vikas Bahl of sexual harassment speaks up
Following the news of Phantom Films getting dissolved, a sexual harassment survivor who had claimed producer cum director Vikas Bahl had molested her, opened up to HuffPost India. Giving a detailed account of the incidents that took place, the night of 5 May, 2015, the woman stated that despite knowing the truth for almost about two years, Phantom founders did not do much about it.
Bahl was most well known for Queen, featuring Kangana Ranaut, a compelling narrative about a woman's path to emancipation and self discovery.
Hansal Mehta and Kubra Sait came out in support of the woman by tweeting about the issue.
Will anybody do anything about this bloody creep or will the industry protect him like it always does? 'Queen' Director Vikas Bahl Sexually Assaulted Me, Phantom Films Did Nothing: Survivor Speaks Out https://t.co/dKeqlMkE0n
— Hansal Mehta (@mehtahansal) October 6, 2018
— Kubbra Sait (@kubrasait) October 6, 2018
In May, 2015, Phantom Films was gearing up for the promotions of their upcoming period drama Bombay Velvet. The survivor, who had recently undergone an accident had been on crutches for several months. She had just begun walking unassisted. After the film's pre-release bash (attended by almost all the cast and crew), Bahl, the woman and a few other crew members continued their celebrations. When the party finally wrapped up, Bahl offered to assist the woman to her hotel room. After initial resistance, she finally agreed when Bahl insisted that she ought not to walk alone. Not suspecting Bahl otherwise, due to his normal behaviour prior to the day, the woman agreed that Bahl accompany her.
Once in the room, she quickly bid him goodbye and rushed to the washroom as she "couldn't hold (her) pee anymore." After coming out of the bathroom, to her utter surprise, she witnessed Bahl lying on the footrest of her bed. He seemed unable to move under the alcohol inebriation despite the woman's repeated attempts to wake him up. After failing, she retired for the day but not before creating a partition of sorts between herself and him with several pillows.
Within second of lying on the bed, the woman felt Bahl's hands go up her dress. After several attempts at resistance, the woman claims she finally pushed him away. That his when Bahl dropped his pants and began masturbating, says the woman. Distraught and disoriented, the woman did not face him and Bahl masturbated onto her back. Before leaving the room, the woman recollects Bahl's last words, he had said, "F**k you bi***."
Shocked, the woman confided in friends and a few associates at Phantom. One of them told her to report the incident to Kashyap, whom she worked under. On 15 May, Bombay Velvet released and tanked at the box office. Before the woman could approach Kashyap, he had already relapsed into his depressive shell. She stated she did not feel ready to share just then.
This was followed by a series of depression-driven days and consequent isolation. She felt so uncomfortable in the office space that she would eat alone, talk to no one and mostly avoid official film parties. She was scared she would have to face Bahl.
The woman recollected an instance when Bahl walked up to her one fine day at the office. He told her that there were various places both abroad and in India where dogs were allowed. The woman kept silent. That is when Bahl asked her how she'd be allowed anywhere with her "f**ked up attitude".
The woman's friends spoke up to HuffPost India stating that this was the roughest period for her where she had gone into taking serious anti-depressants. One of her friends had even gone over to her place and hidden all sharp objects. Most of them were "paranoid" for her.
By October, the woman decided to open up to Kashyap. On hearing the account, Kashyap commented saying he did not want to "know" the specifics at the point but he promised to fix it. Kashyap confessed to the same and agreed to having a "vague memory" of the encounter.
However, a 2016 incident made the woman realise that not much was being done over the issue since Kashyap asked her to assist Bahl on a project. This was followed by a sudden message from Shubhra Shetty, Kashyap's girlfriend, who told the woman that she was sorry for not having done anything on the issue for this long but that she (Shetty) would ensure that Kashyap took steps towards it.
Anurag stated that they had looked into the option of firing Bahl from the company but the lawyers stated there was no clause allowing it as Bahl was not an employee, but a founder and part-owner.
On 10 March, 2017, Mantena, Motwane and Kashyap held a meeting with the woman to understand the entire case which was in complete violation of India's Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 which mandates that such complaints be handled by an internal complaints committee — presided over by a woman, with at least half the committee members being women, and including at least one representative from outside the organisation. But in the woman's case, it was Mantena who questioned her. Suggesting a sense of disbelief, he even questioned her regarding "how drunk" she was at the time of the incident.
Mantena had even claimed, as per the woman, that on being cross-questioned by the media on the issue, he would not release a statement in the woman's support.
Except for a coverage by the Mumbai Mirror in 2017, the issue pretty much evaded most media organisations.
Kashyap confesses to have handled the issue badly at the point. The woman claimed that the director had coerced her to come out to the media and publicly denounce Bahl. The woman's boyfriend counter-argued that despite knowing the matter fully, Phantom Films as an organisation had failed to do anything on the issue.
With the production house's recent declaration of parting ways, the woman feels the move was a 'preemptive measure'. Regretful of the many who lost their jobs despite not being a part of the ordeal, she stated that she'd take the stance with a pinch of salt.
"What Bahl did to me that night in that hotel room in Goa has had a lasting impact. I am still healing. It has affected my relationships, my spirit, my social life, everything," the woman said. "I think twice before going out for a film-related event... but do I fear him? No. Not today. And I want to tell every young woman in this industry, it's never your fault. It's not your burden, it's not your shame."
Updated Date: Oct 09, 2018 10:38:21 IST