Kannada actor Sruthi Hariharan, who'd previously leveled an allegation of sexual harassment against veteran south Indian actor Arjun Sarja as part of the #MeToo movement, has filed a police complaint on the latter at the Cubbon Park Police Station in Bengaluru on Saturday.
The complaint details the alleged sexual harassment faced by Sruthi on the sets of the bilingual film Vismaya (released as Nibunan in Tamil) which was shot in 2015. The Cubbon Park police have registered an FIR based on her complaint under sections 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty, 354A (Sexual Harassment), and 509 (Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).
In the complaint, Sruthi stated that she was sexually harassed in November 2015 while rehearsing for scenes in the film Vismaya at a bungalow near Presidency College in Hebbal in Bengaluru. She was portraying the role of Arjun Sarja's wife in the film.
"I reached the set around 7:30 am and continued up to 6 pm. On the day, as per the script, we needed to hug after a particular dialogue, After the scene was over, there was rehearsal as desired by the director. During rehearsal, Arjun Sarja began cuddling, touching my hips, moving up to my bra, bringing the movement of the hand down to my hip and further down to my thigh. I took exception that he behaved inappropriately and out of context. I silently suffered and was unable to express it since I am an upcoming artist. Apart from that, he was a senior established artist having clout in the film industry," she stated in her complaint.
She added that the sexual harassment continued, with Arjun Sarja suggesting changes to the scene. "Before I could react, he again pulled me very close and moved his hand behind my back, asking the director "whether we can improvise like this in the scene". I immediately went to the director and told him I cannot work like this as all his gestures/acts are intended to insult my modesty and all his advances, physical contact is nothing but explicit sexual overtures. Unable to be consoled, I rushed to the caravan and started weeping," she stated.
She further added that she faced harassment in another scene in which the duo were supposed to lie in bed. "There was another scene in the film wherein we were supposed to lie down together in bed. Taking advantage of the situation, he pulled my hand forcing me to come very close to him, hug him, but I pushed his hand, finished the scene and came out of the set. I felt Arjun Sarja was determined to outrage my modesty in spite of my resistance.," states the complaint.
She revealed that she did not take legal action immediate because she feared that it would jeopardise her career since Arjun Sarja was an established actor. "I repeatedly felt like taking legal action but could not mobilise enough courage as I was an upcoming artist and spelling it out could jeopardise my career. Apprehending danger to my life, I silently suffered all these days without approaching the law enforcement agency," she added.
She has also sought police protection after allegedly receiving threats from Arjun Sarja's media manager, Prashanth Sambargi. Sruthi filed two complaints against Prashanth on Friday at the High Grounds Police Station in Bengaluru, alleging that he threatened to kill her and is attempting to smear her reputation in the film industry.
Since the time Sruthi raised the allegations on October 19 in a Facebook post, she has been criticised heavily on social media, with her detractors questioning why she had not spoken up earlier. Many have also indulged in slut-shaming her.
Sruthi found support from a section of the film industry, including fellow actors Chetan, Prakash Raji, Shraddha Srinath and Samyuktha Hegde who called for the allegations to be examined.
The Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC), which does not have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) till date, mediated a meeting between Sruthi and Arjun Sarja on Thursday. However, talks between the two broke down and Arjun Sarja filed a defamation suit against Sruthi, claiming Rs. 5 crore.
Film Industry for Rights and Equality (FIRE), an organisation constituted in 2017 to ensure a healthy working environment for members of the Kannada industry, came out in support of Sruthi and advocated for the charges to be examined. FIRE also revealed that it has an internal committee comprising 11 members which can look into complaints of sexual harassment. The announcement was made in a press conference on October 20 in which Sruthi also took part .