“I woke up fearing if he filed a suit against me,” actor Rachel White tell us the morning after she went public with her account of alleged sexual harassment by Bollywood filmmaker Sajid Khan.
“I don’t have screenshots as proofs. I was just waiting for someone to speak against Sajid, so that I could follow. When I read Saloni’s (Chopra) story, I knew I had to share mine. I did not want her story to fade away. People needed to know that this guy is a serial offender,” Rachel said.
In a conversation with indianexpress.com, Rachel White recounted the horrid incident, which changed her forever. “Everybody had been finalised. All that was left was the third girl. I got a call from my agency, which was Kwan at that time, saying there is this requirement of the third lead in Sajid’s film Humshakals. I knew what the star cast was.”
Before Rachel and Sajid met, Saif Ali Khan, Ritesh Deshmukh, Ram Kapoor, Esha Gupta and Tamannaah Bhatia had been signed for the film. “They told me that no established actor was ready to do the role because the other two girls were established but the other actresses thought they were more senior to them. I don’t exactly know what it was, but apparently, they weren’t finding any other established actor to agree to be the third lead. The makers said they were okay going ahead with a newcomer,” Rachel remarked.
The then newcomer decided to audition for Humshakals. “It had a good star cast and was a full-on Bollywood flick. As a newcomer, I didn’t mind.”
Rachel White had never heard anything negative about Sajid Khan. She, however, does not think any hearsay would have really affected her decision to meet him. “Because I would have thought this might have been a hearsay. Also, I was going through an agency. So, I thought he would be professional with me,” Rachel said.
Kwan has corroborated the information. “As is the process with any other casting audition, Rachel would have definitely been sent by the agency, This is something that I can confirm,” Jaya Saha, one of the founders of the talent management company, said.
The first time Sajid indulged in indecent behaviour was even before Rachel met him. She said, “The first thing he said to me on call was ‘Hello! Bengal Tigress! You Bongs are so hot, man!’. I asked him how did he know I was from Kolkata because I found that very creepy. I thought to myself, ‘How does this guy know? I haven’t given it out yet.’ So, he goes like, ‘I checked you on Google darling.'”
“Then I came to the point and told him, ‘This is regarding your film and I believe you are casting for the third lead. When is the good time to meet you?’ He said, ‘Can you come at 5’ish to my home?’ I told him I wasn’t all right with coffee shops and house meetings and that he could let me know when he was in office, I would meet him then. He went on, ‘Arey! No. My mother is at home and don’t be late please because my driver’s wife just had a delivery and I have to visit them in hospital.’ All these things somehow made me feel that this was a sensitive man,” Rachel White said.
Little did she know that it was absolute horror that was awaiting her. The director’s mother wasn’t home. His help directed Rachel to his bedroom, where he was on his treadmill. Soon into the conversation, the director began making conversation about her b***s, Rachel recalls.
She continued, “When he asked me about my b***s, he got off his treadmill and I was standing right in front of the treadmill, leaning on the wall, in the most uncomfortable spot wondering where I am. He was staring directly at my b***s and he was asking me, ‘Are they real?’ And he poked his finger into my cl****ge. I just moved away from him. I don’t know what my reaction should have been. Ideally, I would slap a guy but then you know you have ‘Sajid Khan’ in front of you. You think, ‘Can I do this? Or not?’ So, I was standing there, laughing like a buffoon.”
Sajid Khan did not stop here. The actor said he also asked her to strip because there were bikini scenes in the film. Rachel shot back at him, saying her photos in a bikini had already been sent to the director.
It was when Sajid asked her to seduce him to get the role that she made an excuse and left his house. She said, “I was so pissed. I really didn’t know what had just happened. I had met the creepiest man in my entire life! This is not a horny person, this is not even about sex. He is just sick and a pervert and you can see it on his face.”
The part that Rachel White went to meet the director for went to Bipasha Basu, who later distanced herself from Humshakals. Rachel says she had heard Bipasha was left feeling uncomfortable because of Sajid’s continuous attempts of hitting on her.
When indianexpress.com reached out to Bipasha asking her if she had an unpleasant experience with the filmmaker, she told us that there was no direct harassment that she was subjected to, but the environment on Sajid’s film set was humiliating to say the least.
“He cracked lewd jokes openly and was pretty rude to all girls, (though) he never ever did the same with me. I had sworn never to work in a humiliating environment for women ever again after Humshakals. Everyone knows I dissociated from the film for exactly this reason. I made it loud and clear,” Bipasha Basu said.
As for Rachel White, that was the only time she interacted with Sajid Khan, but it impacted her psyche to an extent that till date she is scared of meeting people. She said, “From last three years (after the incident), I have become so withdrawn, anti-social and I am scared to meet people. Unless, (people) are specific about time, date and venue, I don’t meet them. People say that I have potential and have a spark but I should try harder and do PR, but I know trying harder means putting myself on a platter and that will make me look desperate and then I will get exploited. That’s the effect of that evening of me.”
What has also not helped are the other difficult situations that Rachel has had to navigate through in her career. “Every time there are subtle hints dropped the minute you message someone for work. They tell you that they would meet you and even before the meeting, you start getting calls and whatsapp messages in night. Or, they would say yes for a meeting but would call you at a party to meet up.
“Just last week, someone who I haven’t met in my life, but I know of him and his company, messaged me. He messaged, ‘Hey! It’s my birthday. I am throwing a party and I want to invite you.’ So, I told him that I was shooting on that day and if I pack-up on time, I would definitely come. So, he said, ‘Can you confirm it right now? There are only three-four people,’ and he also named some cricketer who was supposed to come at the party. My instant reply was, ‘Sir, that’s a very private affair. Why are you calling me? You have never met me.’ He sent me a rude reply, saying, ‘Sorry, I even invited you. You may skip,’” Rachel said.
When contacted, Sajid Khan did not respond to the specific allegations but hours later issued a statement addressing the multiple accusations of sexual harassment against him. The directors said he felt morally responsible to step down from the director’s chair of his current production Housefull 4, owing to pressure on his family and the film’s team.