| Bengaluru |
Published: November 14, 2018 5:43:52 am
The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday will hear a plea of senior Kannada actor Arjun Sarja, seeking dismissal of a sexual harassment case against him. The wave of #MeToo testimonies reached the Kannada film industry last month, when actor Sruthi Hariharan in a Facebook post accused Sarja, an iconic action hero, of inappropriate and lewd behaviour on the sets of the film ‘Vismaya’ in 2016.
On October 27, Hariharan filed an FIR under IPC Sections 354 (assault or criminal force on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (sexual harassment) and 506 (criminal intimidation) against Sarja.
“During the rehearsal, Mr Arjun hugs me. With no forewarning or permission, he runs his hands intimately up and down my back. He pulls me closer with my body taut against his and asks the director if we could use this idea of foreplay in the scene,” she had written in the Facebook post. Sarja, 54, had denied the allegations and filed a defamation case against Hariharan.
Hariharan told The Indian Express that she was spurred by the accounts of actor Tanushree Dutta and singer Chinmayi Sripada to speak up. “I thought that if I keep quiet now, I would be guilty for the rest of my life. It was important to speak up, to say that a particular act is wrong.This is not only a story of victimhood. We are all questioning power, and what it allows another person to do,” she said. “I have faith in the court of law.”
Two witnesses, a makeup artiste and an assistant director, who worked on the sets, have deposed before the Cubbon Park Police in support of Hariharan’s statement. While Sarja declined to comment, his daughter Aishwarya claimed that Hariharan’s allegations “were baseless, a planned strategy, hatched over a month or two, to defame my father”.
“All the video footages of promotion for Vismaya shows her praising my father…Even the director and the producer have denied her account of the events,” she said.
Sarja, a Vokkaliga icon in a film industry dominated by Vokkaligas, is best known for pro-people roles in films such as ‘Gentleman’, and has been often described as the “original six-pack” man. His action films have gained him a largely male fandom, much like Salman Khan in Bollywood.
While the Kannada film industry reacted with rage against Hariharan, who has reportedly been trolled mercilessly on social media soon after lodging the complaint, actor Prakash Raj and film director Kavitha Lankesh have her extended support, prompting a strange twist to the case. Prashant Sambargi, an associate of Sarja, described the allegations as a left-liberal conspiracy against him.
“She is playing out a script given to her. It is a programme to derail Sarja’s construction of a large Hanuman temple near Chennai and his commitment for cow protection. The people who popped up to show solidarity to her, like Prakash Raj, are known for their love of beef-eating and for their role in the anti-BJP campaign during the Karnataka elections. If you look at #MeToo campaign in India, it has only targeted actors like Nana Patekar and Arjun Sarja, who belong to a different ideology,” he says.
Rubbishing the charges, Hariharan said, “It (the case) has been politicised because Prakash Raj and Kavitha Lankesh are on my side. I think it gives them an excuse to overlook the actual problem in hand.”