Ever since popular playback singer Chinmayi Sripaada became one of the faces of the #MeToo movement down south, she has been subjected to non-stop trolling, verbal abuse and hostile questioning in public. She says that work opportunities for her have dried up in the Tamil film industry even as she fights a court case to lift the ban imposed on her by the dubbing union. Chinmayi continues to be a disruptor by drawing attention to the issue of women’s rights in the industry.
She recently called out the silence of the members of Tamil film fraternity as everyone seemed to conveniently ignore the misogynistic rant of senior actor Radha Ravi against Nayanthara. Her tweet questioning the silence of male actors on the issue put Radha Ravi in the spot, forcing the DMK party and the Nadigar Sangam to take some action. While the DMK suspended him temporarily, the actors’ guild felt content by dashing off a letter condemning his words.
Below are excerpts from Chinmayi’s exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com:
Q. What was your first reaction to Radha Ravi’s speech?
I got the message (on Twitter) saying ‘see he (Radha Ravi) is getting abusive again.’ So I thought he was abusing me again as usual. Because he has not let go of one public event or show, where he hasn’t shamed #MeToo movement or said he has wished he had raped because he has only been named in sexual harassment cases. Actually, he keeps joking about rape and sexual abuse. When I saw him speak of Nayanthara like that, I waited for some outrage. This happened on Friday evening. Ironically, it was Nayanthara’s film event. He goes on stage, abuses Naythanara and people are clapping. They let him speak for the entire time, instead of switching off the mic, slapping in his face and sending him on his way. I waited for at least one person to express outrage about it. It took over 24 hours for even Vignesh Shivan (Nayanthara’s boyfriend) to respond to it. I am sure that it hurts them but why isn’t anybody questioning this toxicity? Is Radha Ravi so important or is it the fear that he is politically well-connected or is it that there is no point in raising all such issues and so we let this toxicity continue? The thing about Radha Ravi is, he will threaten you with a ban or red card. I understand upcoming artistes have a lot to lose. But, where are those men who fight against rape, while delivering heroic dialogues in films? Where are those heroes who have shifted from movies to politics? What have they done to clean up the film industry?
Q. Are you happy with the number of people who have spoken out against Radha Ravi now?
No. Who has spoken out? There has been some public outrage. The DMK members realised that they can’t afford to ignore it and suspended him temporarily. He will be back in the DMK or some other party soon. When such men represent a party, how can we trust that political party will protect the interests of women? No political party in this country has given me that faith that they stand for the safety and empowerment of women. I will vote for none of them. I am opting for 49-O. None of the men (in the position of power and influence) have spoken for Nayanthara. What is Nayanthara’s past or future is nobody’s business.
Q. In a way, the Malayalam film industry woke up to the issue of women safety before any other industry. Women in Cinema Collective was formed and they are systematically trying to bring about a change in the industry. Do you think something like this will happen in Tamil Nadu?
There is zero possibility of that happening here. Where is the ICC (internal complaints committee)? It was said it will be formed in six months. Where is that? Radha Ravi has the nerve to go and claim that the dubbing union is the only union in the entire film industry to have an ICC. Where is it? There are three sexual harassment cases against him. Even in Kerala, Dileep is signing back to back films and members of Women Cinema Collective are not getting work. Parvathy gets called all sorts of names when her film releases. People are afraid to sign her for films.
Q. Do you see any change in the film industry in the #MeToo era?
Nothing has changed in the industry. Everyone wants to be silent and pretend nothing has happened. They don’t need me to tell Vairamuttu is a molester. It is an open secret. I had been talking about Radha Ravi and his abusive speech for the past six months. He was going to (lead election) campaign for DMK from Sunday. The pointed to be noted here is, he would have gone about his business if his speech on Nayanthara had not blown out. People saw me getting banned and did nothing about it.
Q. What is the new leadership of Nadigar Sangam doing about such issues?
I have no idea. And what was that condemnation letter to Radha Ravi? It was the most polite letter of condemnation. They sent me a letter worse than that. That content in the letter would have made sense if he had committed this offence for the first time. But, he has been a repeat offender for 10 years and that is not the way to condemn him. Why are they afraid of him? In person, a lot of them are sympathetic to the cause. But, they are not taking any action. Apparently, the producer council has no right to interfere in the workings of dubbing union. But, dubbing union can send a letter to other unions asking not to work with me. How does this one-way traffic work?
Q. How did the dubbing union become so powerful?
It is all Radha Ravi. When he took over the union, he changed by-laws. He runs illegal panchayats at the union. His word is the law. Anybody who questions him gets booted out. He uses more vulgar language while he is at the union. We just avoided him as we were not ready to spar with him, which has allowed him to become such a big problem.