A Day after announcing the dissolution of Phantom Films, following sexual harassment allegations against one of the partners and Queen director Vikas Bahl, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap on Sunday said “in hindsight”, he could see that he was “ill-advised” by his legal aides. Filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane, also a partner at Phantom Films, apologised for the incident and called Bahl a “sexual offender”.
Kashyap and Motwane, who formed the production house along with Bahl and Madhu Mantena seven years ago, posted their separate statements on social media. In a HuffPost India report that came out Saturday, a former woman employee of Phantom Films accused Bahl of sexually assaulting her in May 2015 at a hotel in Goa. She said she had confided in Kashyap, and he hadn’t taken any action. She quit the company in 2017.
“While at Phantom, I did everything I could, within what I was told by my partner and his lawyers. For legal and financial decisions, I was fully dependent on my partner and his team. They took care of those things so I could focus on what I did better, creatives. His word and his team’s word on any matter used to be the final word for us,” Kashyap said in his statement today, adding that the company decided to bar Bahl from the office premises and took away his signing authority.
He said the lawyers advised against firing Bahl because of his status as “an equal promoter/ director who actually ran the company”, and said there was no clause in the contract to fire him “on grounds of misconduct”. Kashyap, however, claimed that he had “named and shamed” Bahl in private “amongst whoever asked about it”.
Motwane, director of Lootera, Trapped and Bhavesh Joshi, said in his statement: “I didn’t hear about the incident between Vikas and the girl when it happened in 2015. The first time I heard of it was in March 2017, when Anurag called me and told me about it. Madhu, me and Anurag sat with the girl and she told us the whole story, in the same detail as in the article. It was hard to hear and it horrified us.”
According to Motwane, the victim refrained from going public, and Kashyap and Shubhra Shetty tried to convince her to change her mind. “For those of you accusing me of being complicit, creating a boys’ club, and protecting Vikas — I was silent in the press because I felt 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 had transpired, and most importantly, on terms that she wanted and expressly agreed to then.”
Frequent Phantom collaborators like Neeraj Ghaywan, who directed Masaan, and Varun Grover, who wrote Netflix series Sacred Games, also expressed concern over the company failing to create a safe ecosystem for women.
“I am sorry. As somebody who has been a part of many projects with #Phantom in various capacities (lyrics/writer), I feel ashamed that they failed to provide a safe working environment for women,” tweeted Grover, adding that it was a failure on his part that he did not stress upon the company to follow the guidelines of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. “We all are complicit in this failure by rarely checking on our female colleagues or demanding POSH guidelines to be followed,” he said.
“I have felt absolutely disgusted by what Vikas Bahl did to a fellow team member… It was her choice not to speak at the time and I respect that. However, we are complicit in that system. I will speak for myself: I am complicit in working with the company that allows it. I allowed myself to work where such toxic male behaviour and perverse patriarchal mindset fostered,” said Ghaywan.
Screenwriter Apurva Asrani too condemned the incident. “Not only did they allow a predator to continue — they also earned money and fame by working on his films. Several among these were self-appointed crusaders of social media — who arrogantly called out people for their mistakes,” he said.
Bahl is currently directing his next film, Super 30, starring Hrithik Roshan. This was to be Phantom Films’ next release after Manmarziyan, according to its website.
Meanwhile, speaking in Bengaluru, actor Sonam Kapoor said: “It is disgusting. It is gut-wrenching. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it but I find it despicable and cowardly. They should be punished for it.”