#MeToo: Sruthi Hariharan says Arjun Sarja touched her inappropriately during film shoot; actor denies allegation
After a wave of #MeToo allegations have emerged from the media and entertainment industries in India over the past couple of weeks, the Kannada film industry has been struck by a row of its own — actress Sruthi Hariharan has accused leading actor Arjun Sarja of touching her inappropriately on the sets of a film.
In a Facebook post dated 20 October, Hariharan spoke about an incident that allegedly took place in late 2016, when shooting for a bilingual film starring Sarja. The actors were cast as a married couple, and had to shoot a romantic scene, which required them to hug.
Hariharan alleged that Sarja pulled her taut against him, without warning, running his hands up and down her back. He then suggested to the director that the moment be used as 'foreplay' in the intimate sequence.
"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 was angry that I didn't know what to say then," Hariharan wrote in her post.
She adds that she confided in her make-up team immediately after the incident, and avoided rehearsals with Sarja. However, she says, the inappropriate behaviour continued through the rest of the shoot — which she was professionally bound to complete. "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," Hariharan has said.
"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 chose to come out now, because 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," she added.
As Hariharan's post was widely red and shared, the film's director Arun Vaidyanathan also issued a statement on Facebook.
He said that he was close friends with both actors and was disheartened to read Sruthi's post. He further claimed that the romantic scene in question had been scripted to be a lot more physically intimate initially, but Sarja had asked for it to be toned down as 'it was uncomfortable for a father of two teenage girls' to enact such sequences.
"Regarding the #MeToo movement, we wish this brings a safe environment to all the women across all industries," Vaidyanathan wrote.
The actress Shraddha Srinath was among those who tweeted in support of Hariharan. Srinath said that Hariharan had mentioned the incident to her in November 2016, although she had not named Sarja at the time.
Arjun Sarja denied the allegations raised by Hariharan in an interview with a TV channel.
"The allegations being levelled against me are entirely baseless. I am shocked to hear such false allegations," he said.
Meanwhile, Hariharan stressed on the importance of the #MeToo movement in her Facebook post:
"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... Women have been taught that sexual harassment or anything abusive, is part of being a woman. It’s time we come together and lift each other upthan push each other down. It’s time we change the future for younger women so she can say with conviction 'Wait, he can not speak to me this way' or 'He cannot 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."
Updated Date: Oct 20, 2018 22:37:29 IST