#MeToo, the hashtag that turned a sensational, albeit alarming, social phenomenon in the US in 2017, where hundreds of women in the showbiz related their tales of woe, describing what male predators in the trade (cinema, fashion, journalism, art, etc) wanted of them for getting cast, had, in due course, hit India’s film industry too. Whereas quite a few false complaints made the issue fizzle out in India and the world by 2019, sexual harassment at the workplace remains a clear and present danger, and it seems to have hit the famous Dharma Productions whose face is filmmaker Karan Johar. A budding artiste sought an audition for a role in the upcoming project of the production house; one of its casting directors allegedly asked for an unauthorised payment (read bribe or commission) and finally abused her with indecent proposals.
While Tanushree Dutta’s case against Nana Patekar might have lacked corroboration with evidence and by eyewitnesses of the alleged unsolicited advances by the veteran actor, here we have screenshots of the exchange between the budding actress and the casting director of Dharma Productions.
Nitesh Sharma, who calls himself a co-casting director of Dharma Productions, on 11 June called an anchor Reshma Mayekar (who is willing to be named) to tell her she had been selected. Nitesh said, “I am speaking from Dharma Productions and we are casting for our next film Mr Lele. You have been selected, but you have to pay Rs 2,500.”
Sharma shared his details in order to convince the wannabe actress. His introduction to the artiste says he works with Dharma Productions. He sent across casting forms to the actress.
Before Sharma called, somebody had called from Dharma Productions’ official landline but Reshma could not receive it. Right thereafter, Nitesh Shara called from his personal mobile number.
When Reshma said that her earnings had dried up during the ongoing coronavirus-necessitated lockdown and that she could not afford to pay for the audition, Nitesh messaged a while later that if she could not pay Rs 2,500, even Rs 1,500 would do! He said that in the event that Reshma was not selected, she would get a refund. Reshma refused nevertheless.
After a while, Sharma sent a message via WhatsApp. He allegedly proposed there was another way Reshma could get selected for the coveted role. On being asked what the condition was, Sharma allegedly asked Reshma to do some “sex talk”.
“What rubbish!” a furious Reshma exclaimed. Nitesh replied, “You are getting Rs 10 lakh (fee) as well as fame.” Just talking sex in return shouldn’t be a big deal, he allegedly suggested. Nitesh called Reshma about seven times, she told Sirf News.
On contacting Karan Johar’s manager Jena and informing him of the issue, the manager referred Sirf News to “the team” of Dharma and send the details of the complaint to him via WhatsApp.
After receiving the details, Jena called back via WhatsApp to say, “No one named Nitesh Sharma works with us. I spoke to Apoorva Mehta and Shashank Khaitan (director of Mr Lele). They said that the process of casting was over.”
For further responses, Jena, who said he was Karan Johar’s business manager, insisted that Sirf News talked to “the team”. When told we could contact Johar directly, he said we were not supposed to do that.
On being contacted, Mr Lele director Shashank Khaitan denied the charge. He said there was nobody in Dharma named Nitesh Sharma. “This is a fraud call,” he remarked.
Khaitan claimed Mr Lele‘s shooting had been postponed but the casting was done. Sirf News referred him to a Wikipedia article where Nitesh Sharma is mentioned as a casting director of Dharma. Khaitan excused himself by saying, “Anyone can edit Wikipedia, but Nitesh Sharma is not in Dharma production.”
Curiously, however, Khaitan said Dharma’s “legal team” was “working on it”. “We have sent the complete details to our legal team,” he said, failing to explain whether Dharma Productions needed lawyers to edit the Wikipedia article or fight a case for a staff member they claim does not exist.
Meanwhile, after receiving the call from Sirf News, Khaitan reached out to other media houses, saying that Sharma was not a staff member of Dharma Productions and that, if they received this #MeToo complaint, they must dismiss it.
Karan Johar did not respond to Sirf News‘ calls.
Actor Mahesh Sharma said, “I have been working in this industry for the past 12 years but have never heard such things about Dharma Production.”
“This man could be a fraud, but if this really happened, Dharma should take action immediately. Due to some people, the whole industry earns infamy,” the actor said.