IN 2017, months before the #MeToo movement shook the country, there was a storm brewing down south in the Malayalam film industry. A group of women from the industry had come together to form the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), with the aim of making Malayalam cinema a safe and non-discriminatory workplace for women. The collective was formed following the infamous actor assault case in the same year, in which actor Dileep is the main accused.
As I write this, the Malayalam industry is grappling with yet another case of sexual harassment faced by a woman actor, who in April, had alleged that actor-producer Vijay Babu had sexually assaulted her multiple times, promising her roles in his films. The WCC, while coming out in support of the woman, had strongly condemned the incident and had also requested the Kerala government to make the Justice Hema commission report, which contains the issues faced by the women in the industry, and public.
Meanwhile, the neighbouring film industry in Tamil Nadu was also severely hit during the #MeToo storm in 2018, with several women coming forward, opening up about the harassment they were subjected to in the industry. However, unlike their counterpart in Kerala, there was not an organised movement like the WCC to stand by the survivors and take the fight forward.
“I sometimes feel envious about the kind of solidarity that artists like Rima, Parvathy, Revathi and others from the Malayalam film industry have shown, by forming the WCC and all the work they’ve done in the past few years,” says award-winning playback singer Chinmayi Sripaada. Speaking to India Ahead, Chinmayi goes on to say that despite the fact that several leading women stars from the Tamil industry have made it big in politics, “they did not move an inch to make the industry safer for women”.
In 2018, Chinmayi, along with 17 other women had levelled allegations against poet-lyricist Vairamuthu of sexual harassment, the repercussions of which, the playback singer continues to face even today, in the form of online abuse, getting banned from the dubbing union and so on, However, Chinmaayi continues to voice out against atrocities faced by women in the industry.
While she states that there is a need for film bodies in the Tamil industry to set up Internal Committees (IC), Chinmayi is also concerned about the possibility of such a move. “Do you think the dubbing union will set up an IC to investigate an allegation levelled against their own president,” asks Chinmayi referring to the allegations of sexual harassment against actor Radha Ravi, who is the president of the dubbing union.
She goes on to add that even though there are people who are sympathetic to the cause of making the industry safer for women, they are helpless most of the time since some of the accused men in the industry are closely associated with political parties in the state. Radha Ravi is associated with the BJP, which is in power at the centre while Vairamuthu continues to be invited and celebrated at events organised by the DMK, which is in power in Tamil Nadu.