Nepal | August 04, 2020

Actor Samragyee RL Shah exposes sexual, mental and financial exploitation in the Nepali film industry

Claims she was repeatedly abused, humiliated and made to work in hazardous conditions through her career

Himalayan News Service
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  • Actor says many others suffering in silence

KATHMANDU : Nepali actor Samragyee RL Shah, who has opened up about harassment she claims to have faced in the Nepali movie industry via a series of videos on her Instagram account, has shared with The Himalayan Times graphic details what she has faced at the hands of three persons

She begins by saying she doesn’t know how to say it as “it is difficult”.

She goes on to narrate how it started during a workshop as the shooting for the film had not started.

Elaborating on the said workshop she shares, “(…) Uncle (film’s producer) called me and he was like, ‘What all did you learn?’ I was like: ‘I am learning…’ He asked me, ‘Can you do romantic scenes?’ I was like, ‘Umm, I don’t know. I will try.’ ‘Come. Let us do a romantic scene,’ he told me. I was like, ‘But there is no script and dialogue.’ ‘Why? It’s just a romantic scene. Why will it be difficult,’ he said.”

Describing what occurred next she says, “He tried to come close and he was trying to do straight up like kiss me. I just pushed him. I didn’t say anything. I just felt weird: ‘What just happened?’ I just ignored him and pushed him. His girlfriend was watching it. I went back, inside, to the class.”

She adds the harassment went on. “He was telling me to lose weight. I was doing that. I followed every instruction. Throughout the shoot, I had taken my best friend. She was with me.”

Watch: Samragyee talks about manifold harrassment faced by her in the Nepali film industry

No safety for actors
She recalls shooting on a cliff in Jomsom during an earthquake in 2015.

“Me and my co-actor went there — we were supposed to give poses and shout. I was doing everything. Below the villagers were shouting, I couldn’t understand them. Then my friend came saying, ‘… Uncle, her mum wants to talk to her.’ They didn’t allow. There was an earthquake and my mum was worried sick.”

She came to know later why the villagers were shouting. “There was an earthquake and we were still shooting on a cliff that didn’t have support — they were asking why we were shooting despite the earthquake. They (people behind the film) knew that but they were shh-shh.”

No help at all
She says they came to Pokhara after two-three weeks, and her friend returned to Kathmandu. “And I was all alone.”

She recalls the night her best friend left: “It was around 11:20. I took a shower and was watching a cartoon.  I felt sleepy … I put the light off. I slept. All of a sudden, I heard some noise — like someone walking barefoot on the floor — from the plastic carpet… After the sarr-sarr noise, I got so scared. I crouched and covered myself. I was reciting Om Namah Shivaya…. while uttering mantras, I felt asleep.”

“I felt ticklish in sleep. I was shaking. When I moved my hand, my hand went on a hand —there was a hand of a man on my stomach. It was dark. I couldn’t see anything. I was sleeping. I could feel it was rough hand. When I caught the hand, I realised it wasn’t a dream. It was a real hand.

“I woke up and sat up on the bed jarakh-jurukh lifting my blanket — and saw the man. Half of his body was on the floor and the other inside the blanket… he stood up; he might not have expected it. I know he was trying to do something.

“It was so dark. All I could see he was in his boxers and ganji. The guy, as per the touch, I can tell he was older, around 27. But of short height… I shouted crying. He had come inside from that window and that guy jumped out the window.

“I screamed for help, I was crying and screaming for an hour, no one came. I was scared that guy might come back as no one was listening to my cries and try to stab me or something. Finally mustering my guts I put on the lights and what I saw was my phone which was on charge was on the floor and mobile data was on and the phone was on silent mode — he was also going through my phone.
“I came out of my room … I banged the doors of some people.

Finally, … Buwa (partner of Uncle) got up. ‘Why no one got up. What’s wrong with this place? What’s with people…,’ I told him.

“His (… Buwa’s) room was next to my room. He was like, ‘I thought I heard something.’

‘You heard something and I was screaming and you didn’t hear,’ I told him and cried. I was like ‘I wanna go home. This is too much. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this.’ He told me not to panic and called police.’

“Police also came. But they came only that night. I think they lied to me that police is investigating. Because they were not there the next day.”

Traumatised for two years
“When that incident happened, I slept with the co-actor’s kaki (aunt). ‘I know you are traumatised. You are alone as well. Come sleep with me. I slept with her that night.’”

She says she felt unsafe the entire shoot. “I realised there was a peephole at the place of shower. So, when I showered, I got someone to stand in front of my bathroom.”

She calls this experience “mental torture”.
“I was traumatised for two years. I kept on having that same dream, even when I was at my home, I felt it was the same scenario. Even when sleeping with the kaki, whenever she moved in sleep and touched me, I remember checking her thinking that guy is back, and then I started crying.”

Just a laughing matter?
The next day after the incident she was on the verandah after breakfast. Already feeling tired after a nightmarish experience she recalls the Uncle as saying, “Tero ta ke ho huh Sam. Tero ta rape bha ho? Talai rape garna aakoo ho? (What’s with you Sam? Did you get raped? Did someone come to rape you?”)

She adds, “He laughed so hard. And the male workers were kind of laughing. I felt like everyone was staring at me.”

Her feeling of insecurity did not stop there as she says, “I doubted the short guys in the set — may be that guy who was in my room last night… may be that guy… It was kind of scary. I had to go through that.”

Made to stay back forcibly
On the last day of shooting in Pokhara she was “very happy to go back to Kathmandu”.

But as she was ready to go back, “Uncle stopped me and put me back to the room. He didn’t let me leave for four days — he kidnapped me because he didn’t have money to pay to the hotel. There was also news that his vehicle was taken by the Hotel as he didn’t have money to pay.”

Other members of crew were not allowed to go.

Let’s stay quiet as nothing good will come of it
Once back in Kathmandu, “I told Mamu everything. She was crying… She scolded … Buwa and others… she was angry for a day or two. But then she decided to stay quiet about this. Because she was like: ‘You are doing this movie and this coming out in the news and everything, you being a girl— everything is going to be affected. It is not good — in our society, people will think bad if such news is out about a girl. Even if you have been touched, people will think that you have been raped. Leave it. Be careful from now on. It will not be good if this goes out in news.’ And so she didn’t want to take action. I was okay.”

Hesitant to pay for work done
According to her there was maybe one month of shooting left in Kathmandu as they’d already completed four months.

“We started shooting. It had been four months. I was doing modelling then. I was going to do THT’s TGIF fashion show, but due to the movie I didn’t do it…”

She says that she had not been paid for her work and she asked … Uncle about it.

“‘It has been four months, when will you pay me?’ He was like, ‘Why do you need payment. You are getting to do a movie.’”

She adds she told him she had got several projects and work in the four months but didn’t take any work because of the movie, that she needs to earn money as she was trying to stand on her own feet and she had worked hard for four months and that “this is not done”.

“After that he told me he would give me Rs 45,000.”
“I found it so funny. I told him ‘I would have gotten Rs 40,000 for four days for walking and practice and everything (in the context of TGIF Fashion Week). I shot your movie for four months. This is very unfair.”

“He said, ‘You are a new heroine… Rs 40,000 is big…’ ‘No, don’t talk like that, I will not shoot.’ ‘Okay, okay, Rs 55,000.’”

“I was hurt. I was like, ‘Find a new heroine for the remaining of the shooting. I am done with it.’ The mental torture… you talk like that when it comes to money after working hard. I won’t do it.”

“I came home. He kept calling Mamu … I asked Mamu not to receive his call. I switched off my phone for a week. Because I had too much of mental torture.”

However, she says Uncle came to her house after a week, signed and left a cheque of Rs 1.5 lakh. She adds the shooting continued, and though they were not satisfied with her voice they decided to go ahead with her voice.

More offers, more difficulties in store
She says the movie became a hit, her acting was appreciated and she started getting offers, but “he had started spreading lies about me… that I was arrogant and difficult to work with — which I didn’t know then”.

As such when people came to her with movies they were scared to talk to her. And “I didn’t want to do movies”.

However, her Mamu made her take the next offer. “When second movie came from an actor-turned-producer, she (Mamu) took me forcefully (to meet her). She said not everyone is that … Uncle. Don’t worry. It is a good banner. She is a woman, she is good. I said okay.”

So she signed the film. But there was something else in store for her as she recalls “one plate of friend rice was brought for hero and heroine… One plate of fried rice is nothing for a bulky hero who does gym. Of course he will finish it all alone. There was talk that one plate of fried rice was for hero and heroine, hero ate it all.”

Then she says later food was not brought on time, they shot for three days continuously. “I saw many things. One actor had 104 degree fever but he was made to walk to Tilicho Taal. Later we were informed he fainted.”

She says that when it was “too much” and were readying for a bonfire scene, “I talked to her (film producer): ‘Di … You tell me that I am like your daughter. That is okay but your management, no matter you tell it is not like Uncle’s, we are not getting to eat, we are not getting water on time, people are suffering from fever. All these are happening. Even after seeing all these, why (kina)…’”
“As I said, ‘kina’, she stood up trying to beat me up, she cussed me. Her husband stopped her.”
The actor says she cried for two hours and completed the shooting afterwards.

Feeling betrayed

Then she met a choreographer-turned-director during the shooting of another film. “I loved her work. She is creative, artistic and talented. We did a workshop for one year (for her film).”

The film’s shooting was in the UK. The director and her husband sent her to Delhi for the visa saying it was ready.

“They would book the ticket and I was supposed to fly to London. When I reached Delhi (with an inline producer), I had to apply for visa. And the inline producer was told to lie to me by the director and her husband… he took my passport from his bag and gave it to me,” she reveals.

“I felt betrayed as I considered her as own sister.”
Yet she applied for the visa and paid for everything on her own — her room and inline producer’s room, food and taxi fare, while they stayed in Delhi waiting for the visa. It was reimbursed later.

However, she says she has not received her last payment from that film.

Coping with all this
“I used to cry a lot but I acted very tough in front of people… I was a very shy kid. I was called ‘laati puttali’. I wouldn’t speak up or express the things I felt. But because of these experiences, I kinda got stronger and bold, able to speak.”

She says she has shared the difficulties she went through with the public via her social media as well as THT as “I want to highlight it’s not always what it seems like and I didn’t know back then I could take action as I was naive and people always used to fear power over me like they do to every actor. From now on if this behavior continues, we shouldn’t be silent about the wrong doing!”

She is sure these people have done bad things to many others. “People are scared to talk. There is group, nepotism, and fear that they might not get work. Everyone has this fear. I had the same fear. Because of that fear, I couldn’t speak.”

She shares she had tried to share her experience of harassment, but was stopped by her mother.
Two years ago she gave an interview on working experience on the Uncle’s biases between her and his son.

“I don’t have a problem with his son. But discrimination was not fair. He got chair and umbrella and not me while working on the hot day. Water and juice were brought in for him but I would get after asking for it few times.”

When she told these things in an interview, she says some reporters called her mother saying: “Why did you ask your daughter to speak like? Doesn’t she have brains? She won’t get movies…”
She doesn’t spare those reporters too saying they earn through these big banners — “they get to take pictures and make news because of the banners to earn money”.

After her Instagram videos, she has been criticised for it with comments like: “You make holes on the plate that fed you…”

She fears for her mother who “is looking after me singlehandedly. She is easily affected by what society says. She was traumatised. I cried but I was like, ‘I shouldn’t stop working.’ But people have been making me look bad. It is happening till this day.”
Though she is not sure of her future plans, she is sure “I am never going work with them, they are not going to work with me”.

She adds, “After working with these people, I was scared this entire industry is like this. But the more I met people, it changed my perspective. Because of these three people, the industry looks bad. Not everyone one is bad.”

The actor asks for some responsibility from media, Watch Here

She has met very professional, nice and hard working people. “I am just trying to keep my head strong. Be positive.”

And she asserts if something wrong happens, she will speak about it. “I am not going to stay quiet and calm from now on. This is too much. Many artistes out there are suffering from same things. Many have spoken about it before me but they didn’t make it to news.”

THT cannot independently verify the averments made by Samragyee RL Shah immediately. If any party feels they have been impacted by these averments, THT will consider publishing their version of events mentioned in this article.

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