In another shocking revelation, aspiring actress Meira Omar has accused celebrity management KWAN co-founder Anirban Blah of sexual harassment. Meira’s allegations comes at a time when Anirban has been under fire after several woman revealed their horrific stories of how the talent company boss exploited them. Meira, who hails from Afghanistan but was raised in Sweden, came to India to pursue her career in Bollywood but was forced to leave the country after she felt that she won’t be able to make it big in the industry with such predators. Speaking exclusively to the Times Of India, the actress who was seen in 2016 release film Wajah Tum Ho detailed her story.
I went through several bad experiences, but perhaps, this was the worst. Others were at least direct (as far as making inappropriate offers or advances are concerned), so I was more prepared to avoid them. It is not that Anirban wasn’t direct, but he manipulated women before showing his true colours, and that scars you deeply. He would play these games — call you, give you time, pretend to understand you and then make the move. I was in touch with him for about a year between 2016-2017. I felt that I should talk about him while I was in India, but I thought my voice would be considered as insignificant. After all, this man has connections and he had handled big celebrities.
Now that women are being heard, I want to share my experience with Anirban Blah and speak about the power games he plays. It was in 2016, and I was very new to India and Mumbai. I came here to chase my childhood dream of becoming an actress in Bollywood. I was here on my own and had no connections or representation. Through research, I found out that KWAN was a reputed talent management agency. At that time, I wasn’t aware of the rumours about the man heading it. I only knew that he was the boss and I was naive. I reached out to him through Instagram DM (direct message) and was very honest about being new here. I asked him to give me a chance to meet his agency and he enabled that meeting. The meeting didn’t really seem successful and I remember feeling a bit disappointed and sad about it.
Soon after, he contacted me and asked about the meeting with the team. I told him the truth and he replied to me saying, ‘Listen, my team is very basic. They only go for girls similar to the ones who are in the top league today. They don’t know how to spot a star in the making. I am the one who creates stars and sees something, when no one else can. This is what I’m known for.’ At this point, I felt encouraged and excited as he was implying that I might have something unique about me.
The unofficial 'work place'
He wanted to meet me privately so that he could evaluate me personally. He asked me to come over to his work space, as meeting in a public place would give people the wrong idea. He specifically mentioned he didn’t want tabloids writing about it. I felt something turning in my gut as soon as he said that, but I ignored that feeling and thought to myself that it’s okay. His ‘work space’, I later found out, was actually an apartment in Juhu that he kept for himself, away from his family home in Bandra. I entered the apartment and he immediately started commenting on my appearance and asked me to let my hair down and get comfortable. We sat down and had a pretty normal conversation to begin with. He made sure to talk a lot about his accomplishments, and during our conversation, he actually picked his phone and called Deepika (Padukone) to discuss a magazine cover. Everything he said that night was about how he is a man who can get girls to come out of their shell, bring out their inner sexiness and awaken desires in other men. He stressed that all this is what makes one a star.
He even went ahead and told me about a specific case where a girl reached out to him and she was gorgeous, but too timid and shy. So, he locked her in his balcony in that same Juhu apartment where we were sitting, and forced her to masturbate, even though there were possibly neighbours around. He narrated the story to me with a sense of pride. He showed me pictures of the girl he was currently working on, pointing out the difference between ‘before’ (he discovered her) and ‘after’ he had extensively worked on her. He bragged about how his efforts helped her bag a role in a movie. He complimented me on my intellect and eloquence several times, telling me that the fact that I’m intelligent makes me so sexy, but that other people won’t see it. Anirban told me that he could help me, provided I trusted his process and surrendered to him completely. I remember that I didn’t fully understand everything at this point, but I had a bad feeling about it. At the same time, this was the closest I had come to working with someone who has influence in the industry and I badly wanted to get a foot in the door. After our first meeting, he followed up on the things he had spoken about and asked me if I was ready to start the process of finding my sex appeal. He gave me an ‘assignment’. He said that I should imagine I was doing a cover shoot for an international fashion magazine and for that, I should pick out four sexy looks. He told me to really think about these looks, why I chose them, and how that represented my sex appeal. He told me to bring these looks to his ‘work space’ again, where he would photograph me in them and we would dissect the looks together. This made me really uncomfortable. I didn’t reply to him for days, I consulted friends and other people I knew in the industry. This was the first time I got to hear about some of the rumours and stories surrounding him. I started realising that he didn’t really care about the assignment; basically, he just wanted me to undress in front of him.
The first move
I messaged him saying that I wasn’t comfortable doing all this, at the same time, I didn’t want to lose this contact. So, I told him that instead, I could just show him pictures of my inspirations and what I think is desirable and create collages of those. This would help him understand my vision and we could work on it. He replied saying something on the lines of, ‘Okay, just think about it some more, come to my work space tomorrow and we can look at the photos, but bring your choice of looks anyway, just in case you feel like it.’ The next day I went there, without looks that he had requested for, and I could immediately sense a change in his attitude. We sat down, I started talking about the different looks and I think he got bored. He then told me that he was really busy and that I should leave. I understood and called for a cab. While waiting, he looked at me and said, ‘F**k, you’re really sexy’ and he leaned over to kiss me. I got scared, but I was more scared of pissing him off, as that could make him more aggressive. I carefully backed off and he turned around and told me that in this industry, these are the things that I will have to do with men. And if I can’t handle it, I should just leave. He said something to the effect of, ‘Bollywood won’t change for you, no matter how well-read or how much of a feminist you are. You don’t necessarily have to sleep with everyone, but you have to kiss, touch or tease them. Kissing is always okay’. He talked about how he loves kissing, and even though he is in a happy relationship with his wife, he does it a lot with other women. My cab had arrived and I got up to leave. He pushed himself against me and kissed me again at the door. I felt paralysed and scared, and I could do nothing. I just took my bag and ran out. I remember not being able to feel my legs as I was looking for the cab.
‘Pack my bags and go back home’
We didn’t speak for quite some time after that. I felt so ashamed and stupid for even going there the second and last time. I started blaming myself for it. I beat myself for not having handled the situation in a smarter way, for not having followed my gut the very first time he had spoken to me. I thought about how he had taken my intellect and used it against me to lure me. I felt so stupid. After some time, he started contacting me again, saying that he wanted to meet me. He would always suggest that we meet up at night. I never actually met him again, but he kept calling. I would always reply and seem normal and happy, but after a point, I just couldn’t. So, I stopped answering his calls. When I stopped responding, he sent me text messages on my phone which said ‘????’ He finally told me that I should just pack my bags and go back home and that I don’t have what it takes to become anything in this industry. He told my friends the same thing about me.
A dream unfulfilled
This was just one man and one experience. But there have been many more such experiences during the time that I spent in Mumbai. That lump in my gut never disappeared; it kept growing to the point where it was eating me up from the inside. I would spend every night crying myself to sleep and questioning how much this dream of mine was worth. How I would, probably just as Anirban said never make it in this industry, because I wasn’t ready to do these things the men asked of me. I left the country almost a year ago. I know that there must be women out there who have fallen prey in the hands of Anirban, in ways probably far more severe than what I went through. The fact that no violent assault happened, is what made me stay quiet. I’m seeing a change now and I don’t want to be part of the culture of silence anymore. I’ve also realised that this was indeed an actual assault. I never gave my consent to any of this. He saw a vulnerable girl and did what powerful men often do — take advantage of it. This is what happened to me and I wish that other women, who he has hurt, will come forward. I know we are many, as I have been hearing stories that have shaken me to the core. After I left, I got time to just be and heal with my family and loved ones. Now, I look back and thank God, because if I had made one mistake from my side, it could have been worse. I really hope he stops doing all of this and that his power is taken away from him.”
According to the company’s statement on October 16, post the allegations, Anirban has been asked to step down from his role as the company’s co-founder. The leadership relieved him of his duties and activities at KWAN. On Thursday, October 18, Anirban was rescued by the police from the railing of the old Vashi Bridge in Navi Mumbai where he was attempting summit suicide. He was saved in time after he tipped off a TOI journalist about his decision to take his life.
Stay tuned to in.com for more update on the case.