In the wake of the MeToo movement, Sacred Games' actress Elnaaz Norouzi has accused Namaste England director Vipul Shah of sexual harassment while she was auditioning for a role in the film. Starring Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra in lead roles, the movie has released in theatres on Thursday, October 18.
The Iranian model-turned-actor shared how the director kept her hanging for three months on the pretext of signing her as a second lead in the film and alleged sexual misconduct towards her multiple times during auditions. She said that Vipul would try to kiss her on various occasions and had grabbed her butt and pulled her towards him when he had called her to Patiala for another audition.
The said role was earlier offered to Jacqueline Fernandez who turned it down. And in the first meeting itself, Vipul spoke to Elnaaz as if they would be going to bring her on board.
"I hadn't even auditioned for the film. It was weird because things like these take time. A few days later, he made me do an audition with (casting director) Honey Trehan, which wasn't even for an actual scene. I woke up at 6 am, reached Versova beach; was made to do a few natural scenes, just being myself. The casting director, it seemed to me, had not even been briefed. I was mentally tortured for three months. It was evident that if I slept with Vipul, I would get the part. Every time I went to his office, he tried (to hit) on me. He (would) inappropriately touch me, and (try to) kiss me," Elnaaz shared the harrowing details to Mid-Day.
She continued, "Vipul got back saying this isn't what he wanted. I met him again in his office, and again he mentioned, "We will sign the papers over the next couple of days:' This time, when we were saying bye, he came on to me. It was too close for comfort. I didn't get the right vibe. He gave a peck on my face. I didn't expect it. I called up my manager after this to say, "Vipul is serious. He wants to sign the papers. Get in touch with him and go ahead:' For days, I kept chasing my manager, who told me that Vipul wasn't getting back."
Elnaaz's former manager corroborated her story and said, "The casting deal was nearly done and then had fallen through, for no apparent reason."
She added, "When I asked Vipul, he said he wanted to conduct another audition. Basically, I went through six rounds of auditions for the film, and he made me feel like the planet's worst actor. My confidence was shattered. I kept feeling like I was auditioning, and not cracking the part. It was only later I realised that this was his way of calling me to his office, over and over again, to get closer to me. The next time we met at his office, he tried to kiss me. I backed off, said, "What are you doing? We are in your office!" I pushed him away, being affirmative; but careful enough not to come across as rude, because I really wanted the film. Vipul didn't apologise, though I hoped he had understood (the point)."
"During this time, I had asked him about when we were starting (the film). He told me we would begin the Punjab schedule, followed by a London schedule, and that I didn't have any work in the former, only the latter. He wanted me to get familiar with (lead actors) Arjun (Kapoor) and Parineeti (Chopra). So he told me that he would make sure that I get to go to Punjab when they shoot the (film's) first schedule as well. We did another set of auditions. Again, he said he needed to look at them, see if he can do workshops with me, after which, I would be ready (for the role). (During this meeting), once more, he tried to touch me inappropriately. I said I was unwell, and that I had to leave. I left the country thereafter to promote a film of mine."
"When I returned and got in touch with Vipul, he called me over to Padala. It was a five-hour drive from Amritsar. I did another audition there, in his presence. We were staying on the same hotel-floor. After the audition, we went up together. I asked him about when I could hear the (film's) story. He had always avoided narrating it thus far."
"This time, he said, "Come to my room. I will make you hear the script:' At this point, he touched my butt, and dragged me towards himself. I dodged him, went to my room, and sat there wondering if I should just give in. When I got a message from his assistant to come down for dinner, I thought everything was normal. But I felt there was something weird about him at the table."
"For two months after this, I would wake up anxiously every morning, waiting for a text back from Vipul, on when I'd be signing (the contract). He kept delaying it. In the meantime, I had cracked (a part in the Netflix series) Sacred Games. They were keen to sign me up. At that point, I took the offer to Vipul. He said that he would launch me in a big way."
"It was a girl-next-door part in Namaste England, and that he was clear he would not be able to cast me, as a result of Sacred Games, and that I should skip the offer, since they would make me do nude scenes. I was ready to let go of Sacred Games, when a friend of mine made me go back to Phantom, and ask them what my scenes were going to be like. I told Vipul that I had no (nude) scenes in Sacred Games, and that I had read the script. He kept asking me to skip (the offer). He still had not signed a contract with me for Namaste England."
She concluded, "The only reason I am sharing this is because I want these MIAs of disgusting people to stop misusing their power. There are many like Vipul. There shall be more stories, if we see that things don't change."