MUMBAI • India's growing #MeToo storm has halted production of a Bollywood blockbuster, with the film's lead calling for sexual harassment claims against its director and his co-star to be "stringently" investigated.
Star Akshay Kumar said on Friday he had requested that the making of Housefull 4 be stopped following allegations against director Sajid Khan and one of the film's actors, Nana Patekar, reported Agence France-Presse.
Accusations that Patekar behaved inappropriately on a film set 10 years ago sparked India's #MeToo movement, which has since engulfed Bollywood figures, a government minister and several comedians and top journalists.
National Award-winner Patekar has denied the allegations by actress Tanushree Dutta that he had harassed her on the sets of 2008's Horn OK Pleassss, but has reportedly dropped out of Housefull 4 following an ultimatum from Kumar.
"I've requested the producers (of Housefull 4)... to cancel the shoot until further investigation. This is something that requires stringent action," Kumar said on Twitter.
"I will not work with any proven offenders and all those who have been subjugated to harassment should be heard and given the justice they deserve," the 51-year-old actor added.
Khan tweeted his statement shortly afterwards to announce he was stepping down from the film "until the time I can allay the allegations and prove the truth".
CALL FOR INVESTIGATION
I've requested the producers (of Housefull 4)... to cancel the shoot until further investigation. This is something that requires stringent action. I will not work with any proven offenders and all those who have been subjugated to harassment should be heard and given the justice they deserve.
BOLLYWOOD ACTOR AKSHAY KUMAR,whose statement on Twitter has halted production of Bollywood blockbuster Housefull 4.
Three women - actress Rachel White, assistant director Saloni Chopra and journalist Karishma Upadhyay - took to Twitter last Thursday to accuse Khan of sexual harassment.
The actress said Khan had insisted that she strip during an audition, while the journalist alleged the director had flashed his penis at her during an interview.
Ms Chopra shared her story on social media, writing: "It took me years to get over the trauma he put me through. I was so scared around the people I worked with. And I'm sure he's done this to so many other girls, I just want them to know they're not alone. It's been seven years, and it's about time I said it out loud."
Kumar's statement came two days after Bollywood power couple Aamir Khan and his filmmaker wife Kiran Rao announced they were withdrawing from the film Mogul over a molestation case against director Subhash Kapoor. Kapoor denies the charges.
Kumar and Aamir Khan's interventions are being lauded for possibly signalling a watershed moment in Bollywood, where established male stars rarely speak out in support of victims.
Some Indian actresses have long said the industry, which is dominated by a few powerful players, needs to create an environment where victims can come forward without fear of being ostracised.
Filmmakers Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane announced at the weekend they were severing ties with Bollywood director Vikas Bahl over a sexual assault allegation.
Bahl denies that he sexually assaulted a female employee of Phantom Films, the production house behind Netflix original Sacred Games, in 2015. He has threatened to sue Kashyap and Motwane for defamation.
Directors Subhash Ghai and Rajat Kapoor, actor Alok Nath, and singers Kailash Kher and Abhijeet have also been named in India's #MeToo movement, reported The Hindustan Times.