The Wikipedia page of the Association of Malayalam Artistes (AMMA) says “the Association was the first of its kind in India, and the functioning of it led to the formation of the actor’s guilds in other regional languages”. As lifetime members of AMMA for more than a decade, we can vouch that it has served exceptionally well in some areas -– maintaining and expanding a database of actors active in cinema or otherwise, providing pension, medical benefits and other such welfare schemes.
I, Padmapriya, have personally benefitted when a Tamil film director assaulted me and I received unwavering support from AMMA without even asking. We know many whose payment clearance issues with producers are taken care of. AMMA has countless talents par excellence and holds an influential position in the industry and in Kerala society. Therefore, we feel strongly for the organisation and the ethics and the rules that govern it. Since the assault on our colleague took place last year we have been actively asking fundamental questions regards the organisation, questions that we seem to be unable to find clear answers for.
First, what does AMMA’s tagline “collective forum for the common good” imply? Let us assume collective generically means fair and democratically elected officials who represent the interest of other members. The bye-laws as per the AMMA website says election of members will be held by voice vote and by polls depending upon the number of candidates. As we understood it, the 2018-21 election process meant some nominees were pre-elected by ‘someone’ without the selection process being transparent. I, Parvathy, wanted to contest, but was dissuaded from applying as I was travelling. Two other members who had emailed all AMMA members requesting for support to vote. Thereafter what happened to the two applications is unclear. Also, it is uncertain what is the formal mechanism as general body members for responding to such call for support to vote. If our reading and confusions of this process is faulty, especially given one of us wanted to stand for elections, then is there any serious chance that other general body members would have better clarity?
The trouble with this rather disengaging process is that it does not make members feel and hence become an active part of a collective forum. Also, doesn’t preselection disempower general body members from actively engaging with the organisation and doing their primary duty of electing representatives who best serve AMMAs interests? So, when there is an accusation made by the committee that nobody applies (especially women) to be office bearers of AMMA, the first question we have is if there is a conducive environment to ensure this organisation feels and works like a collective? Have we actively used strategies to make AMMA diverse and strong so that gender gap is bridged at the leadership level?
As a logical corollary, this connects to the ‘common good’ question – in the absence of a diverse, democratically chosen committee that is surrounded by a non-participative pool of general body members how can AMMA really represent common good?
Second, what is the dispute redressal mechanism of AMMAs executive committee? For instance, in one of the general body meetings one member raised the issue of being publicly slandered by another as racist. The solution could not be found in the meeting and was resolved (hopefully amicably) later by the committee.
For example, I, Parvathy, raised the issue in the General Body for the need for toilets in film sets for men and women of all age groups on set. The secretary said a majority vote was required for the same. With no participation from any member of the executive committee I had to personally go around taking signatures from about 100-150 members. A majority consensus was reached, but the leadership thereafter did not work proactively to see the proposal being implemented. As of date the status of the proposal is in limbo, but a bigger question mark is on the accountability of the executive committee towards its general body members and their grievances. This perhaps has a direct impact on the number of serious grievances that are reported at the first place.
If issues of no legal repercussions can be resolved with such deliberation, why was an issue concerning the expelled member and the survivor that is under judicial consideration taken in such haste? Some members when approached by the media say they do not understand the issue well. So, if such decision needed to have been taken in a general body should it not be accompanied with a detailed presentation of the issue, decisions and minutes of all the relevant meetings and its legal consequences for AMMA? Should not decisions around this be taken in the best interests of the organisation as a whole instead of basing them on personal relationships? Even if this was raised impromptu by a general body member, given the gravity of the problem, shouldn’t the executive committee have followed a more thorough inclusive process?
Third, if AMMA aims to “foster a professional platform where open and healthy discussion can take place” then how should it go about the same? Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) formed last year has members from AMMA who had expressed concerns on gender equality not being addressed in their organisations i.e. AMMAs forum. Till date AMMA has only sent a letter of support to WCC, an effort initiated by WCC. But when a member from leadership says to the media “we don’t know who the AMMA members from WCC are other than Parvathy and Manju (Warrier)”, what kind of support does that tantamount to. Even if the above statement was genuinely made, is it not the responsibility of the leadership to proactively connect with the group of women who have grievances, hold conversations and find solutions.
The turn of events through the past year and AMMAs responses as an organisation to a female AMMA member’s assault and fellow member’s alleged involvement in the same has cast a serious doubt on the direction of AMMA’s moral compass. The accountability of this rests on the shoulders of all the members of AMMA. It is also an opportunity for AMMA to again become a first of its kind organisation in the film fraternity both in India and in Kerala that has zero tolerance for gender bias.
Dante said “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis”. We call upon the leadership and all members of AMMA to stand tall amidst this crisis, by learning, correcting and evolving. This is not a blame game of you versus me, it is about how we creative artistes together practise and project the highest standards of fairness.
This is a clarion call from the three of us (Revathy Asha Kelunni, Padmapriya Janakiraman and Parvathy Thiruvoth) to the executive committee to come to the table. Dialogue held in a respectful manner is the only way forward to understand each other better and find real solutions.
Actors Padmapriya Janakiraman and Parvathy Thiruvoth are life members of AMMA.