Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap has issued a detailed statement on a Huffington Post story on Saturday that alleged that he sat on a complaint of sexual assault by his former collaborator, Vikas Bahl. The woman in question told the website that she had complained to Kashyap soon after the alleged assault in May 2015, but that no action was taken against Bahl either by Kashyap or the other founders of Phantom Films.
On Sunday, Kashyap claimed that he had been given the wrong advice by his legal team. “According to legal advice provided to me then, I was told I had very limited options. Now in hindsight and after taking stock of things myself, I can quite see how I was ill-advised,” he said. Bahl was a founding partner and equal promoter at Phantom Films, which was set up in 2011, and there were no provisions in the contract to sack Bahl on grounds of misconduct, Kashyap added.
Kashyap acknowledged that Phantom Films should have had such a clause in its contract, but added this was not under his purview. “I am an idiot to not understand what I am signing, so I should be put in the dock for that,” he added.
The Manmarziyaan director said that he had tried to take action in his personal capacity by suspending Bahl, barring him from the premises and taking away his signing authority. “If that wasn’t enough, I also named and shamed him privately amongst whomever asked about it,” he said. Kashyap also revealed that he was the anonymous source in a Mumbai Mirror story about the incident in 2017.
“The industry is extremely ill-equipped to handle matters such as sexual harassment, copyright, censorship and all the things that we put ourselves in dock with,” Kashyap said, adding that none of this takes away from the woman’s experience. “I am deeply, truly sorry to the woman in question and she has known this all this while. This will never happen again on my work premises ever again.”
Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, Bahl and Madhu Mantena were founding partners at Phantom Films. In May 2017, Mumbai Mirror reported that Bahl had been accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague in 2015 in Goa. Bahl had denied the allegations at the time.
On Saturday, Huffington Post interviewed the survivor, who gave a detailed account of the alleged assault. The woman said that she had told Kashyap about the incident in October 2015. At that point, the woman told Huffington Post, she only wanted an apology. Despite her revelation, the woman claimed that she was asked by Kashyap to work with Bahl on an assignment as late as February 2016.
In January 2017, the woman resigned from Phantom Films. In March, she said, Kashyap reached out to her saying he wanted to “set things right”. The survivor told Huffington Post, “I was disappointed in Kashyap...He had the power to do stuff. He could have if he wanted to. He didn’t”
Kashyap admitted to the website, “Whatever happened was wrong. We didn’t handle it well, we failed. I cannot blame anyone but myself. But now we are determined to do better. We believe her completely. She has our undying support.”
Bahl has not commented on the Huffington Post story. On Saturday, Phantom Films announced that it was being dissolved. The company has among its final projects the second season of the web series Sacred Games for Netflix, and Super 30, a biopic directed by Bahl and starring Hrithik Roshan.
Other Phantom collaborators have issued public statements about their association with the company. Motwane, whose Phantom productions include Lootera (2013), Trapped (2017) and Bhavesh Joshi (2018), said that he heard about the alleged assault only in March 2017, and that he, along with Kashyap and Mantena, got the complainant to give a first-hand account.
The partners proposed action against Bahl, including suspending the director from future productions, but the woman didn’t want to pursue the matter, Motwane said. “For those of you who are accusing me of being complicit, creating a boys club, and protecting Vikas – I was silent in the press because I was trying to make things right in a manner that, at all times, sought to protect the identity of the girl in question, without assigning any doubt whatsoever to her version of what has transpired, and most importantly, on the terms that she wanted and expressly agreed to then,” he added.
Varun Grover, who has written the lyrics of Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) and Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016), and is one of the writers on the first season of Sacred Games, which was directed by Kashyap and Motwane, wrote on Twitter, “All of us men have let our job insecurities or emotional distance from such cases or patriarchy-induced prejudices to allow us to ignore or move on. Whenever some of us have raised our voices, they have either been too feeble or too inconsequential - and the onus is on us alone.”
Neeraj Ghaywan, whose debut feature Masaan (2015) was co-produced by Phantom Films, and who will direct the second season of Sacred Games alongside Kashyap, also issued a statement. “I am complicit in working with the company that allow it [sexual assault],” Ghaywan wrote on Twitter. “I allowed myself to work where such toxic male behaviour and patriarchal mind-set fostered.”
Other voices supported the victim’s account, saying that there was a need for the film industry to acknowledge the occurrence of such crimes and act upon them. Kangana Ranaut, who headlined Bahl’s breakthrough hit Queen (2014), alleged that Bahl made her feel uncomfortable on several occasions. “...every time we met, socially greeted and hugged each other, he’d bury his face in my neck, hold me really tight and breathe in the smell of my hair,” Ranaut claimed. “It took me great amount of strength and effort to pull myself out of his embrace.”