Jisha murder: Preachy Malayalam film stars should first change their on screen anti-women behaviour

G Pramod Kumar

May,09 2016 14:40 55 IST

Even as the statewide protests against alleged police inefficiency in the Jisha murder case swell in Kerala, stars of the Malayalam film industry too are jumping into the fray. What started off as a tweet by multilingual actor Priyamani, immediately after the incident was reported, has now become a predictable chorus.

However, what goes overlooked in this collective outrage, mostly expressly through their social media handles and pages, is that it’s the same stars that lend themselves to the perpetuation of misogyny in films. The senior stars such as Mammootty, Mohanlal and Prithviraj and many others have said horrendous things against women in their films, not once, but again and again.

When Priyamani tweeted that India was unsafe for women, in the light of the Jisha case, she faced quite the backlash, Image from IBNlive

When Priyamani tweeted that India was unsafe for women, in the light of the Jisha case, she faced quite the backlash. Image from IBNlive

 

Priyamani’s tweet was something similar to what Aamir Khan said about the safety of minorities in India. On hearing about the macabre rape and murder, she wondered if India was safe anymore for women. As in the case of Aamir Khan, trolls construed it as anti-India and asked her to leave the country if she found it unsafe. She had to clarify that she didn’t mean what they read, but the trolls continued with their banishment orders. In fact what Priyamani said was sensible, and it did help trigger the outrage from others.

Among the rest of the actors who followed suit, Mammooty was rhetorical. In an admittedly self-denunciating tweet in Malayalam, he implored his “brothers” not to be leches, but be heroes by protecting the “honour of their mothers and sisters”. He called on men to be “protectors” of every woman so that there are no more Jishas in society.

In his Facebook post, Mohanlal wrote: “Let’s unite and decide that we shall never let anything like this happen to women around us. If we come across any women who need help we should come forward and help them. Those who are found guilty should be given a punishment which shall set an example for other perpetrators. We all want our mothers,sisters, daughters and friends to feel safe where ever they are. Prayers to departed souls”

Mammootty’s son and one of the rising stars of Malayalam cinema, Dulquer Salman was brief when he tweeted: “Appalled and saddened by the brutality. If our women and children are not safe from our men then what is??” He also posted a flashcard highlighting the vulnerability of every home. Prithviraj was more evocative when he said “…every mother, sister, wife and child is just one lonely evening away from a 1000 lit candles at Marine Drive. Close your eyes and think of not the pain..but the shame..not on them..but on us.” Lessor known stars and regular talking heads also expressed their outrage.

Obviously, the “#JusticeForJisha is trending among film stars, and all of them seemed to be self-reflective and seemed to have personalised the pain associated with the tragedy.

It’s a no brainer that celebrity endorsement is great not just for consumer goods and services and commercial ventures, but also for social causes. However, these one-off litanies are too transient and might help only to add the predictable roundness to such outcries. Instead, to be more effective, what the stars can do is to reflect deeper and see how they can reduce their own complicity in perpetuating the anti-women attitude of Malayali society.

Malayalam films and their stars are among the biggest purveyors of misogyny in Kerala. In many of their movies, Mammotty and Mohanlal have been unashamed to mouth dialogues that stamp male dominance over women. They can certainly argue that they are just actors paid to play their parts and that these dialogues are written by somebody else, but what they cannot ignore is that it does add to and validate the crushing patriarchy in society. Prithviraj, who has been in the field for a shorter duration compared to his seniors, too has said reprehensible things against women on screen.

These dialogues that target women as subservient to men clearly betray power, sex and violence. Unfortunately, the writers who script these patently anti-women and violent lines and celebrate Malayali machismo are backed by both the stars and movie-fans. Some of them even masquerade as advocates of women’s rights and have cult-followings.

In his messages even outside the movies, Mammooty still doesn’t seem to have gotten the idea of treating women as women, who are equal to men. In his post-Jisha tweet, he refers to women as “mothers and sisters” and is exhorting men to “protect” them. He has said used a similar line earlier as well. This is plain patriarchy.

In fact, it’s this same patriarchy that in a different situation will seek to control women. What Mammootty, and probably some of his colleagues in the industry, should understand is that women are women and they don’t need “heroes” to protect them. They need to be left alone. Men have no right over women. Instead of calling on men to protect them, he should rewrite his tweet and ask them not to trouble them and not to show any form of violence, in word or deed. Granting men the right to protect is the first step of making women powerless and vulnerable. Before everything, this idea has to be demolished.

Mohanlal probably should go back and watch some of his films, particularly those superhits in which he has acted as an upper-caste feudal rowdy with a hundred appendages of male power, and learn how misogynistic he was with his love-interests. Prithviraj should ask the producer of a movie in which he derides a girl student in a college with a repulsive sexual threat, to sanitise his part.

It’s not just these three, but almost every one — the worst is a new comedy star who can be easily booked for violence against women for his sexual innuendos — that’s indulging in patronising, domineering, demeaning or violent behaviour with women.

The critical element in mass communication is behaviour change. Every social change campaign seeks package messages aimed at changing the harmful behaviour of people. Using icons that engage in on screen bad behaviour for behaviour change is pointless. In other words, the stars before waxing eloquent on violence against women should change their onscreen behaviour first.