By Subhash K. Jha
“What does it take for a woman in the film industry to work with her dignity intact?” asks the anguished actress Neetu Chandra who last month was allegedly, brutally abused and manhandled by Telugu director Rajshekhar and his producer-wife Jivitha Rajshekhar.
And now Neetu has hired the services of a Mumbai lawyer Jamshed Mistry to fight for what she thinks is her right to work with dignity. She has sent strongly-worded letters of complaint to Women’s Rights and Human Rights commission and is all set to meet the Commissioner of Police in Hyderabad to apprise him of this situation and of her further, legal, actions.
Neetu says she’s suing the director and his wife for “Threatening to kill…mental torture, physically (sic) hitting and abusing, defamation, harming my work…”
According to Neetu, while working for a Telugu film Satyamev Jayate, the lead Rajshekhar and his director-wife Jivitha tortured and threatened Neetu, physically abused her and insulted her in front of the unit, made her work for inhuman (15-20 hours) per day and forced her to shoot when she could hardly stand.
Things came to a sordid head on December 22. “My left eye turned blood red because of lack of sleep, stress and strain, and I contacted the director informing her about this.
Jivitha herself gave me a doctor’s number in Hyderabad. We were shooting in Ramoji Rao Film City, which is 90 minutes drive from Hyderabad. I tried dragging myself to the shoot as much as I could and the call time still remained early.
We shot till 2:30 at night again with that infected eye and by this time I was down with fever too. Before the pack up when I asked my director Mrs. Jivitha Rajshekhar about the next day’s schedule, she said, 9:00 A.M. sharp.”
However, Neetu was in no condition to shoot the next morning.
“Four days of round-the-clock shooting had completely exhausted me, working for 18-20 hours a day was inhuman and my body could not take it any further because of the infection in my left eye, and I was also suffering from fever.
I was shivering and literally shaking. I kept on dragging myself for my shots, so as to not cause any further delay, as it was also the last day of my schedule.
I reached the sets on December 23rd morning at 9:00 A.M., but the shoot started again after 2-3 hours. By 7:00 P.M. I informed the director Jivitha that I was sinking and I could not drag myself further.”
Neetu suggested the unit use a body double.
“It has been used for almost every other actor in this film in the past but never for me because I was always there… Mr. Rajshekhar gave me a few drops of some medicine as he’s a naturopath but there was no improvement in my condition. However, every time I told her this, the director Jivitha said we will finish it soon. ”
The situation snowballed at 12:30 A.M. “My body just gave up and I could not stand. I had two Crocins and my assistant Shravan kept me covered with a shawl.
I tried my level best to stand up for couple of hours. Mr. Rajshekhar, as usual kept on joking around with other co-actors, taking his sweet time in his make-up and hair setup.
I remember while I could hardly stand and still was trying my best, Mr. Raj Shekhar took 10-15 shots for one dialogue. And with every shot, he use to spend at least 5-10 minutes, instead of learning the dialogues well in advance.
He was the only one who completely neglected me whereas, other co-stars of mine including Shivaji, Shiva Reddy and Sherryl Pinto and the whole unit, kept on insisting I rest. I kept on telling my director that I was sinking. After telling her repeatedly no one listened to me, I had no option but to rush to my room… I felt that I was about to faint.”
That’s when the physical abuse started. “The moment I reached my room, instead of calling me on phone, at-least 7-10 men with Rajshekhar and his wife Jivitha barged into my room, hitting my assistants and threatening me and screaming at me.
He said, ‘Who do you think you are?’ And Mrs. Jivitha threatened, ‘We will make you stand. How dare you?’ When I protested Rajshekhar threatened, ‘Don’t argue and you better stand before I change from a man into something else.’
I was highly unwell, scared by seeing so many people pushing my assistant and threatening me and my staff and Mr. Rajshekhar screaming at the top of his voice which was uncalled for.”
That’s when the Rajshekhar got really violent with Neetu. “As I started moving out of my bed, Raj Shekhar HIT ME FROM BEHIND. Rajshekhar said, ‘You better start moving fast.’ He hit me from my room till the lift on the floor, and he kept on threatening to kill me.
Raj Shekhar said, ‘I will kill you. You don’t know me. What can you do?’When I reached the hotel portico down, I was physically hit and abused in front of the hotel staff, guard and all the others standing there. My body had completely given up.
All these people were standing in the corner waiting for my car. When the car arrived, Rajshekhar again pushed and threatened me and said, ‘you don’t know what I can do to you.’
I sat in the car and reached the set. I somehow finished the shoot and he kept on screaming and insulting me on the sets in front of the whole unit. The moment I finished, it was around 2:30 A.M., one of the assistant directors came to say that I was done. I quietly got up and left for the hotel.”
Neetu was petrified. “All my staff from Mumbai who came with me were so scared knowing that Rajshekhar carries a gun and that he is a local from Hyderabad and we don’t know anyone there.
We escaped at around 2:45 A.M. from my hotel. My flight was at 9:00 in the morning and we had to wait for 5 hours at the airport. But we felt safer and secure there.
I took a 9:00 A.M. flight and reached my parents and after that I was under treatment for a week. I was in a state of shock. My mind completely stopped working and now that I feel little better I would like to file a case against both Mr. Rajshekhar and his wife Mrs. Jeevitha Rajshekhar.”
Ends Neetu, “I’ve worked with the biggest of filmmakers Priyadarshan, Madhur Bhandarkar, Dibakar Banerjee, Rahul Dholakia, Raj Kanwar and Vipul Shah. They’ve all treated with great dignity. This incident has scared the hell out of me. Would Mr. Rajshekhar and his wife dare to behave this way with a male actor?”