It was 1985. The place: a lodging in Ooty, shrouded with fog and a feeling of having a place that accompanies being in the slopes. One especially icy night, in transit back to her room, on-screen character Revathi chanced upon another on-screen character who was remaining at a similar lodging, however shooting for an alternate task. Over tea and talk, the kindred on-screen character trusted in Revathi that she was stressed over an “awkward scene” that she was required to do. With acquired strength, the on-screen character moved toward the chief and expressed a firm ‘no’. For the two young ladies stars, whatever remains of the night was loaded with chuckles and extols at their apparently modest triumph.
Twenty years ago, this was how the battles were, individual and independent, waged without creating much noise and, in dire times, by holding each other’s hands in silence, without letting the world in.
“Back then, a ‘no’ meant ‘no’. Whether it be expressing discomfort about a scene or the lyrics of a song,” says Revathi, who has acted in all four south Indian film industries, as also several Hindi films. She recalls many instances where her requests were treated with respect. Kai Kodukkum Kai (1984), in which she starred opposite Tamil superstar Rajinikanth, had a rape sequence as its crux. “I was just three films old, but I had a conversation with the director, saying I did not want to expose, and he was understanding, respectful and it was shot with care, keeping my comfort as the priority.”
Another veteran actress, Rohini says the idea of banding together with colleagues never crossed her mind all these years. The popular ’90s actress says that back then “it was mostly about how we put ourselves across. We believed in being outright frank whenever we had an issue, and they respected us for taking a stand. I think I can speak for my generation of actresses… [when I say that] the things that are happening, or are coming to light now, never happened to us.”
But maybe they did happen to some of the others, and maybe they remained hushed behind closed doors. Either way, all of that changed on a fateful night in February 2017, when a leading actress was molested in a moving car for two hours before being dropped off at her house in Kochi.
It rattled an entire industry, which mourned, as did society in general. When a popular actor emerged as the key accused, the mourning turned into public outrage. Long-overdue, these conversations stemmed from the actress’s decision to break the silence and report the assault. Out of the fragmented conversations amongst colleagues arose a WhatsApp group, a support system of sorts called Women in Cinema Collective (WCC).
Actress Padmapriya, one of the founding members of WCC, isn’t new to harassment or for standing up against it. After being slapped on the sets of the film Mirugam, allegedly for not getting an expression right, she got a one-year ban imposed on the director, Samy. The ban was later reduced to six months after intense lobbying by the producers’ association of Tamil Nadu.
“There is a lack of understanding as to what needs to be done, whom to approach [in such cases of intimidation/assault]. Through WCC, we want to dissect the idea of consent, sensitivity at workplace, guidelines to follow on a set and, sooner than later, set up an internal complaints committee,” says Padmapriya.
The gathering’s gatherings soon developed past virtual chatrooms and stretched out into bistros and drawing rooms. It was over numerous kattan chaaya (dark tea) gatherings, tuning in to stories, some stunning, some recognizable, that the acknowledgment came to fruition this wasn’t just about their partner who was attacked. This was about much else as well. In the middle of their bustling shoots and timetables, they set aside a few minutes and space for their freshly discovered reason. “It expected us to accomplish something other than sharpen the media and society. It required drafting letters, characterizing what the association would remain for, meeting the main pastor, making leaflets, choosing IFFK [International Film Festival of Kerala] programs, planning workshops,” clarifies Padmapriya.
The planning demonstrated uncanny as well. Comprehensively, for ladies in silver screen, it has been a social turning out minute. Be it the #metoo hashtags in the wake of the sexual manhandle claims against Miramax fellow benefactor Harvey Weinstein, or Oprah Winfrey’s discourse at the Golden Globes in which she thundered, “Their chance is up”, immediately catapulting her to presidential candidature status, or the choice of Hollywood’s most capable ladies to sport dark to the honors night. A-rundown performing artists Greta Gerwig and Chalamet, who lament having worked with movie producer Woody Allen as he has been blamed for sexually manhandling his minor girl, have chosen to give their profit to inappropriate behavior and strike foundations. Nearer home, in Chennai, a care group for ladies artistes is coming to fruition along the lines of the WCC in neighboring Kerala.
In the mean time, the WCC is investigating approaches to escalate its battle to make a domain in the film business that is helpful for discourse, where men and ladies can, without fear, share their assessments, reactions and protests. All things considered, it wasn’t too long prior that performing artist Parvathy was violently trolled, damaged and debilitated, for communicating her assessment against a sexist exchange mouthed by a hotshot. A youthful executive, three movies old, compared the on-screen character to a carnival monkey that all of a sudden disapproves of its ringmaster. Amusingly, this executive had made a short film on youngster sexual mishandle featuring performing artist Nivin Pauly.
Declining to be cowed down, Parvathy took to her Instagram handle and posted: “To all carnival muthalalis OMKV (Odu M**** Kandam Vazhi — rundown the paddy field, you p***)”. An abhor crusade was quickly released against a melody from her up and coming film My Story, enlisting 100,000 ‘abhorrences’ inside a day of its transferring.
Yet, the individuals who have united together as the WCC never again appear to be concerned whether their protection is to the detriment of their work or wellbeing, in light of the fact that their concentration is the master plan. For these ladies, the biggest dread would be the failure to work for their kind, a world not quite the same as theirs.
“History has demonstrated to us that at whatever point individuals have remained standing for a change there has dependably been threatening vibe,” says Revathi, the leader of WCC. “There is a considerable measure of development required, even from our end, and from the business, since this is another idea, there is no structure to withstand, no earlier illustrations. We are additionally learning to the detriment of committing errors.”
As of late, an abhor crusade was focused at the recently discharged movie Mayanadhi, coordinated by Ashiq Abu, the spouse of Rima Kallingal, another key individual from WCC. The film, be that as it may, is rushing to pressed demonstrates a month after its discharge. “Everyone has a space and that space can’t be involved by another. Your ability will remain for you. It’s not possible for anyone to discount individuals,” Revathi reasons.
The negative features related with WCC come at an extraordinary cost however: as opposed to directing energies to support arrangements, they toss the spotlight on non-issues. “For each 10 stages that we take, these contentions make us 20 strides behind. There is a cost to be paid for standing up, however a ton of it would change if ladies begin steering as the makers of movies,” says Vidhu Vincent, a State grant champ and WCC board part. “We are endeavoring to assemble a more secure workplace, by making more open doors for ladies, motivating and urging more ladies to seek after various parts of silver screen.”
In the mid ’80s, crisp out of the chief Film and Television Institute of India, when Bina Paul initially went to the best in class Chitranjali Studio in Thiruvananthapuram, there were no restrooms for ladies. Ladies and men never began on a similar balance, thinks back the national honor champ.
“What’s more, when a lady requests an evolving room, or a place to throw her clean napkin, she isn’t attempting to be discourteous. These inquiries are not raised out of threatening vibe but rather is an endeavor to enhance, change and make the calling agreeable for ladies to come in.”
Not long ago, Kochi saw the introduction of a moment relationship of ladies in Malayalam silver screen, after the WCC. The 6,000-in number Film Employees Federation of Kerala propelled its ladies’ wing, headed by Bhagyalakshmi, a prestigious naming artiste who was in the news for marking the WCC as particular and elitist. Paul, on her part, trusts that the WCC has filled in as an impetus for a more prominent change.
“Power does not rely upon whether you are a performing artist, a spot kid, a make-up young lady or a progression author. Assuming you expect a place of energy on the sets, it shouldn’t be utilized to enslave or abuse somebody you esteem is less intense,” she says.