Another one of my little theme posts that everyone can land on to and leap off of. A couple of the recent stories have had similar sections describing that first job interview. And it got me thinking about my own job interviews and what happens there.
Shaloni Chopra’s nightmare story about Sajid Khan began at the job interview. I’m not going to print her whole tale (link here: https://medium.com/@salonichopra/after-all-the-years-of-silence-heres-metoo-9818ebac15e2) but just focus on that one part of it:
He was famous for his interview questions. He asks questions like ‘do you masturbate?’ and ‘how many times a week?’… he also asked me if I’d ever been sexually abused, I said yes. Then he asked weird questions like if I would ever get a breast job, and talked about how sex is really a mental connection. Of course he went into a philosophical rant about our human bodies and it’s desires and how sorry he felt for people who had to go through abuse (not the only man who’s said this shit before they take advantage of you, it’s quite common) by the end of the interview I was in tears, and I wasn’t entirely sure why. I didn’t know if it was because I felt somewhat uncomfortable around him, or because I’d opened up too much.
I got the job.
And then there is Luv Ranjan, also just accused, by an actress who auditioned for him. Her story (link here: https://www.mid-day.com/articles/luv-ranjan-asked-me-to-strip-during-my-first-look-test-actor-accuses-pyaar-ka-punchnama-director/19884165 ):
It was 2010. I was 24, and had done two small roles in big movies opposite well-known actors, and was in the auditioning phase. I was called by Vicky Sidana, a casting director, who said that the auditions for Pyaar Ka Punchnama were on, and a very short list of girls had been called for them. I trusted him and hence, went for it. The dress code was a short skirt and a tight top, which was fairly common, and wasn’t a problem with me. There were seven to eight girls there, and the strange part was that they didn’t give us dialogues as they would usually ask you to enact the scene. This was supposedly only a look test.
I was at Kumar Mangat’s office and Abhishek Pathak, his son, was the producer. I’m not sure whether or not he was present that day because I didn’t see him or interact with him. The director, Luv Ranjan, and the cinematographer were sitting in a room and calling the girls in one by one. The girl who went in before me came out with an ashen look and seemed uncomfortable. She hurriedly left. Then I went in. The room was properly lit for an audition and there was a proper camera set up, etc. They asked me to give an introduction, which was totally normal, totally legitimate.
Luv asked me to strip down to my bra and panties. He said he wanted to see my body so he could check if I needed to lose weight. He said they were not recording anything and the cinematographer would also leave the room, so I needn’t worry. After that, it all gets blurry. My heart was pounding and I rushed out saying I had to leave, and wasn’t comfortable with it. I went home and tried to forget about it.
[She was offered a role and came back for rehearsals and to meet with him again]
“You need to draw from your experiences and when you can’t, I need to know you so well, that I can help you,” said Luv. He asked me about my schooling and family, so I relaxed. Then he asked me if I had a boyfriend, to which I said yes. Then he asked, “Are you a virgin?” I was shocked. He said “Arrey, we can talk like this, we’re adults.”
Then he asked me if I used condoms. The last straw was him asking me if I masturbate. By then, I was scared and asked if I could leave.
Reading these two stories got me thinking back on my interviews. I’m gonna say up front, I HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED SEXUAL HARASSMENT. I don’t want to indicate or imply in any way that I have survived that experience like the woman above. I have no right to talk about that experience at all. But there was something similar about my life experiences which I started thinking about.
I graduated from college in the middle of a recession, which suddenly got much worse about two years later. So I had 8 jobs in 4 years. Most of them overlapping and part time. And I went on a whole lot of job interviews.
And my first few jobs were pretty terrible. This is pre-recession, or more like beginning of the mini-recession before the much larger one. It wasn’t impossible to find something with health benefits and a decent wage right out of college. And yet somehow I kept landing with terrible bosses. And most of the people I knew around my age had the same stories. What was happening?
The simple answer is that we were spoiled, we were little college kids who didn’t know what a hard day of work was like etc. etc. etc. After all, the only common thread in all these jobs was us, it’s the simplest possible solution.
But what I eventually discovered, on job interview 20-something, was that it was the way I was in the job interview. The horrible bosses, they truly were horrible, and on some level they knew it, and they knew the employee they were looking for. They wanted someone young and inexperienced who would never complain or go “this doesn’t seem right”. I came in with my fresh face and empty resume and I was eager to please and nervous and answering all their questions with a big smile and they knew I was the one they wanted.
To give you an example of what I mean, I had one job where our boss would wait until we left, then unlock locked drawers in our desks (we had keys, but she had kept copies) and dig through them. Which a co-worker found out when the boss confronted her with a job application letter she had stored on her personal thumb drive in a locked desk drawer. Her response was guilt and confusion and fear, instead of anger at having her privacy violated. She had graduated college early and wasn’t even 21 yet, this was her first office job.
At another job, I ended up fielding phone calls from unpaid suppliers because the owner (a rich woman running this store as a hobby) was trying to avoid them. She later stopped giving us paychecks. Another job, the boss suggested (but did not implement, thank goodness), that we sign in while the place was busy, sign out and stay close by when things slowed, then sign in again while it was busy, sign out, and so on. So he only had to pay us for the 30 minute stretches when he really needed us, not the full 8 hours that we were there.
None of this is terrible, but you need to be a particular kind of naive to put up with it. And I was that particular kind of naive.
So reading these stories, I started thinking about how I ended up with a lot of lousy jobs and blamed myself. But, it wasn’t me. It was the person interviewing me, testing me, seeing what I would put up with and if they could mold me the way they wanted to.
That’s what makes me think Sajid and maybe Luv (he has mounted a strong defense and so far there is only one anonymous accusation from a woman who did not end up taking the job with him, so I am being slightly cautious. Link here: https://www.timesnownews.com/entertainment/news/bollywood-news/article/tanushree-dutta-nana-patekar-row-cintaa-is-confused-as-the-actress-lawyer-sends-a-mail-to-reopen-the-case-me-too-movement-bollywood-news/298527), they were real predators. They were looking for someone they could torture for months on end, starting with the interview. This was an interview for a victim, not an actress.
And that also makes me think that, if someone comes forward and says “I never experienced this”, they might be telling the truth. Even if they are another actress with the same kind of a job. Because at the interview itself, you could be weeded out. Either not given the job, or given it but kept at a separate level, the respectable versus the victim. Sonali says that Sajid was famous for his interview questions. Everyone knew about them. But, I suspect, depending on how you were in the interview, that might be the worst thing you ever experienced from him. And maybe you would assume that is the worst anyone ever experienced from him.
And the same could be true for witnesses who say they never saw anything like this. A different kind of interview, to find out how tolerant you were, how scared, how easy to manipulate, how much you might put up with. And if you weren’t any of those things, then you might never see or never know certain things were happening around you, you just wouldn’t be given the job on certain movies, or you would be carefully kept away from certain knowledge.
It’s an interview for an actor or an assistant or anything else, but it is really an interview asking the question “are you someone I can victimize? Or are you someone who will help me victimize others? Or are you someone who will just look the other way and practice willful ignorance? Or are you someone so valuable that I have to keep you anyway and just make sure you never fully know what is going on?”