I have been finding it really hard to put my thoughts into words. It’s often confusing and confronting and difficult to address the abuse or the sexism you have faced, but haven’t had the courage to publicly address for so long.
Like most other victims/survivors, I blamed myself for a long time.
The men I want to write about today are Sajid Khan, Zain Durrani, and Vikas Bahl.
Before I tell you what happened with me, I want people to remember that #metoo isn’t about Hollywood or Bollywood — it’s about you being able to speak up about people that have abused you, it’s about sexism, it’s about you having a voice and not being scared to address the people that think it’s okay to misuse their power over you. It’s about not blaming yourself.
Industries like these help because they are in the limelight. The media doesn’t always want to cover it when it’s your father or your uncle, and that’s the harsh truth. But the fact that famous people are being named, is supposed to give you the courage to speak up. For years, girls have been trying to speak up — often, they’re silenced. But today this movement is supposed to help you come out with your stories. Whether its a family member or a friend or a co worker or an ex lover or a current partner or just a one off date — tell someone you trust. Speak about the abuse. Don’t let all the attention that’s been given to the film industries take away from your story. Your story may not make it in the news, but people, all over this country are only trying to cover the stories of these famous people to give YOU the courage to speak. I, today, am talking about my story to remind YOU, that so can you.
Because I didn’t know where to begin, and who to begin with, I’m going to begin right at the start and hope you stay till the end.
- Sajid Khan
This goes back to 2011, when I had barely just moved to India properly and wanted to assist a director to learn more about film making, and my first ever experience, was the most awful experience of my life. Unfortunately, I was naive and had no idea how to handle it at the time. He was famous for his interview questions. He asks questions like ‘do you masturbate?’ and ‘how many times a week?’… he also asked me if I’d ever been sexually abused, I said yes. Then he asked weird questions like if I would ever get a breast job, and talked about how sex is really a mental connection. Of course he went into a philosophical rant about our human bodies and it’s desires and how sorry he felt for people who had to go through abuse (not the only man who’s said this shit before they take advantage of you, it’s quite common) by the end of the interview I was in tears, and I wasn’t entirely sure why. I didn’t know if it was because I felt somewhat uncomfortable around him, or because I’d opened up too much.
I got the job.
When I first started working for Sajid, he said I was a ‘director’s assistant’ and not an ‘assistant director’ which apparently meant that I’d have to do his work directly. I was okay with that. Slowly, he started calling at really odd hours. If I didn’t pick up I was told it didn’t matter to him if I was shitting or showering or having sex, when he called — I had to answer. I was petrified. The calls started coming at 12 am and 2 am. He said the industry never sleeps and work happens at all hours… except he wasn’t talking about work. He’d ask me what I’m wearing or what I ate. 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.
Eventually, that turned into mental and emotional torture. For months, he mentally abused me and I would cry myself to sleep every night. He’d tell me I wasn’t sexy enough to be an actress. I didn’t have it in me, I didn’t have the ‘oomph’ factor. I talked too much. I didn’t sit properly. I wasn’t alluring or girly enough. Said he wanted to take me under his wing and make me an actress. Cast me in his next movie, but only if I was prepared for it. A part of me wanted it so bad that I kept working for him, and excusing his behaviour whenever I could. He’d say horrible, horrible things about his supposed girlfriend at the time, who also happened to be one of the kindest, nicest women I’d ever met in the industry. I wondered why she was with a man like that. He’d gloat about how he made her who she is today, and he could train me too. Then he’d go onto describe their sex life in ways I didn’t need to know, and also remind me about his one vagina problem. He’d talk about his dick and how big it apparently is and his sexual needs. He would ask me to touch his dick and get irritated with me when I said I didn’t want to. This one time, during a costume trial for a character in the movie he came in to see the girl in the outfit and asked her to lift her skirt and show her ass to him, she looked at me confused and I asked Sajid if it was necessary. She lifted her skirt and he started insulting her telling her she didn’t have any breasts or any ass, how did she think she’d become an actress? Then he asked me to leave the room and let them talk, and I did. It made me sick, but I clearly hadn’t had enough to quit.
This went on for a few months. The calls, the comments. He’d ask me to come stay over at his house and I’d find whatever excuse I could to not go. The ‘I have to be on set at 8am’ excuse didn’t work because his response to that was ‘you can come in late. I’m the director and ill ask someone else to do the job’. So I told him my mum didn’t allow me to stay over at people’s house.
One night, it got really ugly. I was so tired of the calls and the constant harassment, I asked him what he wanted from me. I told him that if this was just about sex then fine, I’d come over right now and fuck him but provided he backed off afterwards and stopped calling me every day. I was so tired of his behaviour that even my fear of him wasn’t enough to shut me up.
He started yelling at me and claimed that I was so naive and stupid if I thought this was just about sex. This wasn’t about sex, it was about me being his little bitch and doing everything he told me to do. He’d name directors that keep actresses at their homes for months and thats just how this works. He then said ‘you think I want to fuck you? I have such a hot girlfriend, why would I fuck a girl like you thats not even sexy?’ So I asked, almost pleading, what was it that he wanted from me? He said he wants me to do everything he tells me to. Stay with him. Maybe he’ll ask me to touch myself in front of him, maybe he’ll want to record it. He’ll do things to me and give me orgasm and teach me the art of sex but maybe he won’t actually put his dick inside me. Maybe he will. But it would be up to him what he wanted and if I thought casting couch was just about a one time sex then I was foolish. No one would cast me unless I was ready to be their ‘keep’.
Frustrated, I asked him to fuck off and I hung up on him. That night I went and told my mother everything. She told me I should quit, or find a way to handle it, but whatever I chose to do, I should be strong enough for either.
The next time I went on set for shoot i was petrified of what he was going to do. But to my surprise, he acted like nothing had happened… for half a day. Then he called me to his ‘directors cabin’ and asked me to write an article for him for some newspaper that wanted to know his hobbies or more about him and his filthy self. I don’t remember what the article was but I liked writing, and he knew i was good at it, so I took his laptop and started typing. I asked him questions and he answered them for me. We didn’t talk about anything else, up until he pointed at the way I sat and snapped at me. ‘Spread your legs when you sit!’ I said I didn’t want to. He started again about how I was so unattractive and there was nothing sexy about me. I wasn’t even good enough to be an actress so how could he ever cast me. He could print a contract right now and make me sign it, but I just didn’t have it in me. He said he was doing this all for ME, for MY GOOD. He tried to grab my hand and put it on his dick to show me that I didn’t give him a boner. I shrugged it off and asked him to stop. He frantically started walking around the room telling me I was never going to have a future in this industry and no man would ever find me sexy and he should have a boner but he doesn’t, he doesn’t have a boner looking at me. And then, he pulled his pants down and showed me his dick as he kept yelling ‘see? You don’t even make me hard!’
That’s when I threw his laptop and I walked out of the room. I was petrified and disgusted and I couldn’t believe what had just happened to me. I couldn’t work for this man anymore.
That night he called and told me to take a few days off, threatening to fire me. I said nothing to him.
Then a few days later he called me up and asked me to come back to work again, and thats when I told him I wouldn’t work for him anymore. He threatened to end my non existing career and throw me out of this industry, and once again, i was scared, but I knew if I kept working for him I’d probably kill myself because I couldn’t take the abuse every day, so I told him to end my career if thats what he wanted to do, but i was done.
Just like that, I was gone. No one on set wondered why I quit or what happened. Maybe he said I was fired, maybe he didn't. This isn’t a story no one knows… I’ve told a lot of people about these incidents, and they usually laugh at the audacity the man had, or everyone just says ‘thats Sajid khan for you, he’s pulled off this shit with so many girls’. It was as though it’s just… accepted and known by everyone and no one cares enough to do anything about it because clearly he was working with some pretty big stars. So I decided I’d just shut up, and forget about it. What was I going to do anyway? Fight against him? That thought made me laugh, even at the time. It took me years to get over the trauma he put me through. I was so scared around the people I worked with. And I’m sure he’s done this to so many other girls, I just want them to know they’re not alone. It’s been 7 years, and it’s about time I said it out loud.
2. Zain Durrani
Zain and I met in Delhi while I was working on Kick, and we went onto date for around one year. Through out that whole year he cheated, lied, and abused me. The worst part about that relationship was that he was the opposite in front of other people. Everyone considered me so, so lucky. I was dating a wonderful, hot man that treated me with so much love and respect in public. He talked about poverty and his eyes welled up when he saw poor children and he didn’t believe in religious wars and was extremely well read. He wrote poetry for me and sang songs and called me Chanda. He’d look at me like he’d never looked at anyone and tell my mother she’d given birth to the most amazing woman he’d ever met and that he was going to marry me. She never had to worry about me ever again, I was his responsibility now. But a few months into that relationship, I thought I was going crazy. The man that everybody thought was the worlds most amazing boyfriend, was a completely different person when we were alone. I don’t even remember the first time he ever hit me. Sometimes I think it happened at a halloween party in Bandra, when the management tried to kick him out. But then I think, it was in my bedroom one night? The memories of how it started are blur and painful to extents I cannot explain in words.
But the night I remember so well, was when he slapped me in the middle of a fight and I fell on the floor, and by the time I got up to understand what had happened, he slapped me again. My world fell apart. I couldn’t understand why he did it. I asked him to leave, but he started crying and howling and said he couldn’t breathe and had some sort of attack in a corner of my room and couldn’t move… I got him some water, said he should go to sleep, and leave in the morning.
The abuse didn’t end there. In fact, it got worse. At every fight, he would raise his hands. He would grab me and push me onto walls, he would suddenly get really angry and choke me. After every single incident of abuse, he would howl and stop breathing and ‘faint’ — by the time he woke up, he didn’t know what had happened. He’d ask if he’d done something, and would call himself a monster and a horrible person. He would send me 10 page long emails referring to himself as a horrible human. He’d tell me he needed me, and he needed my help because without me he couldn’t live and often, tell me I was bringing out a monster in him. He led me to believe this was all my fault. I was the reason he was hitting me. I was the problem, and him, the victim. I thought I had to fix this, and only I could. I mean, the world thought he was wonderful… so something must be wrong with me.
I stopped talking to all my friends and disconnected from everybody because I didn’t have it within me to tell them what was happening. After all, I believed that this was all my fault. I hated myself. I was the girl that always said I would never put up with anyone’s physical abuse. I’d ignorantly wonder why those women even stay? and here I was, in every woman’s shoes who’s ever been abused and then led into believing that it’s her fault. That he did it, because he loves her.
Slowly, he started telling me he could never tell his family about me because I drank alcohol and I wore shorts and they would never accept me. I reminded him that he had a drinking problem himself, and he said that was different. I said I wouldn’t control the things I wear, and he said none of my behaviour was acceptable for his family and this was never going to work out. He would tell me how he wanted to have threesomes and experiment, but also said that I couldn’t do the same if I wanted. He was bisexual, which was fine, but also completely comfortable with hooking up with other men while we were still dating. He’d sleep with other people and tell me he had to do this for his career and how could I not understand that. Why was I trying to slow him down when he was going ahead in life. So I shut up, and I let him do what he wanted. This was just the overall dynamic of our relationship. Him making decisions he couldn’t live with then telling me everything was my fault.
It wasn’t until one time when we were in Rishikesh with his then best friend, who happens to also be a very close friend of mine, that someone else actually witnessed the abuse and I questioned what I had been living with. The three of us were travelling together and staying in a tent and that night, he got angry at me for saying something in front of the man who lights the bonfire and owns the tent and we got into a huge fight. He pushed me hard in front of our friend, and after I fell, dragged me across the floor. After which as always, he couldn’t breathe and he fainted and forgot everything. His friend, who had known Zain since he was 10 years old, said he’d never had a fit or fainted like this in his life and told me he didn’t believe any of it. Which for me was difficult to process at the time because I’d just put up with months of abuse, excusing it because I thought he maybe wouldn’t remember… and that this was all my fault. But honestly, other than right after hitting me, he never fainted or lost his breath nor his memory.
That still wasn’t the end. One of the last times he hit me, was again in front of his friend. We were drinking at his friend’s house and we had a fight, as usual about something I said and why I had to be so vocal all the time. He came and grabbed me hard in the fight and pushed me on the wall. Every time he did that, I always froze. I was so, so scared of him. I didn’t know at what moment he would get up and hit me, and then he would faint. So I said nothing, like always. He controlled his anger and said he didn’t want to drink anymore and that he was going to sleep. 20 minutes later, I was really, really angry. I was pissed off that he thought he could hit me or push me around anytime he wanted to and for the first time I felt like this wasn’t okay. So I walked into the bedroom where he was lying down but wasn’t asleep, and I slapped him. He got up and he slapped me back hard and I fell on the floor, so he grabbed my hand while I was on the floor and dragged me till the door to throw me out. His friend came in the middle to stop him and he pushed him too. The other house mates came out and stopped him. The episode repeated. The crying. The not breathing anymore. The fainting. Forgetting everything he’d done. It was the most coward thing to do to run away from his actions, and I was foolish enough to have lived with it.
Soon after that night, we broke up. It took me almost a year more to actually tell people what had happened to me. I didn’t tell the men I dated, I didn’t tell most friends. I told no one the truth for far too long. I wanted to forget it all. Erase it from my memory, but I couldn’t. I was depressed, and so ashamed of what happened, I still blamed myself. I had spent a year being slapped and abused and I didn’t leave. I woke up with bruises every second day and struggled to hide them from the world. I blamed myself for staying too long. So after the break up, to get away from the pain I was feeling, I channelised all of that anger and hate into my writing and started talking about women, to women. Hoping that maybe I could save someone else from going through what I had gone through. I finally moved on.
Earlier this year, I found out that he had hit his current girlfriend, the one he dated after me (who chooses to stay anonymous and we who know her, have respected her choice). When I found out he had cheated on her and then hit her, I was furious. I was a stronger woman now. I knew what happened all those years ago wasn’t my fault. But I always thought that if I am the only girl he’s done this to, maybe it is was just me. Maybe I did bring out the worst in him, this ‘monster’ he keeps referring to. It was an awful thing to tell myself. When I found out he’d been hitting someone else, I was so ashamed of myself for what happened to her. I realised… that I never spoke up. I never warned her, I never spoke up about the abuse I went through, or who caused it, and maybe if I had, I could’ve stopped it from happening to her and other girls. So I wrote about it here without actually naming him, and Onir, his director happened to read it and know exactly who I was talking about. He reached out to me and helped me address what happened and was so, so supportive. He made a statement and said he wouldn’t work with such a man anymore. Some other people that worked with him called me up and showed support. I was relieved that someone wanted to stand by me through this. Someone believed that men like Zain, deserved to be named publicly. I didn’t feel alone anymore.
When he found out I’d talked to Onir, he went and asked his friends to ‘save his career’ and wrote me a self serving email apologising for his behaviour in the past but never actually addressed what he had done. It was an essay in evasive writing and I felt further insulted that he couldn’t even own up to what he’d put me through. And that, is exactly what I told him.
3. Vikas Bahl
Before I begin I want to address that while a lot of the behaviour women face isn’t ‘abuse’ — it is absolutely sexist and needs to stop. I’m not really talking about this incident because his name is all over the media, but because the incident itself is something that is so, so fucking common in our industry. It happens every day, to so many women, and is sexist to the core. People need to realise that sexism and this kind of an abuse is not just physical but also verbal, emotional and always an abuse of power. It is shocking that we choose to live with such behaviour every day and accept it as normal in our industry.
A few years ago, at Anurag Kashyap’s Holi party, I bumped into Vikas. It was a very overwhelming moment for me because he was one of my favourite directors. Anyone that’s watched Queen and is a woman would say the same. It was an empowering film that an industry like ours desperately needed and I had so much respect for the man for making it. We started talking and I told him more about myself when he turns and says ‘You’re in the wrong profession. Go become an activist or something if you want to save women, why try to become an actress? I wouldn’t hire an actress with so many opinions and things to say. Like shut up and just smile’ I was shocked that I was hearing these words from a man I considered wonderful. I asked him why make a movie like Queen if this is what you really think? And he laughed and continued ‘because you make the movies the world wants to see. It was all empowering and shit. But no one is going to hire you if you talk about Womens rights and have so many opinions. Who cares? Stand and look pretty, or do something else with your life. You don’t need brains to be an actress!’ I thanked him for his time and walked off before I lost my shit at the man. He continued to get extremely drunk that day and ended up in a fight with the girl he arrived with inside a locked room where they broke things and I heard him yelling and abusing and I left soon after. The way I looked at him had changed, forever.
My encounter with him wasn’t sexual abuse, it wasn’t assault, but it was definitely sexist — and it made a difference in my life. This shit happens every god damn day in our industry. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been told not to write the things I do if I want to be an actress because no one will hire me if I’m so vocal. ‘act dumb, till you make it big’ is the advice you get. ‘just smile and look pretty’. It’s exhausting how much we insult and abuse a woman’s rights to work in this industry. No wonder in a lot of the biggest hits, the only job the actress has is to stand around and look hot. She’s only the ‘love interest’ of every hero. That’s her character description — and no one seems to have a problem with that.
There’s so many people out here that aren’t named or shamed because everyone is so scared of talking about it. Women are afraid they’ll never get casted if they speak up. The ‘I really like you, you’re so talented. Lets create some amazing things’ and ‘i’m going to make you a star’ eventually turns into ‘I have feelings for you’ which really means ‘I want to fuck you’ and when you deny them or say that you don’t feel the same way or you aren’t ready for it right now, you never hear from them again. THAT is an abuse of power. Fucking my director should not be part of the audition process. Neither should having feelings for him be. So many actresses have done it, and have had to do it to get where they are today and it saddens me that we look at the new girl on screen and say ‘she would’ve fucked her way up’ but you never look at the same male actors and directors and say ‘he must’ve abused his power for sex with so many women’.
Even today, we’re judging the women for doing something when they’re not actually given a choice. If she had to sleep with someone despite her talent, if that was the only way she was given the role she had — the person casting and the person hiring is abusing their power.
I wish more women who have had to do it would speak up and say they had to do it, and it wasn’t okay for that to be a necessity to become successful. But India obviously isn’t ready for that yet. We’ll judge her and slut shame her and tell her she wanted success so she slept around and now she’s whining. We say ‘oh she got famous by fucking and now wants to speak’ — I don’t understand. Shouldn’t we be glad she wants to finally speak?! We don’t give the women that have done it enough credibility to turn around and say ‘yes I did and I shouldn’t have had to’ because we’ve already judged them for doing it instead of seeing what is really wrong with the society we live in. We love them and admire them, as long as they shut up and act like nothing happened.
Unfortunately, we still victim blame instead of addressing the power abuse.
But to everyone that judges the women who have chosen to speak up about their stories and says they’re doing it for ‘publicity’ — you’re clearly forgetting that the only publicity the girl is getting is negative publicity. There is no overnight fame or a successful career from speaking up about abuse. No girl signs a movie or gets awarded. People troll her, question her story, call her names, and more often than not, no one wants to work with her.
Anyway, this was my story and these were the people that I wanted to address from within the industry I work in, because I’m tired of being silent. It has been really hard for me to have relived these memories in public without thinking about how my family would feel but if I didn’t today, I might never have. I can’t preach what I don’t practice. People will ask why I haven’t filed any complaints, but as of now, I’m not looking to legally punish the people mentioned because in a society where this is so prevalent, I believe putting these individuals in jail for what they did to me won’t eradicate the problem. This is about wanting a change. If I want something to come out of this, it’s for more people to voice themselves without being afraid and remember — that you are not alone. We’re here, and we believe you.