Jane Campion alleges sexual harassment at film festival

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The Independent Culture

The international film festival in Delhi was supposed to highlight the talents of female directors from around the world. But the opening ceremony was cancelled, the festival broke up in disarray, and three guests – including the Oscar-winning New Zealand director Jane Campion – have now accused one of the organisers of sexual harassment.

Ms Campion claims that Bhaskar Deb, husband of the festival director, Shyamali Banerjee, made "rude and even lewd advances" towards her and numerous other women. Another director, Ayesha Arif Khan, from Pakistan, says she was "repeatedly mauled by a drunken Bhaskar and constantly offered alcohol".

The pair have lodged formal complaints with the Ministry for Urban Development, with which last December's 5th India International Women Film Festival was supposed to be affiliated. Ms Campion, whose 1993 film The Piano won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, claimed the festival itself was a "scandalous fraud", and she and other guests were "shocked and angry" that Indian authorities had allowed it to proceed.

Mr Deb has strenuously denied the allegations. He was quoted in the Indian media as calling the Sydney-based Ms Campion "a racist from Australia".

Ms Banerjee told The Independent last night: "It's completely fabricated. The claims are completely baseless."

After the complaints came to light in the Indian media, Lipika Pelham, a British-Bengali journalist and film-maker based in Jerusalem, told the Bombay newspaper MiD DAY that she had had a similar experience.

The first evening she attended a cocktail party, where she saw an allegedly very drunk Mr Bhaskar make "lewd gestures" to other female directors. Then "he got up from his seat, came towards me and tried to hug me and kiss me on the cheek. He also put his hand on a Turkish director's back. We somehow managed to move away."

Ms Khan said that, in a "show of extreme lechery and drunkenness", Mr Bhaskar's friends repeatedly knocked on her hotel room door, asking her to join them at a rooftop party. The next day, she arrived at the screening venue. "The auditorium is empty. There is no press and it is finally evident that there is no real festival," she wrote in her letter of complaint.The Ministry of Urban Development, which has forwarded the letters to Delhi police, has denied any connection with the festival.

Mr Deb claimed that the ministry backed out at the last minute. He told The Times of India that he did not even meet Ms Campion, and he accused Ms Khan of trying to besmirch India's good name.

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