A few months before the #MeToo movement gathered momentum on the internet last year, a dark period clouded the Malayalam film industry when a young actress was abducted and sexually assaulted by a gang of six men. The public, especially Kerala’s women, expected the actresses to seize the moment and speak up about sexual harassment in the Malayalam film industry. That would have been a precursor to the #MeToo global trend, it could have probably could have shaken up Mollywood and slain a few giants. Wishful thinking that.
Yet, it did throw up a pioneering come-together: the WCC, or Women in Cinema Collective, attempting to change the very patriarchal film industry. They openly support the survivor—a courageous stand in itself. In fact, a section titled ‘Avalkoppam’ (With her) at the International Film Festival of Kerala IFFK, which was dedicated to women, seemed to bolster the WCC solidarity.
A WCC member, actress Parvathy of Take Off and Qarib Qarib Singlle fame, says it’s unfair to expect a full disclosure and convictions immediately. “In India, especially in Kerala, a positive space for dialogue is starting to gain momentum, thanks to brave people of all genders who have begun acknowledging the basic flaws and injustice at workplace,” she adds. “It’s unfair, though, to expect a full disclosure and convictions immediately.”
On February 17 last year, a Malayalam actress was sexually abused by a gang of six men in a moving vehicle for nearly three hours near Kochi. The perpetrators videographed the act to further threaten and blackmail the victim. She chose to register a police case. A probe began, and the abductors were rounded up. Details emerged that the crime was part of a larger conspiracy hatched to teach the actress a lesson and was allegedly scripted by none other than Malayalam star Dileep, who was arrested later. He is now out on bail; the case is still in the courts. It’s believed that Dileep had an axe to grind with the actress for “messing up” his first marriage with actress Manju Warrier. And Manju, as a founding member of the WCC, was one of the first to speak out at a public meeting quoting the victim that it was the handiwork of a hired gang.
The film industry then cleaved down. Only a section of the artistes in the Malayalam film industry lent support to the victim. A few younger actors and directors took a firm stand against Dileep—with that withered the initial support he got. Dileep found himself ejected from a handful of industry guilds. Predictably, a campaign was engineered both on social and mainstream media to malign the victim’s character but it never gained much ground.
Actress Parvathy says Keralites of late concede injustice exists at the workplace. “But no immediate convictions are likely,” she adds.
Not all supporters of the WCC are happy with the collective. Feminist Rekha Raj calls it a privileged group that should have had lower-grade artistes. “The industry is very patriarchal and anyone trying to speak out would be sidelined and may end up becoming jobless. So these women should further their network and get the support of civil society groups.”
Parvathy has been boldly speaking her mind for a while now, openly affirming that there’s casting couch problem in the Malayalam film industry. She got away with that generic comment, but her criticism of the dialogues in the Mammootty-starrer Kasaba as derogatory to women was greeted with online abuse. She was mercilessly targeted by trolls on social media. She not only filed a case against her abusers but she also took them on with her counter #OMKV (Oadu mone kandam vazhi/Run sonny down the fields). Yet that was an indication of things to come for women who dared to take on patriarchy.
But Parvathy thinks the #MeToo will happen here too. “Those who have to be called out and made accountable will be brought out. Not just in the film industry but in other spaces too,” she says. “We need to make changes not just in wider social spaces but also commit to telling the truth and fighting for the cause on a daily basis in our personal lives.”
By Minu Ittyipe in Kochi