No grudge against Arjun Sarja: Chetan slams smear campaign after his support of Sruthi
No grudge against Arjun Sarja: Chetan slams smear campaign after his support of Sruthi

No grudge against Arjun Sarja: Chetan slams smear campaign after his support of Sruthi

Clarifying that he did indeed get an advance to work on Arjun directorial ‘Prema Baraha’, Chetan said he left the project due to creative differences.

The #MeToo allegations raised by Kannada actor Sruthi Hariharan against veteran actor Arjun Sarja saw the industry split – with a handful of people supporting Sruthi, and a much larger number supporting Arjun. One of the first people to stand by Sruthi when she spoke out about sexual harassment was Kannada actor Chetan. And following his support for the survivor, Arjun’s father-in-law has accused him of supporting her out of a personal grudge against Arjun. Prakash Sambargi, Arjun’s father-in-law, has claimed that Chetan was miffed at being passed over a role in Arjun directorial Prema Baraha.

Following this, Chetan has now come out with a statement criticising what he calls an attempt to “paint our struggle for a gender sensitive and equitable Kannada Film Industry” with brushes of political, religious, and personal grudges. Clarifying that he did indeed get an advance to work on Prema Baraha, Chetan said that he left the project due to creative differences with Arjun, and that the two of them have been on good terms since.

In a Facebook post, Chetan wrote, “Around three years back, Mr Arjun Sarja and I were supposed to work together on the bilingual film 'Prema Baraha' as director/producer & male lead, respectively. Mr Sarja had approached me for the role and after I agreed to provide the necessary dates, paid me an advance of Rs 10 lakh. Over the course of the subsequent six months, we had a photo shoot and pre-shoot rehearsals as well as discussed several issues ranging from the film's script to the cinema industry; I also gave up a significant Hindi language film on Mr Sarja's insistence. Mr Sarja and his family treated me well throughout with care & professionalism, and the proceedings were smooth.”

“With time, however, the script appeared to go through some transformations and with my lack of Tamil fluency and other directorial reasons, Mr. Sarja & I came to the conclusion that it would be best if we worked together on a future project. Mr Sarja himself said the advance can be carried forward for the next project. From 2016 to the present, Mr Sarja and I have been in touch including phone calls he made to me a couple weeks and a couple days back. We have been consistently on good terms. I also watched his film 'Prema Baraha' and provided him my feedback,” Chetan said. To confirm this, he also attached a letter, reportedly from Arjun Sarja, which says that the advance can be carried forward into the next project.

"If Mr Sarja does not want to work together and expects his money back, all he has to do is ask (which he has not done so far) and I will return the advance-- regardless of whether that's the required protocol or not."

Speaking to TNM, Chetan said, “He sent me an email which I have posted online. This is common in the film industry that an advance paid for a film carries over for a future project. I am still on good terms with Arjun Sarja."

“Yesterday's events & accusations have left me feeling low, dejected that doing the right thing so often comes with personal & emotional costs,” Chetan wrote in his post.

Chetan appeared alongside Sruthi Hariharan at a press conference in Bengaluru on Sunday, addressing the allegations made by her. Sruthi had alleged that Arjun Sarja sexually assaulted her on the sets of the bilingual film 'Vismaya' in 2016.

Chetan is the secretary of the Film Industry for Rights and Equality (FIRE), an organisation constituted in 2017 to ensure a healthy working environment for members of the industry.

The Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC), a film body registered under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act in 1960 so far does not have an ICC. The body's president announced that it will mediate a meeting between actors Sruthi and Arjun on Thursday. FIRE, however, has maintained that the issue should be examined by an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).

"The KFCC does not have the legal authority to handle sexual harassment cases. If they mediate a meeting, then it is under their purview. But they have never exercised sensitivity or objectivity in these cases and that is a consistent pattern over the last eleven years. Because of that, we definitely need an ICC like the one we have started through FIRE," Chetan said.

He also criticised Sa Ra Govindu, ex-president of KFCC for making derogatory comments against Sruthi in the wake of the allegations. "Sa Ra Govindu has clearly made anti-women, anti-equality and derogatory statement and this is a serious attempt at victim blaming and victim shaming. This is inexcusable, not condonable and unfortunate," he said.

FIRE constituted an ICC of its own and formally announced its members in the press conference on Sunday. The 11 members of the ICC are chairperson Kavitha Lankesh, legal expert Jayna Kothari, Rekha Rani,  Panchami, Vijayalakshmi Patil, Vijayamma, Veena Sunder, Roopa Iyer, Sruthi Hariharan, legal expert Maruthi Jadeyar and Chetan himself.

Chetan, however, was forced to defend his stance of advocating for an investigation into the incident in the face of abuse and criticism against him. He reiterated that the issue was that of sexual harassment and not a clash of political ideologies and criticised those trying to dilute the Me Too movement. "There are people from various political persuasions working against sexual harassment in the ICC formed by FIRE. The whole political agenda to this is to divert the issue and dilute it and make it seem like some kind of a conspiracy theory," he added.

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