Several key members of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), formed last year after the case of abduction and attempted rape involving actor Dileep came to light, resigned from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) on Wednesday over the association’s decision to reinstate Dileep. Veteran actor-filmmaker and WCC member Revathy tells The Indian Express why the issue is merely one part of the larger issues that the Malayalam film industry needs to confront. Excerpts:
How is Women in Cinema Collective dealing with the current crisis in Malayalam film industry?
When the news (of Dileep’s reinstatement in AMMA) came, we all said this is not right because the case is still in court. The assaulted actress is also a member of AMMA, so what kind of respect are you showing her, or what message are you sending out? What kind of example are you setting when you have both the assaulted actress and the accused as members? How can you take him back when the case is still in court? We decided to question this. Some of us felt we needed to resign and some felt we needed to stay and question this.
In the end, four among us resigned and people like Padmapriya, Parvathy and myself decided to write to AMMA and question their decision. We have written on Thursday morning and the same evening, Dileep himself wrote a letter stating that until he’s proven innocent, he’s not going to be part of any association.
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Has AMMA responded to your letter yet?
No, they have not yet responded. We are waiting. We have asked for a special meeting of the executive committee where we can question this decision.
Did AMMA’s decision to reinstate Dileep surprise you?
Of course, it did.
It was said that some members boycotted the general body meeting because they knew in advance that the Dileep issue would be raised.
There was definitely no boycott. The Dileep issue was not on agenda at all. The agenda is shared 21 days before the meeting and it was not mentioned in it.
This isn’t just about Dileep, though. It points to a bigger problem in the industry…
Exactly. There is an assault and a person is accused, the case is still in court. How can you make a decision? What is the message you are sending out to the society? That it’s OK if you are accused of assault and your case is still in court, and you can still be a part of society and of the association, and that a group, which has more than 100 members, is willing to just forgive and take you back? That is what we want to ask. How do women members feel safe? What is the point of being a member of an association where you do not give this kind of safety?
Many have brought up the late Thilakan’s suspension for questioning the workings of AMMA, while Dileep has been reinstated despite grevious accusations. Is this a case of the actor with greater star power being treated with more deference?
That is exactly what we want to question. The thing is AMMA has been doing a lot of good for artists, looking after those who don’t have a job or are retired. So how can you make this decision after all that? We can’t even understand this decision. What’s the point of this association if only those with power matter? And also, society is going through a phase where there is a lot of crime against women. When this case is going on, it is the important for celebrities and associations like AMMA to set the right example. It’s not just about our industry. This is about our society.
When WCC was formed last year, did you have any inkling that most would come out in support of the accused?
We didn’t have any such inkling. At that time, we had no clue who the culprits were. We supported her (victim) because she had the courage to come out, lodge a police complaint and speak to the media about what had happened to her. Most of us would just keep quiet and forget it, thinking that we don’t want our families or ourselves to go through hell. We decided that since she has spoken, we should get justice for her and see an end to this case. That is why the WCC came together.
A skit performed at the AMMA meeting is believed to have taken pot-shots at WCC. Do you sense a hostility towards what WCC is doing?
Absolutely. Basically, Kerala society is patriarchal and any woman who speaks her mind is scorned. We just decided that we need to hold each other’s hands. With all the write-ups, each of us gets drowned in depression, but we are just holding our heads high because we are staying united and saying no, we will not let anything dampen out movement.
What has been on WCC’s agenda?
Our plan was to start a dialogue regarding gender equality with every single association and union that is part of the film industry. Women now want to join the industry in different capacities and we need to give them that space. After coming in, if a woman climbs up the ladder, it will be based on her degree of talent. And if she encounters sexual assault or sexist remarks or anything like that, she should be able to approach the head of her union and talk about it. It shouldn’t be pushed under the carpet. The union could call the person against whom she has complained and they could have a dialogue. There’s no need to go immediately to police, but if she wants to do that, the union should support her.
This entire thing, this movement, goes beyond WCC and beyond the Kerala film industry. I request people who are part of film industries across that country to support this – whether through speaking or Facebook or Twitter – so that such a thing doesn’t happen again.
In her Facebook post, the victim said that she had complained about Dileep once before but she felt unheard and that’s why she resigned.
She felt unsupported. In the beginning, that one week after the assault, everyone, including AMMA, said that they were with her. But when one of their own members was questioned, there was total silence.
You have worked in other film industries. How would you compare them with the Malayalam film industry in terms of making space for women?
In the Hindi film industry, there are girls in every sphere of filmmaking, and they are doing extremely well. They talk openly about their issues. But here even to have a woman assistant director in a unit is a battle. So we want to sensitise every union – the producers, production managers – and tell them that if a girl wants to be a part of this, let’s make that space.
Even a Malayalam woman director faces issues – she’s the director, the captain of the ship, and (yet) she’s facing issues. The only department that has had women and for a long time is the hairdressing department.
Why is it such a problem in Malayalam industry?
Most Malayali men hate to be ordered by a woman. While there are actors like Prithviraj and Fahadh and all of them who are wonderful and easy to work with, (there will be) people in other departments. Like a lot of production managers don’t like to take orders from a woman. They won’t put up their hands and say I won’t do it, but they’ll be silently uncooperative. Most women will understand what I mean.
People are saying that this issue has led to split in the WCC between the hardliners and the others.
WCC is a very democratic organisation. A few of us were saying resigning (from AMMA) was the best option, few said we should have a dialogue. As far as our intentions as WCC are concerned, it’s the same. So what individual decision we take doesn’t matter.
It’s been said that Manju Warrier has quit the WCC.
At the moment, Manju has decided to stay away from all of this because of her own personal connection to the entire issue. She absolutely has the right to stay away if that’s what she wants.
How rampant is sexual abuse in the Malayalam film industry?
It is definitely an issue. But I would say there are times when sexual favours are asked for. This has been the individual experiences. I won’t generalise it. Most people who have gone through it have kept quiet. Everyone has their own journey to go through. They need to survive in an industry which is already very tough. This is where WCC comes in, (to enable) a person if they want to talk about it.
Except Prithviraj, who came out in support of those who resigned from AMMA, most of the younger male actors have stayed quiet.
This is due to years of conditioning. It takes a while to change that. We are at the first step of sensitizing and changing this.
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