Former FTII student collects award at international short film festival from National Award winning editor who sexually harassed her seven years ago; takes mike and narrates ordeal in front of shocked audience
A 31-year-old filmmaker, who won an award at a festival on Saturday, told the gathering that the man who was handing her the award had sexually harassed her at the Film and Television Institute of India seven years ago.
Adwaita Das (left) accused Nilanjan Datta of sexual harassment. Datta is an associate professor of editing at the FTII. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Adwaita Das, who won the Best Editing award for the short ‘Dr Mandela Kaise Pagal Hua’ at the International Short Film Festival at the Grand Peninsula, said she was inspired by another movie about sexual harassment that was screened at the festival.
Adwaita Das with director Amitabh Verma and producer Shruti Anindita, whose short film ‘Bhor’ inspired Das to speak up. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The person she accused of sexual harassment is Nilanjan Datta, an associate professor of film editing at the FTII and a visiting faculty at MIT Institute of Design. Datta also won the National Award for Best Film on Environment in 2009 for his short film Bhanga Ghara.
Das said ‘Bhor’, an 18-minute short that received a special jury mention at the Dada Saheb Phalke Awards and won the Best Film award at this festival, brought back memories of being harassed by Datta and losing the battle for justice seven years ago.
Das, who insisted on being identified for this report, said she went up to Bhor director Amitabh Verma and producer Shruti Anindita and shared her experience. The filmmaker couple encouraged her to take up the fight all over again.
Moments later, Das told mid-day, she saw her harasser Nilanjan Datta, a consulting professor of editing at FTII, among the jury members. When her name was announced as winner, she froze when Datta was called on stage to give her the award.
“As I walked up on stage, I shared a glance with Verma and Anindita. They gestured to me to speak up,” said Das. After accepting her award, she took the mike to narrate the seven-year-old incident. “I think I just saw a glimpse of him at the festival,” Das told mid-day.
“I was not sure though it was him. But when my name was announced, I was shocked to see him there on the stage with my award in his hand. That very moment, I decided to give it back to him. I just switched on my camera phone and went ahead to receive the award. I spoke my heart out but I refrained from what I intended to do, out of respect to the jury.”
Anindita said she was surprised the way the entire sequence unfolded. “After having a brief chat with us on her personal experience, when we heard her name called, our eyes were set on her while she was walking on the stage.
Suddenly she gestured saying this is the same guy. I was left aghast. The way she went up to the stage and spoke about her experience, it was phenomenal. It requires a lot of guts. The professor was speechless,” said Anindita.
Verma, an FTII graduate, said he had never seen anything like this in his life. “If our film has inspired someone to this extent, then I think my purpose is served,” he told mid-day. The incident dates back to October 2008, when Das was a student.
“In our FTII days, we used to have small ‘satsangs’ where there was some good natured ragging. But one day, someone complained to the management and the blame was put on some juniors, including me. The seniors were very upset with the management’s decision. One day, Datta, who supported the seniors, came to me drunk. He called me for the satsang. By 1 am, we were alone. For almost an hour, we spoke about a certain film.”
She said the conversation shifted to morality and character and Datta suddenly began casting aspersions on her character. Das alleged that Datta even told her “tumne kya kya gul khilaya hai pata hai.” “He told me I have to give sexual favours to the seniors. He asked me to come to Mulshi dam with him and asked whether I am scared to travel with him and the seniors,” said Das.
She said she could not gather the courage then to complain against the professor since there was a lot of pressure from a certain section of students at the FTII. Some supported her while a majority was on the professor’s side. They asked her for proof of the incident.
“I was traumatised, but somehow the news reached the management and I was called to give my side on the matter,” said Das. “They just asked me a couple of questions and I was asked to go. Soon Datta was sacked.” But in 2013, when Das was in her final year at the institute, Datta returned as a contractual faculty. Having to be around him brought back the trauma. But seniors asked her let go of the matter.
“While some asked me to complain again, several students started making sarcastic comments and treating me like I was the villain. I have lived with the trauma all these years silently.” When mid-day contacted FTII chairman Gajendra Chauhan, he refused to talk about the issue. “I am too exhausted to reply on any matter now,” he said without even hearing the details of the case.
The other side
Nilanjan Datta told mid-day the incident in question is seven years old and that he had nothing to explain. “I was not expecting this at all,” he said. “I have no intention to speak on whatever she has alleged. I had even made it clear to the management then.
FTII is a government institute and it has zero tolerance against sexual harassment. I am still working with FTII. May be she has been instigated by someone, I don’t know. It is a seven-year-old incident. She graduated last year. I have nothing to explain.”