Just when you think you’ve reached new lows when it comes to deriding women artistes in cinema, there comes along another video to tell you, ‘Stop hoping. There’s worse left’.
Recently, a video popped up on YouTube, it featured veteran editor B Lenin speaking about how Padmavati can be shown in festivals even without a censor certificate. And then, he took off on a tangent, pulling out a folded newspaper supplement from his shirt pocket. He based his argument on a click-baity headline in a local English newspaper, referred disparagingly about the actress being interviewed (Amala Paul), twisted the phrase ‘the upper hand’ she used into something terribly vulgar, all this to the accompanying music we are by now used to — giggles and laughter from the men on and off stage.
A five-time National Award winner spoke about the actor in singular, used obscene hand movements and said: “She’s speaking about the navel. With CG, we can go even further inside and show everything. Chee.” Clearly, the chee was for the others, not for his thinking.
Others were not spared.
He continued. “I’m from Purasaiwalkam. I’ll talk.” The laughter in the background continued.
I was waiting for one member on stage or off it to stand up and protest, or, at least, not laugh. Not one. To think this is the language of a veteran editor and director!
Speaking on the issue, Anu Hasan told Silverscreen, “I am taken aback by his bitterness. Also, a lot of interviewers misinterpret statements to make it click-bait. He seems to have a strong dislike for all actors and actresses… But why did he pick on Amala Paul and attack her in the way he did? Is it because he would rather pick on an actress assuming she can’t or won’t hit back? If he is truly angry with all actors and actresses why didn’t he air his problems with actors?”
What does the Nadigar Sangam, which looks into the welfare of actors, feel about this issue?
Actor Nasser, President of the Sangam, says that actors are often soft targets, because they like to remain diplomatic. “Lenin Sir is a big inspiration, almost a father-figure, for his pathbreaking films. That he speaks in singular about an actor is shocking. It sets a bad precedent for others to follow. He has every right to criticise youngsters professionally, but not personally. If at all he felt like sharing his views, he should have it out of the public arena. As such, actors are being targeted from many quarters; it is not right that they be attacked from within the industry too. We have seen people speak this way across fora, but henceforth, the Sangam will step in and react. Actors cannot be made a soft target anymore.”
But, then, coming fresh on the heels of what happened to Sai Dhanshika on stage, and the apology letters from those on stage that followed — of course, after they had laughed along during the tirade, this is not surprising.
These are not arbitrary instances but more the norm. Why was Athulya Ravi forced to apologise for her look in Yemaali? Doesn’t she have a choice? Jyothika swearing on-screen, is it such a big deal? Questions like how did Sivakumar and son Suriya “allow” Jyothika to do Naachiyaar were raised. The Karni Sena claims to uphold the honour of Rani Padmini while seeking a ban on Padmavati, and how do they do it?
Moral policing and chastising women come easily in this patriarchal industry. Of course, the guffaws that follow these lewd comments only encourage such behaviour. It represents a toxic chest-thumping masculinity that comes with a misplaced sense of entitlement that they can tell women how to behave. What’s shocking are not the crass comments, but the license to unapologetically say these things on a public platform and get away with it. This kind of behaviour has become endemic in the industry. The women concerned choose to maintain a dignified silence probably because they know it will only get murkier for them.
Barring a few, men in the industry either take potshots at their female colleagues, or stand by silently and watch the one who does. Rarely have we seen what Virat Kohli did when his then rumoured girlfriend Anushka Sharma was trolled.
— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) March 28, 2016
An actress who has been at the receiving end of many a criticism for her outspoken nature, says that it is time Kollywood had a Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), like the one in Kerala, to ensure actresses are given their rightful due. “Why is it that only we are made fun of? We are objectified in so many fora. Every time I see a man of privilege speak this way about an actress, I want to rush up to the stage and speak some sense into them, since it is evident that none on stage has the courage to do that,” she says.
To a large extent, even the media is to be blamed for how they portray women and men artistes. While the actors are asked about their work, the women are asked questions on their fashion choices, their relationship status and sometimes even weight. Married actresses are always asked how do they balance family and professional life, has any male actor been asked this question?
Amala Paul did a blitzkrieg of interviews for her latest release Thiruttu Payale 2, and barring some, most publications and websites definitely included a question about her relationship status. “Why is it that the woman is always asked these questions? Male actors are rarely asked to speak about their relationships. Why is there such interest about our personal space? Can’t we keep the personal and professional separate?” she asks.
Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli, who starred in the hugely popular short film Lakshmi received bouquets, but also vile brickbats for her role in the award-winning film. She recently did a show for Fully Filmy reading the abusive comments that the film received on YouTube. That, in turn, has received similar comments.
It all eventually boils down to this: When women do not conform to what men expect them to be, this is how they are treated. That will not change till every stakeholder involved — the industry as a whole has to stand up and be counted against bullying, even if it means going against big names.
Actor-politician Khushbu Sundar rewinds to the time when she was active in movies and part of functions such as the one Dhanshika went to, and where Lenin spoke. “We were definitely not put in such a situation and our choices questioned. I see that we are returning to the cave age; we are in regression mode. We’ve not completed the circle and are turning back to from where we began. People who speak this way should understand that girls coming into the industry now are educated, know what they want… this outburst stems out of a patriarchal mindset which believes man is superior to woman. Ultimately, everyone has the right to speak what they want. It is none of anyone’s business to determine what we speak.”
(With inputs from Sohini Chakravorty)