The Me Too movement has now rocked the Kannada film industry. This, after the accusation made by popular actor Sruthi Hariharan against pan-South India star Arjun Sarja led to a high-voltage press conference in Bengaluru on Sunday. Addressing a press conference in Bengaluru, Sruthi was faced with a volley of questions from reporters, ranging from the by now stereotypical “why didn’t you come forward earlier?”, to “what is the difference between a good and bad touch?”
The actor took the questions in her stride and resolutely replied. "This is not about whether a particular incident happened or not. People in a position of power are abusing it. People who are superstars are taking advantage of those who are vulnerable. That is wrong; whatever industry it is, it is wrong. We need an active Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to specifically address sexual harassment cases in the Kannada film industry.".
The press conference was called after the Me Too movement gripped the Kannada film industry with multiple actors coming out with instances of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour. Sruthi was joined by members of Film Industry For Rights and Equality (FIRE) – Vijayalakshmi Patil, Panchami, Roopa Iyer, Rekha Rani, Kavitha Lankesh, Chetan, and legal expert Jayna Kothari.
Sruthi had earlier raised an allegation against veteran actor Arjun Sarja, that he had run his hand down her back inappropriately while rehearsing for a scene in the bilingual film Vismaya. Arjun has denied the allegations and claimed that he will file for defamation.
The accusations against the popular actor have since escalated, after an anonymous woman backed the claims of actor Sruthi Hariharan, and said that she and several other persons working as extras on the set of a film were similarly subjected to Arjun's advances.
The woman claimed she was part of a group called the Samantha Group which travelled to Mysuru for a three-day shoot in a film involving Arjun Sarja. The woman, appearing on Public TV, said, "During the breaks, Arjun would approach the girls and point to his room and say that he stays in a hotel and that we can come visit him there. At that time, I did not like his behaviour. We were all either college students, or had just graduated from college, or were looking for part-time jobs. When I read Sruthi Hariharan's account, I felt it was right."
Sruthi also found support from fellow actor Shraddha Srinath and veteran actor Prakash Raj. However, Arun Vaidyanathan, the director of Vismaya, claimed he did not know about the incident and backed Arjun, claiming that the scene being discussed now was actually toned down at Arjun's request.
Others have accused Sruthi of raising the issue for publicity and claimed that she is mentally unstable. However, Sruthi did not hold back in her response to her detractors. "At the cost of being arrogant, I don't need this publicity. I did not have the confidence then to speak up but from now on, if this happens to anyone, I hope they have the strength to talk about this. I expect intimidation and harassment to come my way," she said.
The press conference in Bengaluru comes a day after media apathy came to the fore at a press conference in Chennai in which popular singer Chinmayi was forced to stand up and beg the media, with folded hands, to be sensitive.
Several persons working in the film and media industry have come forward in the last few days recounting experiences of sexual harassment and assault faced by them.