Malayalam actresses form a collective to tackle sexism in film industry; will Kollywood follow suit?

Latha Srinivasan

May 23, 2017 10:36:36 IST

Women in the Malayalam film industry (namely Manju Warrier, Parvathy, Bhavana, Anjali Menon, Geethu Mohan Das, Rima Kallingal) recently got together to form the Women in Cinema Collective, a group to champion the rights of women in the film industry. A first in the history of Indian cinema, the collective has already earned the praise of many across the Malayalam film industry and other industries as well.

Meanwhile, the issues faced by women (including actors, directors, dubbing artistes, singers, etc) in the Tamil film industry have made headlines on and off over the last few years. So is it time for women in Kollywood to follow suit?

A few months back, actress Varalaxmi spoke out against sexual harassment that she had faced in her career. But she’s not the only one. Actresses like Raai Laxmi and Regina Cassandra also revealed that they faced situations. But this is not the only issue that needed to be addressed – women need to be given the same rights and opportunities as men, feel many.

Director and writer J S Nandhini feels that women in the Tamil film industry forming a collective is a good idea. “Men here have a ‘brotherhood’. They enjoy a kind of support and unification that women don’t have. Maybe it’s time for sisterhood too,” she asserts.

Varalaxmi started the Save Shakthi campaign for women in March this year to “ensure that more women come forward and complain about instances of sexual harassment as well as get speedy verdicts.”  Save Shakthi was meant to address sexual harassment as well as gender disparity in the Tamil film industry.

While her effort was lauded, there have been no updates on the campaign since then. None of the female stars have joined it or voiced their support.

Director and actor Laskhmy Ramakrishnan, who regularly voices out against issues women face, asks, “What happened to the Save Sakthi initiative? The press and the industry lend support and it was everywhere on the news, but is it functioning in the way it should? I don’t know, I’m just asking.”

Some feel that while it’s necessary to have an association for women in the film industry, it’s not easy to get it implemented and functional. Women (especially actresses) in the Tamil film industry are not open to talking about issues for a variety of reasons - the main one is the fear of being ostracised from the male-dominated industry. Fear of losing their career and means of income keeps many women mum.

Malayalam actresses form a collective to tackle sexism in film industry; will Kollywood follow suit?

From L to R: Parvathy, Manju Warrier and Rima Kallingal.

“Having an association makes sense only when we have a dedicated panel and experienced, aggressive people are working on it. Women in the film industry must be sensitised in the right manner and given confidence to come out and speak. The stigma around such things should be eradicated,” emphasises Ramakrishnan.

While there are opportunities for women in Kollywood as actors, making in-roads in the technical arena, turning director or music director, for instance, is extremely tough. You can actually count the number of women working in these areas on your fingers. And that is one aspect that women with such aspirations feel should be addressed.

Nandhini stresses, “Though forming an association may initially be bombarded with complaints in workplaces about the treatment of women, I hope it becomes more than that. I hope it becomes a place where women create opportunities for themselves. For example, women coming together and funding their own movies.”

Unlike Malayalam cinema where there is staunch support from men in the industry towards the women’s collective, Tamil cinema is a stark contrast.

Very few men in the Tamil film industry vocally support or voice issues faced by women. While the Save Shakthi gathering on March 8 did see the support of actors like Jayam Ravi, Vishal and Prasanna, it didn’t create any momentum among the men in the film industry.

Given this scenario it will perhaps be many years before a women’s collective emerges in Kollywood. Till then, it's going to be an uphill battle for those women who are looking at equal opportunities, fighting sexual harassment or just trying to make a living in the film industry.

Updated Date: May 23, 2017 10:38:09 IST