#Time'sUpVikasBahl: Director sexually assaults employee, Anurag Kashyap remains silent
As is commonly known, Vikas Bahl was one of the co-founders of Phantom Films production house, along with notable names like Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Madhu Mantena. Bahl's name recently came up as a sexual harasser after a woman found the courage to retell her three-year-old ordeal to HuffPost. While the incident itself is repulsive, Phantom Films' handling of the matter was even worse.
The woman who accused Bahl was an employee at Phantom at the time of the assault. The incident took place on May 5, 2015, after a promotional party for Kashyap's 'Bombay Velvet'. He then went on to constantly harass her at the workplace and over mobile, making it intolerable. Ironically, Bahl's film 'Queen' was praised for its feminist tones, and underlying women empowerment message.
The woman remembered being drunk at the party when Bahl offered to walk her to her room. Since she had been in an accident and was able to walk without crutches recently, she acquiesced. However, Bahl entered her room and tried putting his hand inside her dress. When she pushed him away, he masturbated on her back and said 'Fuck you, bitch' before leaving.
Bahl worsened matters by gaslighting her the next day. He tried to influence her memory by asking if she reached her hotel room safely, indicating he was not present. At the workplace, Bahl called her up on the pretext of assigning chores. As she isolated herself, he tracked her down and mentioned how, with her attitude, she would not be allowed anywhere.
Bahl said, "You know, abroad they allow dogs everywhere...allow dogs at a lot of places. But what about you? With your fucked-up attitude, who will allow you anywhere?" The dog analogy was triggering to the woman who was called a 'bitch' after her assault.
The woman approached Kashyap for recourse on October 30, 2015. However, the director dismissed her narrative saying 'I don't want to know this right now', but promised to fix the matter. Unsurprisingly, Kashyap forgot about her trauma and assigned her a commercial project with her attacker. Notably, between the time of the complaint and quitting, no action was taken by Phantom Films against Bahl.
The woman was so traumatized by the assault, that she needed therapy. However, the anti-depressants had side effects and even made her suicidal. On the brink of self-loathing, she only regained a semblance of normalcy through Buddhist meditation and her boyfriend's support.
Horrifyingly, Phantom Films did not have any avenues where victims of assault could seek redressal. It was a company run by four powerful males. Within this toxic structure, Kashyap moved towards justice only when his girlfriend, Shubhra Shetty, insisted. Her disappointment with Kashyap's inaction and refusal to speak to him after she unearthed more stories of employees' discomfort with Bahl, prompted Kashyap towards action.
Despite the trauma, all the woman wanted was an apology from Bahl. Instead, she attended two meetings - one with Kashyap, Motwane, and Mantena investigating the accusation. The other involved Kashyap, Shetty, herself and her boyfriend. Mantena questioned the truth behind her narrative due to her inebriation and lack of evidence. Notably, he refused to support her claims if questioned by the press.
The second meeting was even worse, as the woman's boyfriend and Kashyap almost came to blows. After months of inaction, the director's sudden self-righteous turn surprised the survivor. He repeatedly insisted that she must take the story to the media. Since he did not explicitly state any support from Phantom Films, the talks devolved to an altercation and the woman wanted to move on.
Phantom Films, in their investigation, violated the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. It states that complaints can be handled internally, but must have one external representative, a woman presiding, and half the committee members should be women.
Kashyap was initially set on resolving the matter without dissolving Phantom Films. However, when the aforementioned meetings in March were unfruitful, Kashyap had no choice. Since Bahl's co-founder contract prevented him being fired even over a 'misconduct', the only other option was a complete dissolution of Phantom Films. Nonetheless, the split seems more like a pre-emptive distancing from Bahl, than a step for justice.
Kashyap has apologized for the poor handling of the woman's incident and admitted to knowing about the incident since 2015 and not doing anything. However, the apology comes three years too late. Furthermore, at the time of the incident, in 2015, Phantom had entered a partnership with Reliance Entertainment. Business and films were more important to Kashyap and company than a safe workplace.
Bollywood has the distinct pleasure of uprooting sexual predators in wake of its #MeToo movement. Notably, it snowballed after Tanushree Dutta called out Nana Patekar's harassment. Kashyap's decision to dissolve Phantom Films, although seems to be motivated by self-preservation, is an act of support to the survivor. Bollywood needs its people to own up their mistakes and express support. If not now, then when? If not you, then who?