Have you been seeing the amazing hashtags #FeminichiSpeaking, #OMKV and #StandUpStars on your Twitter feeds this week and wondered what on earth is going on? It all began with a case of what in school we would have gleefully called “guilty conscience”.
Close on the heels of winning Best Actress at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Malayalam actor and all-round rockstar Parvathy was speaking at an open forum at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) on Sunday. She discussed misogyny in movies, the need for more women to get into filmmaking, and the urgent and obvious need for the film industry to create better working conditions for women.
She referenced a film she had the “bad luck” to watch recently, and said that, “with all respect to the makers, the film disappointed [her], as it featured a great actor spitting totally misogynistic dialogues.”
Now, note that Parvathy didn’t even mention the movie, Kasaba, or the star, Mammooty, by name until she was encouraged to do so by filmmaker Geethu Mohandas, even though she would have been perfectly within her rights to scream this from the rooftops right from the get-go. She did take the time to mention that she gives the filmmakers “all respect”, but this lone, highly justified comment about Kasaba was enough to bring all the creeps crawling out of the woodworks, and boy, were they in a hurry to out themselves.
Self-aware fans immediately came to Mammooty’s defence, and trolled her viciously in response. Kasaba had faced flak from several quarters back when it was released in July 2016, because it depicted superstar Mammooty verbally abusing various woman characters, including grabbing a policewoman by the belt and threatening to punch her so severely that it would apparently result in immediate menstruation.
And unlike when Tamil superstar Vijay recently stepped in and asked his fans to stop trolling The News Minute founder Dhanya Rajendran after she said she didn’t like his movie Sura, Mammooty has remained stonily silent and appears to have nothing to say to his clearly loyal and toxic fans.
Maybe it’s because it wasn’t just anonymous online trolls who attacked Parvathy in the week since she made her excellent comments, but also several notable and even hitherto respected Malayalam film industry insiders.
Kasaba director Nithin Renji Panicker took to the film’s official Facebook page to say that this was Parvathy’s attempt to become popular by shaking a big tree. But it’s fairly clear, from her cool body of work, independent rise in the industry and the fact that she became the first Malayalam actor to ever win a silver peacock at IFFI where she bagged the Best Actress award in November, that she needs to shake no trees to get famous or be recognised for her immense talent.
The movie’s producer, Joby George, said with all the creativity of troll commenters on feminist websites, ”If Geethu aunty and Parvathy aunty tell me the dates of their birthday, I will show Kasaba in full house as my birthday gift.”
Then there was film director Jude Anthany Joseph – respected by nobody ever since he was comically arrested earlier this year for abusing Soumini Jain, the mayor of Kochi. On Monday, Joseph tried his hand at veiled insults without naming names, but it became fairly clear to the public and the media that he was referring to Parvathy as he began speaking about “circus monkeys” who worked in industries that they now cry exploited them, and that they should have just stayed in the forest the whole time.
Veteran actor Siddique attempted an elegant neither-here-nor-there on Facebook on Monday, but ended up very firmly there amongst the misogynists and trolls. He announced that it was clear that those trolling Parvathy were on the wrong side of the debate, but that “it is Parvathy who paved the way for this situation, so the responsibility to control them or react to them is also on her.”
Victim blaming 101, basically.
It’s so strange to hear an actual adult saying that the statement “I watched a sexist movie recently” is an invitation to be brutally harassed and trolled. He also decided to play the Self-Effacing Senior card, unnecessarily admitting that he doesn’t have Parvathy’s talent or English-speaking abilities, but that he still requests her as a veteran actor to look at the film industry as “us” and not them. “I don’t know English as well as you” by the way, is a polite way of saying “you are a snobbish upstart and I’m the real deal” in Kerala.
This request from an established male actor to a young female actor to look at the film industry as us, and not them, is particularly rich coming from the Malayalam film industry at the end of 2017.
While this year has seen a sort of global reckoning with sexism and sexual harassment ever since the Harvey Weinstein revelations broke in October, Kerala has been in a unique flux since February 2017, when a popular Malayalam actor was abducted and assaulted, allegedly at the behest of another Malayalam superstar, Dileep.
Until he was kicked out of the organisation the day after his arrest (at a meeting held at Mammooty’s house), the largest existing body of Malayalam film actors, the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA), had publicly announced that both Dileep and the assaulted actor were its children, and that it stands by both of them.
How does any woman include herself in a film fraternity that believes that sexual assault victims, and those who finance sexual assault, are worthy of equal support?
It was in response to the Malayalam film industry’s known inability or unwillingness to meaningfully address women’s issues, and the knowledge that most film fraternity organisations were headed and controlled by powerful and misogynist men like Dileep, that this year witnessed the creation of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC). Its founding members include Manju Warrier, Parvathy, Bhavana, Rima Kalingal, Anjali Menon and Sajitha Madathil.
The WCC had a stall at the IFFK, and this year’s edition of the film festival even had a section for women’s cinema deliberately and tellingly named after the movement the WCC created around the assaulted actor, Avalkoppam (I’m With Her).
The fact that the Women in Cinema Collective was formed at all, let alone that it was so joyously received, and managed to make its mark in this saucy way at the IFFK with an entire section named after Avalkoppam, is bound to have sent new chills down the spines of powerful men in the industry.
For decades now, men in the Malayalam film industry have been comfortably ruling the roost, absolutely secure in the fact that all the major unions and groups were headed and populated by them alone, and that no one else had the clout to stand up for rights that men didn’t think were necessary. Now, the WCC, helmed by the industry’s leading women, is making its presence known, calling out the sexism it sees on the daily and even sending out powerful, meaningful messages by influencing the organisation of major film festivals like IFFK.
Against this backdrop of women finally speaking up for their rights this year, it’s hard to think that the vitriolic reaction to Parvathy from within the industry is anything but the actualisation of the famous anonymous saying, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”.
Which means that the only thing left to say to these men has already been said, and by Parvathy herself, no less. In response to all the insults, Parvathy on Monday took to Twitter to silence trolls with the single best tweet of the year.
— Parvathy T K (@parvatweets) December 18, 2017
#OMKV of course, stands for Odu Myre Kandam Vazhi: run away the paddy field way, you pube.
Co-published with Firstpost.