Photo: HT
Photo: HT

Malayalam cinema battles misogyny as #MeToo gains ground in other industries

Even while Bollywood actors like Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar have clearly expressed their unwillingness to work with accused perpetrators as the #MeToo movement gains ground in the media and entertainment industry rapidly, AMMA refuses to budge.

New Delhi: The final word on actor Dileep’s membership in the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) remains unclear. Dileep, who was been accused in the abduction and sexual assault case of a fellow actor in February 2017, is part of an industry that was the first to raise its voice against sexual misconduct within the broader film fraternity by the formation of a women’s collective (WCC) but lags much behind other industries in taking a firm stand against the same today.

Dileep, who and is currently out on bail after being in prison for 85 days, was suspended from the association initially, but brought back into its fold this June when veteran actor Mohanlal took over as president. More recently, even while Bollywood actors like Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar have clearly expressed their unwillingness to work with accused perpetrators as the #MeToo movement gains ground in the media and entertainment industry rapidly, AMMA refuses to budge.

“They (the women’s collective) gave examples of Akshay Kumar and Aamir Khan. They said the actors decided to walk out of the movies. But what Akshay Kumar and Aamir Khan did was wrong. How could they do so based on allegations?" said actor Siddiqui, secretary of AMMA, at a press conference.

Also read: Opinion | How the #MeToo movement has changed the equation

Sajid Khan, the director of Kumar’s upcoming comedy Housefull 4, announced his decision to step down from the project earlier this month, soon after sexual harassment complaints against him surfaced. Aamir Khan Productions also backed out of director Subhash Kapoor’s biopic on Gulshan Kumar titled Mogul. Kapoor had been accused of molestation by actor Geetika Tyagi in 2014. Meanwhile, Yash Raj Films has fired Ashish Patil, vice-president of brand partnerships and talent management and head of its youth wing, Y-Films, after an aspiring actor accused him of sexual misconduct. Top of the infamous list in Bollywood though, is production house Phantom Films that has been dissolved after co-founder Vikas Bahl was accused by a female employee of sexual harassment and the company took more than a year to respond.

“WCC started speaking much earlier but seems to have made the shortest progress," said filmmaker Anjali Menon, member of the WCC in Kerala referring to the formation of their association nearly a year-and-a-half ago. “I think this stems from a certain conservatism in the industry where things are set into power patterns and we are seen as disruptive forces disturbing an ecosystem comfortable to those who control it."

Menon said the actress’ abduction by Dileep was not the first instance of sexual assault in the industry, but a kind of tipping point for sure. Resistance towards the status quo on the part of women comes from knowing they’ve already defied social norms by entering an industry dominated by men and that there is now need for systemic change. Further, there is a conspicuous absence of women in decision-making roles in the artistes’ associations, technician unions and producer’s associations whom WCC communicated with but who are yet to act.

As of now, the WCC has submitted a writ petition at the Kerala High Court for the formation of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) within the AMMA, which should also include third-party experts on gender and from the judiciary, as mandated by law. All of this becomes crucial given the overlap between films and the broader society, that cinema is a part of.

“We have to realize that art cannot exist in isolation, it has to merge with the prevalent social culture. Plus, films have the potential to influence social mores and make people think, so a change in the filmmaker’s work culture has far reaching implications right up to the content that reaches the audience," Menon said.

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