Bollywood director Rajkumar Hirani has been accused of sexual assault by a woman who is believed to have assisted him on his last film, Sanju. Hirani is reported to have made sexually suggestive remarks before assaulting her at his home-office last year, making him the latest notable figure to be named in India’s #MeToo movement.
When did this happen?
The survivor first reported the incident in an e-mail dated November 3, 2018, addressed to Hirani’s business associate and Bollywood producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, wherein she described being subjected to sexual abuse on numerous occasions over a six-month period between March and September 2018.
It is believed to have coincided with the post-production phase of Sanju, a Ranbir Kapoor-starring biopic on Sanjay Dutt which was a huge success at the box office.
Who reported it first?
The publication has reviewed the email in question, spoken to the victim and her friends who corroborated her account saying she had told them that Hirani had sexually abused her on three different occasions HuffPost India also reached out to Hirani for comments and probed all electronic communications traded between both parties.
Who else was addressed in the e-mail?
Anupama Chopra, Vidhu Vinod’s wife and the director of the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) and Vinod Chopra Films Pvt. Ltd., was marked on the complainant’s email along with scriptwriter Abhijat Joshi, who has worked on most of Hirani’s movies including Sanju and Lage Raho Munna Bhai, and Shelly Chopra, Vidhu Vinod’s sister who has directed the upcoming movie Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga.
What has the victim said?
The email details both verbal and physical abuse and the traumatic period that followed for her. “I remember forming these words on my lips — ‘Sir. This is wrong … Because of this power structure. You being the absolute power and me being a mere assistant, a nobody — I will never be able to express myself to you [sic]’,” the woman wrote. Until the assault, she saw Hirani as a father figure, she further said.
“My mind, body and heart were grossly violated that night and for the next 6 months,” the email said described the period that followed.
In her interview with HuffPost India, she confessed to being intimidated by Hirani, who was 30 years her senior and held a position of power. Since her father was suffering from a terminal illness at that time, she said that she couldn’t afford to be fired at that time. Instead, she took great pains to conceal the trauma and maintain a facade of normalcy. “I had no choice but to be polite to him,” the woman told HuffPost India. “It was unbearable but the reason I endured it all, until I couldn’t, was because I didn’t want my job to be taken away from me, and work to be questioned. Ever.”
“I was worried that if I left midway, it would be impossible to find another job in this industry if he were to speak badly about my work,” the woman said. “Because if Hirani said I wasn’t good, everybody would listen. My future would be in jeopardy.”
How Hirani responded
Hirani, speaking through his lawyer, vehemently denied the allegations in December. “At the outset, our client states that the allegations made against him are false, mischievous, scandalous, motivated and defamatory,” Desai said in an email dated December 5,
In a statement reported by India Today, the director said, “I was completely shocked when these allegations were brought to my notice about two months back. I had suggested immediately that it is essential to take this matter to any committee or legal body. The complainant has chosen to go to the media instead. I want to very strongly state that this is a false malicious and mischievous story being spread with the sole intention of destroying my reputation.”
The survivor’s e-mail has been a talking point in close circles for at least two months, with HuffPost meeting with Hirani on two occasions in December. The director is said to have shared printouts of text messages and e-mails exchanged between him and the complainant over the course of six months to prove that he had a normal professional relationship with her. At the second meeting, his counsel Anand Desai told HuffPost, “It should now be absolutely clear to you that the allegations made by the ‘complainant’ are not only
The Chopras, in the meantime, have not openly condemned Hirani’s actions or demanded that he follow Vikas Bahl and Sajid Khan‘s suit and recuse himself from film work.
However, their relationship has come under considerable scrutiny and strain of late, even prompting the removal of Hirani-led Rajkumar Hirani Films as co-producer of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. While the production house’s name was included in the film’s teaser, it was absent on the trailer which released after the allegations came to light.
Anupama Chopra, according to a Times of India report, had confirmed in December that the woman had informed her of the incident, and that Vinod Chopra Films had even set up an Internal Complaints Committee to address the complaints. She reportedly offered her full support to the woman, advising her to file an official complaint since the ICC at VCC Films is not equipped to take up the case (the survivor was employed at Rajkumar Hirani Films).
According to latest reports, Munna Bhai 3, whose shooting was underway, has been stalled until Hirani’s name is cleared. According to a tabloid report, “In a meeting in late December, it was decided that Fox would pull the plug on Munna Bhai 3 if Hirani was found guilty. The studio stands in solidarity with the survivor. VVC Films too has taken the matter seriously, and dropped Hirani’s name from the promotional material of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga.”
“An ICC set up by VVC Films will investigate the matter. Munna Bhai 3, however, by default, is on hold till Hirani gets a clean chit,” a source added.
The allegations against Hirani, who is best known and lauded for his family-friendly dramas and heartening comedies, has revivified the extent of abuse in Bollywood where male patrons and mentors have got away with decades worth of abuse of power and privilege.
In the recent months, dozens of filmmakers, casting agents, producers, executive heads in the film industry have been outed by survivors who are coming forward against all odds, buoyed by global social media movements such as #TimesUp, #MeToo and #WhyIDidn’tReport, which call for safer workplace and better justice mechanisms for women. Qrius has documented the Indian chapter of the movement here.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius