Neha Sharma: ‘Harassment is not only sexual, but also mental and emotional’

The actor talks about her recent short film ‘Vikalp,’ her strenuous experience depicting the aftermath of sexual harassment on-screen, and more

Despite awareness about the many sexual crimes perpetrated against women, victims of sexual harassment and assault continue to face a deadlock where truth — and the fight for it — conflict with fear and the shame that tags along. Vikalp, a short film by Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films’, brings our attention back to that very endless struggle.

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Starring Neha Sharma as Shivani, the film presents the issue of workplace harassment and her internal conflict with the ‘right’ thing to do. The Dheeraj Jindal-directive, that also stars Anshul Chauhan, appeals to all senses, and is a reminder of how a lonely and dissuading path often awaits victims that crusade for change.

Neha Sharma, known for her roles in Youngistan, Tanhaji and her recent web series Illegal, has played multi-faceted roles across various film industries in India. Now, with her recent projects like Illegal and Vikalp, the actor is seen shouldering women-centric stories with a mission to raise awareness around the topic.

Excerpts from an interview:

In Vikalp, Shivani is seen breaking down completely, but ‘silently’ after being harassed by her boss. How telling of society is the story, post #Metoo?

It has happened to everybody I know of. A middle-class girl like Shivani, who goes to an office where men are in a more powerful position, is asked to make compromises to go up the ladder. After it happens, women are scared to talk; because when you tell someone, they become distant. It is a prevalent, lonely and scary path even after #MeToo. Vikalp is a small step towards bringing about the awareness for people to discuss this more.

Both Illegal and Vikalp deal with women’s struggle at work and sexual assault, but in different ways. Is your intention to shed light on the different aspects of harassment?

In Illegal, it was about someone else’s struggle, and in Vikalp, it happens to the lead character. It is everywhere; be it a lawyer’s life or in the corporate world, and is pushed under the carpet. People forget that harassment is not only sexual, but also emotional and mental. Vikalp shows that. She (Shivani) breaks down and contemplates giving up. There is the desire to tell her family, but she is unable to. When I was shooting, it was mentally draining and strenuous for a few days. But we have to make that change and show the different sides to the struggle.

Shivani’s background and her parents play a key role in adding to her suffering. So does Vikalp highlight the hypocrisy of society and how change should begin at home?

In big cities like Mumbai, it is better. But in small towns, for a middle-class family to send their child — irrespective of the gender — outside, is not common. They are scared of society. If someone wants to make something of themselves, there is a lot of resistance, unlike in the west. Parents here don’t share a friendly equation with their kids. The world doesn’t accept it fully, and neither does the family. So yes, there is a need for things to change at home first in terms of support and acceptance.

When we speak of workplace harassment, the film industry tends to pop up in one’s mind…

I can’t play the role honestly if I don’t feel what she (Shivani) went through. My industry too has these issues. But there are two sides to everything. There are people who are passionate about real issues, and there are those that exploit. We talk about the film industry because it is glamorous. I’m also glad #MeToo happened, because people finally began to talk about it. Now there is change for sure, especially due to the pandemic. Also, there was no box-office pressure… so less scope for talent to be suppressed.

Having said that, every industry has it, but I like to look at the pros. With Vikalp and other films, we are witnessing change.

What other projects are you currently working on?

I’m shooting for Illegal season 2 and it should be out by the end of this year. I have completed Aafat-E-Ishq which is a dark comedy and will be an OTT release, which is great. Then, there is Jogira Sara Ra Ra (alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui) which we will shoot in October, and release in theatres. So I’m really looking forward to the end of the year.

 

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