There is no misogyny in the Malayalam industry at all because the majority of the people working in front of or and behind the camera do not understand the term in the least. Take for example, a veteran producer, well respected in the cinema world for his integrity and character, whom I chanced to meet at the time of the cyber attack waged against actress Parvathy Thiruvoth for criticising the misogynistic dialogues in a superstar’s film. He told me with all sincerity that he didn’t understand the term at all: “How can we be stree virudhar (misogynists), when we have mothers, sisters and daughters?” he asked innocently.
With the same innocence, six actresses of the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) would script and stage a skit at the annual Mazhavil Azhakil AMMA, ridiculing the women who dared to form an organisation called the Women Collective In Cinema (WCC) in the aftermath of the abduction and rape of their colleague. The skit featured women of different age groups ogling at and fawning over aged superstars, making it crystal clear through dialogues that it was actually a plot to ridicule the women who dared to rebel. But, with even greater innocence, the women members of the AMMA would justify the skit and call it “entertainment”. It is not surprising that they even sound offended by the failure of the WCC to register any sort of protest at the time of the staging of the skit that featured a mock WhatsApp Sthree Shakthi group. This kind of innocence is all pervasive, and, sadly, rather infectious. The actress who put forward the question of reinstating Dileep, the actor accused of being involved in the abduction of his female colleague, in the meeting of AMMA has explained that she raised the question just like an anxious housewife eager to find out when her help would return to work. She further clarified that the case is still wide open — it’s not clear even after a year who exactly was at fault — the actor or the survivor.
The trouble is, we cannot laugh off this innocence. Because, innocence is what defines the AMMA culture, pioneered by its former president, actor Innocent, also a Left Front MP. When the young actress was abducted and raped last February, it was Innocent who was helming AMMA. His solution to the brutal attack on his colleague was to dole out this advice to the rest of the women actors: that they should avoid travelling alone at night. His response to the question on the absence of women from the board of AMMA was that he would be happy to put a woman in his chair provided he found one more capable than him. It was incomprehensible to him as well as to many other members why his remarks invited criticism from the members of the WCC and young directors like Ashiq Abu.
While I was assisting the veteran director Sreekumaran Thampi in scripting his serial, there were occasions when I opposed certain scenes that I felt normalised violence against women. He used to laugh off my concerns, saying that I was just a child who was yet to understand the viewers’ pulse. Later, after a few such discussions, he told me, “Your generation of women are yet to happen in Malayalam cinema” and I knew he meant what he had just said. When the WCC was formed last year, I felt jubilant that our generation had, at last, “happened” in Malayalam cinema. It was a moment of great glory, although the rest of the innocent flocks of the same feather failed to realise its historical importance.
But that joy apart, why did it take so long for a generation of women, aware of the meaning of misogyny and the value of equal citizenship, to arrive in Malayalam cinema? My understanding was that the majority of the women who are in the Malayalam cinema enter the film industry at a very young age (it is said that the “normal” age of a heroine in Malayalam cinema is 16-25 years) and they get trapped there till they are “too old” and too famous to pursue normal education and social interaction. They get moulded by the typically patriarchal world they inhabit, and so, after some time, to survive and subsist, they have no other way than to conform to the ideals of that world. It was one of the bold and wonderful women who founded the WCC, who made me think the other way. “What about the male members? Why are they still uncomfortable with equal gender rights?” she asked. It was a hard-hitting question. And then I realised it’s because the condition of the male actors is even worse: they know no other way than to conform to the existing value system.
The generation of women who are aware of their rights and who are ready to fight for equal rights have arrived. But what about the men, who like the the current president of AMMA, validate a statement that it is inhumane to brand the association as misogynist just because they have bought an accused actor back in its fold. The innocence oozing from every word is very real. They have no idea how misogynistic it is to support the accused as he awaits trial and punishment. Instead, they are worried about the impatient women, who called them out instead of waiting patiently for justice from the “elder brothers”. They simply cannot understand why the media and the public are concerned about reinstating one of its members suspended after being accused in the conspiracy, abduction and rape of another member. To them, it is just an in-house affair which should be settled silently and secretly.
The WCC has a very tough time ahead. They will have to wage a severe war against the innocent ignorance of these infants about human rights as well as the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It will be a Herculean task to teach them that misogyny is not about a woman or two. That it is about all the generations yet to come.
KR Meera is a Sahitya Akademi award-winning Malayalam writer.