Former beauty queen and Miss Lovely actress Niharika Singh, buoyed by the belated foray of the #MeToo movement in India, says she has faced sexual, physical, emotional, verbal and economic exploitation in the entertainment industry at the hands of known names like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bhushan Kumar and Sajid Khan.
“I decided to write this piece to expand my own understanding of what constitutes abuse, who we choose to punish and whom we are willing to forgive,” Niharika wrote in a an almost 3,500 word-long note articulating her #MeToo story.
The note was shared on Twitter by journalist Sandhya Menon.
Niharika, who had won the Miss India Earth title in 2005, said trying to make a name in the world of fashion and movies came with its share of struggle.
She said her big Bollywood debut ran into roadblocks when Raj Kanwar, a filmmaker who had signed a 10-film contract with her did not start work on his films nor did he allow her to work on any other films that she was offered.
Then she came across Bhushan Kumar of T-Series.
“Bhushan Kumar called me to his office to sign A New Love Ishtory where he gave me an envelope as a signing amount for the film. It contained two 500 rupee notes. I got a text from him later that night – ‘I would love to know you more. Let’s get together sometime.’ I wrote back saying – ‘Absolutely! Lets go on a double date. You bring your wife. I’ll bring my boyfriend.’ He never wrote to me again,” said Niharika, who never got paid for the project.
It was in 2009 that she signed the indie drama Miss Lovely, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui. She says he liked to call himself “Nowaz”. Their interactions led them to get closer as Niharika “found him real” after the “superficial filmy interactions” she had had in the past years.
Narrating an incident when she invited him for breakfast to her house, Niharika said: “When I opened the door, he grabbed me. I tried to push him away but he wouldn’t let go. After a little coercion, I finally gave in. I wasn’t sure what to make of this relationship. He told me it was his dream to have a Miss India or an actress wife, just like Paresh Rawal and Manoj Bajpayee.
“He often complained about how he was judged on his looks, skin colour and that he wasn’t fluent in English. I tried to help him deal with his insecurities, but he was stuck in a state of victimization.”
Cracks appeared in their bonding when Niharika discovered “one lie after another” about Nawazuddin, and she asked him to “clean up his mess, be honest with himself and everyone around him”.
However, their paths crossed again after three years at the Cannes Film Festival where Miss Lovely was to be screened. They reconnected, but Niharika says when “he tried to re-engage me sexually, begging me to be with him”, she refused saying she was happy to be his friend and nothing else.
She has further called out Nawazuddin for being an “aspirational, sexually repressed Indian man whose toxic male entitlement grew with his success”.
“What is interesting to note is that despite not identifying as a Hindu, he carries deep caste prejudices since he chose to protect the honour of his Brahmin wife after their names came up in the CDR scam while on the other hand, he felt very comfortable painting me as a seductress wearing faux for in his book, who he could sexually exploit, for public imagination.”
Nawazuddin’s biography An Ordinary Life had raked up a controversy after the National Award-winning actor mentioned details of his relationship with Niharika.
In the end, she shared her tryst with Sajid Khan, who has been named by multiple women for sexual harassment.
“I met (him) a couple of times while he was dating an actress I knew years ago, made a few predictions when a close friend of ours was opening her second restaurant – ‘This place will shut down within a year, mark my words.’ To his actress girlfriend he said,’She won’t survive a day without me in Bollywood’. And, this one’, looking at me straight,’will soon commit suicide.’
“My restaurateur friend is opening her fourth restaurant. It is difficult to get a table at the other three. The actress’ career skyrocketed after she dumped the filmmaker and I have managed to stay alive.”