In the wake of accusations of sexual harassment levelled against him by at least three women including a journalist, filmmaker Sajid Khan Friday said he was taking “moral responsibility of stepping down” from directing his next film Housefull 4 starring Akshay Kumar.
In a statement on Twitter, the 47-year-old said: “In the wake of the allegations against me and the pressure being put on my family, my producer and stars of Housefull 4, I must take the moral responsibility of stepping down from the post of director till the time I can allay the allegations and prove the truth.”
Khan’s statement came after Akshay Kumar took to Twitter to say, “I have requested the producers of Housefull 4 to cancel the shoot until further investigation. I will not work with any proven offenders, and all those who have been subjected to harassment should be heard and given the justice they deserve.”
Actor Nana Patekar, who has been accused of sexual harassment by actor Tanushree Dutta, too is part of Housefull 4. Early Friday, author Twinkle Khanna, who is married to Akshay Kumar, took to Twitter in support of the survivors. She wrote: “Appalled hearing multiple incidents of harassment and it is truly horrific to hear what these women have been through. Everyone involved in Housefull needs to take a firm stance on this issue. This cannot go on.”
Khan’s sister and filmmaker-choreographer Farah Khan too issued a statement about the “heartbreaking time” for the family. She tweeted: “We have to work through some very difficult issues. If my brother has behaved in this manner he has a lot to atone for. I don’t in any way endorse this behaviour and stand in solidarity with any women who has been hurt.”
The Indian Express spoke to two of three women who accused Khan of sexual harassment and assault. Journalist Karishma Upadhyay said she was in her 20s, when she was working with a leading daily in the 2000s, and went to Khan’s sister’s house to conduct an interview. She alleged he indulged in dirty talk, exposed himself and forcibly kissed her.
“I didn’t talk to anyone about it at the time. It was too traumatic and I wondered if I had done something to ‘ask for it’. Over a period of time though, my family, husband, and girlfriends have all heard of this incident with different degrees of details,” she said.
Upadhyay claimed that their paths crossed again when she was working at MTV, and that at the first meeting for that project she warned him about behaving himself. She alleged he body-shamed her.
The first to talk about alleged sexual assault and harassment by Khan was actor Saloni Chopra, who claimed that she assisted him in a movie in 2011. On Twitter, she posted about getting the job and the calls from him at “odd hours… he’d ask me to send him my bikini photos because he needed to know how I looked if I wanted to become an actor.”
Chopra alleged that he “mentally abused” her, and would ask her to touch him and would “get irritated with me when I said I didn’t want to”. She alleged that Khan would ask her to spend the night at his house too, and also said that “if I thought casting couch was just about one-time sex then I was foolish. No one would cast me unless I was ready to be their ‘keep’.” Multiple calls and texts to Khan by The Indian Express Friday went unanswered.
Another actor Rachel White (33), who starred in Ungli, alleged sexual harassment by Khan in 2012. She told The Indian Express that she was asked to come to Khan’s house for a “meeting” for his comedy film Humshakals, which released in 2014 and starred Saif Ali Khan, Riteish Deshmukh and Bipasha Basu.
“I told him that I wasn’t comfortable doing a meeting at his house, he told me his mother would be there and there’s nothing to worry. He also mentioned how it would be a quick meeting because he had to go meet his driver’s wife in the hospital. It was a sweet thing to say and I was reassured,” said White. She was to meet him for a role that eventually went to Basu, according to White.
Narrating the alleged incident to The Indian Express, White said, “I was in his drawing room when the house help showed me the way to another room where she said he would meet me. It was his bedroom. He spoke about my breasts, asked me to strip and that if I seduce him in five minutes the role would be mine. I left.”
White said that after she left his Juhu house, she headed to a restaurant in Versova, where she met her friends and told them about the harassment. She said, “it was not an audition…it was a meeting. Since that day, I have never gone to anyone’s house for a meeting. It changed me as a person.”
Actor Bipasha Basu, speaking to Indianexpress.com, said Khan had created a toxic environment on the sets of Humshakals and that was the reason she had disassociated herself from the movie during its promotion. “I am glad that women are speaking up about the atrocities of these men with power and clout. It was just his general attitude towards women that would disturb me. He cracked lewd jokes openly and was pretty rude to all girls. (Though) never ever did the same with me,” she said, adding that she decided she wouldn’t work with him again.
Director Subhash Kapoor, who was also accused of sexual harassment, has reportedly been removed from his position on The Verdict, an upcoming web series on ALTBalaji. This news comes two days after Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao announced that they had decided not to produce Mogul, which was to be directed by Kapoor.