Nayanthara's response to Radha Ravi's sexism may have jolted Kollywood, but will male stars break silence?
Misogyny is intrinsic to the warp and weave of Tamil cinema. Comedians use it to cover up their lame jokes. Drunks use it as an excuse to paw and insult women. Sarak (alcohol) song and dance numbers are peppered with it. Powerful thugs use it to express their machismo. Heroes use it in their romantic songs while fantasising about a lover’s physical attributes. Villains, as is to be expected, are the very worst. They use the crudest form of misogyny to show off their villainy.
On the silver screen, where everything is a fantasy, the actor’s sexist words are not really his own. They are words created by screen play writers and lyricists. The rape and stalking scenes are choreographed by the films directors. And the Sarak dance sequences and item numbers are dreamt up by dance masters. The crude, unabashed sexism which is the final result put together by many creative minds who decide that this is the shortest cut to a box office hit.
But on a stage, when a film personality is talking without a script the story is different. The speaker of the misogynistic words is responsible for what he or she says. So, when a “villain” like Radha Ravi makes derogatory, sexist comments under the pretence of being humorous he is not mouthing someone else’s dialogue. He is just being himself. His everyday sexism, the way in which he treats his women colleagues and his brand of humour all go hand in hand.
When Radha Ravi was accused of sexual harassment last year, he lashed out at the #MeToo movement. This happened soon after singer Chinmayi accused lyricist Vairamuthu of inappropriate behaviour. Another woman artiste had then tweeted about Radha Ravi and said he had grabbed her and kissed her when she went to talk to him about something professional. He had also told her she was good looking and should come alone whenever she needed to talk to him. However this tweet was soon deleted by the woman probably under pressure from powerful people in the film fraternity.
She might have chosen anonymity. But the actor then went on a ranting spree. The #MeToo movement had ruined the cordial atmosphere which had once existed in the film industry, he said. “If the heroine is wearing makeup, and the director enters the room by mistake, his career is finished,” he said to an interviewer. “We cannot make the heroine sit in the middle of the road and ask her to wear makeup.” He continues his sexist remarks even though more women have come out and spoken about the way he treats his women colleagues.
On public platforms, he continues to make rape jokes and boast about the number of women he has raped on screen. On one memorable occasion he rued the fact that he did not get an opportunity to “rape” Aishwarya Rai. In that video, which is available on YouTube, he says he belonged to a Dravidian party which discouraged him from learning Hindi. But while he shunned the language, other villains learnt it and got roles in Bollywood. If only he had learnt Hindi he could have raped the famous actress, he said while the audience clapped and laughed.
On another occasion he said, “We are a family of villains. And just because we behave in a certain way on screen, it doesn’t mean we do that in real life. How can I misbehave on the sets when there are many watching?”
But maybe times are finally changing. Last week, when he spoke in the same crude vein about Lady Super Star Nayanthara, he probably didn’t expect his sexism to rebound and hit him. Nayanthara whose career is now peaking was not there on the stage herself. But a huge portrait of her projected as a backdrop gave an eerie and ironic dimension to the actor’s crude speech.
Radha Ravi was in full josh that day. After making derogatory remarks about Nayanthara being called upon to act as a ghost in one film and Sita in another, he made a nasty jibe. Producers now look for a woman whom audiences may want to pray to (kumuda paakavanga) and also call (koopada paakavanga), he said.
He made some other terrible remarks too. You don’t need big cameras and equipment to make a film which everyone watches, he said. In a bus full of people, all the men, would be glued to their cell phones watching the latest “sex” videos. He was referring to the ongoing Pollachi sexual assault case in which young girls were raped, videographed and blackmailed. “If it is one person involved in the rape it is a small production. If it is 40 people it becomes a mega production”, he said and the audience laughed.
Singer Chinmayi who had earlier supported other women who accused him of misbehaving with them was quick to tweet about the sexist remarks. Perhaps at least now the film industry would wake up, she said. Chinmayi has a huge axe to grind with the villain actor because as President of the dubbing union he got Chinmayi’s membership cancelled soon after she accused him. Which meant she lost her main source of livelihood. Today Chinmayi is the face of the MeToo movement in the Tamil film industry. She has helped many women to bring their harassment stories out in public. But sadly, she got no support when she dared to accuse the Tamil film industry biggies. On the other hand, she was blacklisted and has had no assignments at all for several months now.
This time both the DMK party as well as the Tamil film artists union reacted. MK Stalin announced that Radha Ravi would be suspended from the party and the Nadigar Sangam threatened action if he did not correct his behavior. Meanwhile Nayanthara herself broke her silence and while condemning Radha Ravi demanded that the Nadigar Sangam should set up a committee to investigate complaints of sexual harassment as per the Vishakha Guidelines.
Thanking all the Good Hearts🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/b80jX5al9z
— Nayanthara✨ (@NayantharaU) March 25, 2019
As far as sexism is concerned, Radha Ravi is not unique. Yesteryear actor T Rajendran, father of popular young actor Simbu, harassed actress Sai Dhanshika with his disrespectful jibes because she did not mention his name while speaking of the people on the stage with her. When she tried to retrieve the situation by saying “sorry, I did not mean to disrespect you sir”, he pointed rudely to her and said in his trademark style rhyming dialogue "Nee katti varla saree, ipa solriya sorry" (You didn’t wear a sari, now you say sorry). Obviously here the sexist words were his own and they were similar to the ones he continuously spouted in his films. Dhanshika finally burst into tears and left the stage.
Rajendran’s son Simbu who has a huge fan following has been a stalker in many of his films. In fact after this episode, many people commented that this kind of disrespect for women might run in the family. Dhanush, Rajinikanth’s son-in-law made his debut as a stalker and continues to play the same role in many of his films. Rajini himself has spouted sexist lines in many of his films, though not on stage.
The problem is that the #MeToo movement has become like a hot potato in the Tamil film industry. No one wants to touch it. In fact, no big star actor/director/composer/lyricist or choreographer has dared to offer support or help to the women who have been bold enough to come out and speak. Perhaps it is because they are aware that that knowingly or unknowingly they have all been guilty of misogyny at one time or another.
The only heartening take away from this episode is the support of ordinary people.
A Twitter user tweeted: When people like Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Ajith, Dhanush, Vishal, VJS, Simbu etc. continue to keep mum and ignore violence against women who are their co-actors/ colleagues, you know there's something really wrong with the Tamil film industry.
Said another Twitter user: As long as the audiences encourage sexist remarks, speakers like Mr Radha Ravi will continue to thrive on misogyny and cracking of denigrating jokes against women. Massive respect for this strong icon - #Nayanthara.
Updated Date: Mar 30, 2019 18:13:00 IST