TVF Vs Phantom: A Comparison of How Both the Scandals Broke Out
(This story from The Quint’s archives is being republished as TVF CEO Arunabh Kumar steps down after sexual harassment allegations were levelled against him in March. It was originally published on 7 April.)
For an industry that takes great strides towards feminism on social media, Indian media surely has several predators off-screen. After the sexual harassment allegations against The Viral Fever (TVF) founder and CEO Arunabh Kumar, another case of alleged sexual molestation has popped up. This time, the man in question is Vikas Bahl, director of the much acclaimed woman-emancipating film Queen, and the co-founder of Phantom Films.
Both the cases however, have unfolded in different ways. Let’s examine.
For Arunabh Kumar it began with an anonymous blog post by a woman on Medium.com, who claimed that Kumar had sexually harassed her on more than one occasion, when she worked at TVF. The post (naturally) went viral, following which multiple women came forward with similar stories against the TVF founder.
In the case of Vikas Bahl, there had been murmurs within the industry for a long time, but they never made it to print or digital media. It was Rajeev Masand who hinted at the storm brewing in his blind item in Open Magazine (March 31, 2017), followed by Mumbai Mirror’s front page story (April 6, 2017).
The Medium post had graphic details about Kumar, and the later claims only added to the story, giving credence to the allegations of his behavioural pattern.
Bahl meanwhile, when in an intoxicated state, allegedly forced himself on one woman in Goa. But as an anonymous stakeholder in Phantom said in the Mirror story, “There are not one, two or three, but multiple victims.”
The Men In Question
When confronted, Kumar rubbished all the allegations and had a strange retort. He said, “I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she’s sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong? Having said that, I am very particular about my behavior – I will approach a woman, but never force myself.”
Bahl, in his defence, said that he is still running his company and that no complaint has been made to the HR department. While he admits to knowing the complainant and the incident that she is referring to, he says she never gave him the idea that he’s making her uncomfortable. He reportedly insisted that it was not a case of a relationship gone wrong either.
Vikas Bahl, Filmmaker (as reported by Mumbai Mirror)I want to ask her if I have crossed a line, whether I have done anything to hurt her, and if she feels that way, I would like to apologise for it. I have known her for long. For two-and-a-half years she has never made me feel as if she is uncomfortable (around me). I have worked very hard to be the person I have become. I do feel a little victimised, but I don’t know what to do about that.
Official Statement By the Company
TVF provided a quick but cringe-worthy statement, denying all the charges and stating it would “leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations.” This presumptuous attitude created a hurricane on social media.
Phantom however, is yet to issue an official statement on the allegation.
After the appearance of the anonymous blog post, comrades at TVF – Biswapati Sarkar, Nidhi Bisht, Sumeet Vyas, Amit Golani and others, feigned ignorance and rallied with their support for the founder on social media.
In Bahl’s case, the other stakeholders at Phantom– Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Madhu Mantena, preferred to be silent. The Mirror story had Mantena denying any action against the Queen director, while another colleague gave sordid details about Bahl’s actions on the condition of anonymity.
Two FIRs have been filed against Arunabh Kumar, and more complainants are expected to step forward.
In Bahl’s case, no FIR has been filed yet as per the reports.
Where Are They?
The police are looking for Kumar, but apparently they’re unable to find him. Meanwhile, some rumours suggest that he has returned to his hometown (Muzzafarpur in Bihar), while others claim Kumar is in Goa.
Bahl is at present in Delhi tending to his ailing mother.
Status At Company
According to on of the partners at Phantom, Vikas Bahl has been sacked from his position at the production house, whereas TVF has taken no such action against its absconding CEO, according to the reports.
Social Media Reactions
The allegations against Kumar went viral on social media, which played a huge role in giving momentum to actions and reactions. #ArunabhKumar and #TVF were top trending topics, thanks to countless participations by social media warriors.
Bahl’s case, despite being in the media, never really spread like wildfire on social media. The silence is deafening to say the least.
Both the men in question are part of collective collaborations that are unique in certain ways. If TVF was the first channel to become successful on digital media with millions of subscribers, Phantom brought together four producer-directors (Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, Madhu Mantena and Bahl), to form a distinctive cooperative.
Feminist On-Screen, Sexist Off-Screen
Both the cases, besides being about sexual harassment of women, bear a strange resemblance. Arunabh Kumar and TVF were known for their content to be quite open and non-judgmental, with little slivers of feminism here and there. Vikas Bahl’s Queen featuring Kangana Ranaut as the conservative girl who decides that she doesn’t need a man to live life, was the perfect example of making feminism strike out with mainstream tropes of Hindi cinema. Yet if these charges are proved, both Kumar and Bahl would turn out to be quite contrary to their public persona.
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