‘Dibakar Banerjee sexually harassed me but won’t talk about it now as #MeToo seems politically driven’

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ack in 2011, Payal Rohatgi called out on Love Sex Aur Dhokha director Dibakar Banerjee for sexually harassing her in lieu of a role for his movie Shanghai. The actress had said that Banerjee asked her to lift up her shirt and show him her stomach. At that time, the actress openly spoke to the press about the harassment, however, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, she chose to remain silent about the incident.

Dibakar Banerjee

Interestingly, a media report also mentioned that Yash Raj Films, who have zero tolerance level when it comes to sexual harassment, might ask Dibakar to step down as the director of Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra starrer Sandip Aur Pinky Faraar taking into consideration the 2011 incident.

When Dainik Bhaskar contacted Payal to let her know about the fresh development, Payal said, “The reason I am not speaking about my sexual harassment in the ongoing #MeToo India movement is because I don’t know what’s the intent behind the campaign. I don’t think the agenda behind it is genuine.”

She further added, “When Tanushree (Dutta) began with the Nana Patekar incident, I found it to be genuine, however, when she suddenly dragged in the Vivek Agnihotri episode I smelled something fishy.”

Payal says that the movement has a political taste to it. She said, “I feel the 2019 elections are just around the corner and all this is a political game. Let me give you an example, in case of MJ Akbar, all the 20 women who came out against him are in some way or the other supporters of Congress. I did research through their social media profiles and bio and realised that from Priya Ramani to Sutapa Paul, all are non-BJP supporters. From my personal point of view, I feel that MJ Akbar shouldn’t have resigned but should have fought the battle while doing his job. I think people are after his position.”

The actress says that she will wait for a few days till she comes to know the real intent of #MeToo movement before she brings back the Dibakar chapter. “Yes I was sexually harassed back then, I was called ‘mad’ and the entire episode took a toll on my career. However, I fought my own battle and survived doing some roles here and there, some TV shows, reality shows and even live shows.”

In terms of the YRF’s story on Dibakar, Payal said, “I don’t know if they will continue to work with him or not. It is completely upon their conscience. I don’t have a say in that.”

In 2011, after Rohatgi’s allegation, Banerjee had clarified Dibakar Banerjee clarifies, “Payal called me around March this year. She told me she wanted to do meaningful films. I met her at the business centre of a 5 star hotel and told her she would have to give a screen test. Her messages conveyed her intentions. I told her if I wanted to cheat on my wife, I would have had an extra marital affair with a non-star. Just for casting someone in my film, I don’t need to have a physical relationship with the person and go against my principles.”

According to Dibakar, the two also spoke several times after this incident. He constantly advised her on her choice of films. He also asked her to keep on doing acting workshops and theatre. The film-maker says, “I also came to know that payal sent such messages to other directors as well. I still had offered her an audition for my film. She wanted to meet me before the auditions but I refused. Post her audition, she told me how she was overwhelmed at having played a recently widowed woman. I thought of taking her to my friend’s studio. So, I went to her house. I stayed there for a little while. There was no tension between us. We discussed her weight. But there was no talk of lifting her skirt.”

Dibakar also added that post that incident, Payal tried to contact him several times to know about the result of the audition. He says, “Her messages were very angry. She called my casting director in the middle of the night in fury. After that, we put an end to all of this. It was my mistake that I took it seriously when she said she wants to do meaningful films.”

Dibakar Banerjee’s other films include Khosla ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!.

(Story by Onkar Kulkarni)