Originally published on 8 July 2016.
Actresses like Rima Kallingal quit the association as soon as AMMA reinstated Dileep. This act of protest is against the double standard of the Movie industry with regards to women. Here’s a look back at the interview Rima Kallingal and Parvathy Menon gave while highlighting the hypocrisy of this industry.
The smart new Malayalam zine 1811AD recently interviewed actor Rima Kallingal, for a series they are running on political identities. The interview was done by Inji Pennu, the video edited by Kunjila Mascillamani, and the script was translated and written by Si, one of their editors. We wrote about the cool things Rima said in this interview before, but everyone should watch the interview. An edited transcript below.
Hello, I am Rima Kallingal. I am an artiste. I work in the Malayalam film industry in the southern end of India in Kerala.
This is a strange experience. When we step into the public sphere, as an artiste, as an entertainer, our focus is on increasing our ambitions, making the world understand things through our art. But people are more focused on other things, distracting things, things that are an unnecessary waste of energy. The glass ceiling is real, the struggle is real. There is no support system
Some women are afraid to say they are feminists
Even today, even now women who are educated and have seen the world are afraid to identify themselves as women. They are scared of being isolated, of being portrayed as man-haters. The young girls I see around me now are afraid of saying they are feminist. It’s quite sad. I work in an industry where almost 95% are men. Of these 1% may have the desire to fight the [sexism] in the industry. We have to realize we are fighting the 94%. Of the 5 percent of women, only 0.1% want to stand up, speak up. The rest are people who don’t want to speak up AND the people who are oblivious to there being any problem. They don’t even want an equal status. They ask: what is it, why do we need it?
The first step is to realize where we stand now. I saw this joke on a [Facebook] page, “What is the difference between feminists and babies?” The answer is babies grow up and stop crying! They really think we keep crying for something which is not really important. That’s what people still think of our demands. My mother is hitting sixty. [Earlier] She didn’t know she had to cry out loud and ask for help. She didn’t know she had to ask for help to get things done. Later on, when she was 50 or 55 she understood, “Oh I will only get things if I ask for it.” Amma didn’t get anything in 60 years without asking for it. I imagine that I ask, demand, plead for things for the next 60 years, the next generation of artists and professionals will maybe get a better platform.
The situation is worse for transgenders. Even now some people refuse to accept that that there is a third gender. Women should show solidarity to transgenders because we can empathise with their situation.
Playing women who are grey, and real, and normal
In the beginning of my career, I really didn’t know. I started with the character [of Varsha] in the movie Ritu. I am so grateful I started with a character like that and I started with a director like Shyamaprasad Sir who really easily explained to me. Why does a heroine have to be black or white? Why can’t they be grey? Why can’t they be real? Why can’t they be normal people? That’s the kind of character I started with, one with a lot of grey shades. But you won’t believe how badly I’ve got stuck with that image. I don’t think I have ever broken out of that image. I am still stuck there. Even now people come to me saying that it’s a ‘bold and beautiful’ role. So I am still there. I haven’t got an avenue to explore things beyond that role.
When roles come to me now, I am no longer okay with being a sidekick, just being a property, to wear different costumes to add colour to a particular frame. That political stand, that feminist stand… I am able to take that position today. Today I have to take that position or I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I’ve had thousands of instances where people have told me, “why are you getting involved in this? Isn’t enough for you to act, get paid and go home?” And then I ask myself too, “isn’t enough? Isn’t enough that I do that?” But there are some things in which we believe strongly, that we know is unfair. We know we can do so much better than we are doing right now. Perhaps, not even as an artist, as a human being first, you want to react to certain things that’s happening around you.
On dictatorships, books, cooking, and elephant dung
I once shared [online] a poster that said, the god that fears menstruation seems to be not scared of elephant dung. Good for the elephants. People accused me of ‘dirty political vendetta’, of attacking religion. But I have wondered about this question since childhood. Why aren’t menstruating women allowed into temples? It is the question that comes to the mind of a 12-year-old girl. And I still ask that question. Because I am sure a lot of other women out there or small girls out there will have this question in their mind. I think all religions treat women quite badly. I question the circumstances [of the religion] I am familiar with. That’s all I can do.
Being an artist who has a platform to speak from, it would be selfish of me to not use that platform. To not voice my opinion and start a debate. People say that at least we are not living in a dictatorship, we have the space to say things. So what? When we see that conditions are deteriorating, don’t we have a responsibility as a society, as a community to stand against it? We shouldn’t be waiting till a point when we are not allowed to say anything, should we? Isn’t it clear that artists, writers, people with strong opinions and open minds are being cornered and attacked? It would be foolish of us to think that it isn’t happening. In JNU and other universities young people are fighting for this. We need a movement like this. I feel like everybody should join this movement.
The common question that everyone asks actresses is: Do you cook? I don’t know how that even matters. Really, they don’t ask this to the actors. They only ask the actresses. Yes I am a person who entertains you so you want to know whether I cook in my house?
When I travel to different countries I pick up a book from there. I picked up from a book Uganda. Recently I picked up a book from Sri Lanka. I am reading Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. I find him to be one of the greatest story-tellers ever. I like reading non-fiction more than fiction. But when you read Amitav Ghosh, the beauty of it is that you have a wonderful story unfolding with the backdrop of history. I enjoyed reading a book (I’ve forgotten the name). It’s by a freelance journalist who has worked around the world. She talks about how different countries react to journalists and how difficult it is for female journalists to work in different parts of the country. She covers politics and how she is never welcome and how everybody is always stunned by how a woman is reporting politics and how she goes through the whole gamut.
For women to be actors, they just have to be between 18 and 25
I kind of admire [the actor] Prithviraj and [his wife] Supriya for standing up to all that happened in their lives and coming out victorious! [Prithviraj and Supriya faced criticism for not naming their daughter Alankrita Prithviraj]. He is also one person who has been targeted unneccesarily. I am very good friends with his wife. Hats off to both of them.
I have absolutely no PR network. I don’t socialize. I am an introvert. I get worked up about the smallest of things which people don’t understand why I am getting worked up about. People look at me like I am an alien. My parents have just got to terms that I’m going to be like this for the rest of my life. I am a very bad salesperson. I don’t know how to market myself. I have to tell people, “I kind of act well.”
You can see the beginnings of a change [in the industry]. They are beginning to welcome people with strong, different ideas and viewpoints. Usually, a director, a producer and a writer will sit together and first decide the actor. Maybe if the actor wants to he gets to spend time on his character, on the script, on the development of the plot and maybe they start shooting after one month of the whole process. Mostly, actresses get decided the day before the shoot. When a woman-centric story comes that’s when they feel they must go in search of an actress. About 300 new faces have come into the Malayalam film industry because every other Malayalam movie has a new heroine. Because they really just need somebody between the age of 18 and 25. You can figure that just from the casting call ad. You just have to be between 18 and 25. It is sad that… well actors do get more than actresses. It’s very rarely that we sit with the team and discuss the character development. I did that in 22, Female Kottayam. I believe it was reflected in the film. I did that in Rani Padmini. I believe it’s reflected in that movie. I wish as an artist I had avenues where I could sit with my team, I could talk to other artists, I could ask my writer what they had in mind when they were conceiving my character, what the director wants me to do when I am in front of the camera, what the camera person wants me to do to enhance my performance. I wished that actresses got that acceptance. I have seen a lot of young actors, pushing themselves, making themselves visible and I have seen them being lauded as ambitious and a go-getter. When an actress does the same thing you’re [portrayed] as desperate. It could go to weird levels. There starts the gender divide. I don’t know how many times I will have to repeat this before I die. But I am going to do it.