#MeToo: What Kannada film industry's prurient bullying of Sruthi Hariharan, Sanjjanaa reveals

The Ladies Finger

November 22, 2018 14:53:31 IST

By Nisha Susan

I first learnt the word ‘recant’ in school when reading about the 17th century Catholic church forcing Galileo Galilei, one of the founders of modern science, to give up his theory that the Earth moves around the Sun. The Church back then believed that the earth didn’t move. But there is lots of proof to indicate that it wasn’t exclusively his heretical views of heaven and earth that agitated the Church. Apparently several officials were enraged that Galileo’s book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems made fun of them. (The Church only officially agreed with Galileo in 1992, a full 359 years later.) Legend has it that under duress Galileo recanted, but as he left the courtroom, muttered: 'Eppur si muove'. Meaning, “And yet it moves.”

It was hard not to think of forced recanting recently while watching a video of Kannada actor Sanjjanaa apologising a month after first sharing her allegations of sexual harassment during the filming of the 2006 movie Ganda Hendathi. She had said in October that the director Ravi Shrivatsa had forced her into doing scenes she didn’t want to do and also used camera angles to make shots more obscene than she was comfortable with.

The first alarming thing about the video? Sitting beside her is Nagendra Prasad, president, Kannada Film Directors' Association. Was he there to support her? Er. No. It was more in the mode of Angrezo Ki Zamane Ki Jailer in case Sanjjanaa got any more fancy notions of truth-telling.

Prasad (slumped next to her on the sofa) looks bored and disinterested in the beginning, not quite captain of the industry. Sanjjanaa on the other hand sits tall, alert and clear-eyed as if she was about to talk about her career goals for 2019.  Sanjjannaa says, “Some people in the association have taken this personally, they have been hurt. I've listened to actors such as Ambareesh, Rockline Venkatesh and Doddanna.” Sanjjanaa uses the Kannada phrase maathu keli several times (which means both ‘listened to what they said’ and also obeyed).

In a bit Prasad begins interrupting her and scolding her, not even allowing her to finish this stage-managed apology on her own. When Sanjjanaa begins to say, "If I have hurt anyone’s feelings…" Prasad says, “There is no if. You have”. Sanjjanaa tells him that she has feelings too. Prasad says tetchily that her intention doesn’t matter, only that she has hurt the feelings of the director and team of Ganda Hendathi. Prasad says again that there is no need for her to talk about her feelings and that she has hurt ‘our’ feelings and that is why she has been asked to apologise. Sanjjanaa ends by saying that she did not make her #MeToo statement to malign the industry. As if Prasad had not made a spectacle to malign the Kannada film industry. Like the gents from Bollywood who — smack in the middle of the #MeToo wave — made an all-male team to go meet the Prime Minister.

(L) Sanjjanaa Galrani; (R) Sruthi Hariharan. Images via Facebook

(L) Sanjjanaa Galrani; (R) Sruthi Hariharan. Images via Facebook

Some five years ago I had the strong giggles when Kannada film actor Jaggesh complained at length that young women actors had the temerity to turn him down because of a sizeable age gap. Back then, he was enraged that at 50, his age might have contributed to actor Divya Spandana’s decision (who had just become India’s youngest Member of Parliament at 30) to back out of a film. He complained at length about Rajinikanth and Amitabh Bachchan getting very young co-stars while he and others in the Kannada movie industry had been spurned. So much thwarted entitlement.

This year, in late October, Jaggesh sprung up in support of actor Arjun Sarja convinced that the #MeToo movement in the form of actor Sruthi Hariharan was targeting Sarja for ‘political reasons’. Because what else could it be? One pal of Sarja was convinced that it was a left-liberal conspiracy and that Sruthi was following a script. Why? To derail Sarja’s plan to construct a Hanuman temple. Also. (Is there an also you may wonder? Yes there is.) Also to thwart Sarja’s cow-protection. This according to Sarja’s pal is evident is because one of the actors who has stood up in support of Hariharan, Prakash Rai, 'is a beef-eater'.  Sarja’s daughter Aishwarya also wondered whether someone was upset because she and her sister had gifted Sarja a cow and that had set off the sequence of events.

Just like it being a deep plan of Lutyens Media to uproot Gaurav Sawant. Just like it being the 2019 elections which brings on dozens of sexual harassment and assault allegations against MJ Akbar. And so on and on.

There is a popular saying: “If you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras”. What happens to the simple possibility that what Sruthi Hariharan said was true, that Arjun Sarja did harass her during the making of the Kannada film Vismaya? And that what Sanjjanaa said was true. That Sanjjanaa, a veteran of 45 films looking back at her career, objected to being disrespected, being lied to, being bullied, much like Tanushree Dutta did.

Instead, Arjun Sarja — riding high on his delusional wave of supporters — has filed a complaint with the Cyber Crime unit in Bengaluru accusing Hariharan of making fake social media accounts to troll him.

That men like Nagendra Prasad and Arjun Sarja are blind to the reality (of those) who work with them is clear in that they think that their stage managing off-screen drama and prurient bullying will break these women. These two women’s coping strategies are different but both remarkable. Hariharan has no trouble articulating where the trouble lies and seems utterly fearless. She said in an interview with The Indian Express, “Because I once answered a question in a radio interview about a favourite sex position, it is being used to show that I am a woman of no character. It is being argued that someone who speaks like that should have no problem with a man’s touch. No one understands the difference between consent and lack of consent.” Did she back down after the FIR? No she didn’t. Hariharan moved the Karnataka High Court to quash the FIR, her petition accurately describing the accusation as ‘absurd’ and ‘inherently improbable’. Much like Sarja’s defence.

Responding to the news that Chinmaya Sripaaada is being pushed out of the Tamil industry formally for her allegations of sexual harassment against lyricist Vairamuthu, Hariharan tweeted, “We need — yes, NEED more women like her. Women who are strong, fearless, and are capable of working independent of such men/bodies/associations. She doesn't need them to survive and without them she shall flourish. More power to you Chinmayi.”

While Sanjjanaa’s apology is being marshalled by foaming-mouthed men on social media convinced that many more women will back down, I urge them to think again and watch that video again. That video was a spectacle that would make many women viewers' skin crawl with its familiarity, its deep desire to shame Sanjjanaa. It made me feel nauseous and violent. But also not. Because regardless of what ‘maathu keli’ she says she has done, at no point does Sanjjanaa look cowed down and at no point does she actually recant her accusations.

Two days after the video went online Sanjjanaa spoke up again. She said that she had decided on the urging of men like actor Ambareesh and Rockline Venkatesh to apologise, “to calm the whole situation down”. However she stands by her story. She said, “I still maintain that everything I have narrated is true. And even though, I have apologised, I have won my battle in my own way."

And yet, it moves.

The Ladies Finger is India’s leading digital feminist magazine.

Updated Date: Nov 22, 2018 14:53 PM