During the 22nd International Film Festival of Kerala on December 9th, Malayalam actress Parvathy along with other prominent women filmmakers, who also recently formed an organisation Women In Cinema Collective together, had a discussion where they articulated their disappointments and horrors of being a woman in a primarily male-dominated industry.
They spoke about the rampant sexism in Malayalam cinema and how the misogyny normalized in film representation led to a misconstrued idea of what consent means.
Parvathy acknowledged that she was herself culpable of thinking once that it was okay for a man to use physical force to express his love for a woman because of the normalization of violence in films. She cited the film Kasaba (2016) starring superstar Mammootty as an example.
She said, “With all respect to the makers, the film (Kasaba) disappointed me, as it featured a great actor uttering misogynistic dialogues. A lot of people feel and believe that cinema reflects life and the society. When a superstar utters such a dialogue, people obviously tend to think that it is cool to make sexist remarks. The unfairness works at various levels. Even if you take a look at the various film organizations, you can see how only a few women are part of it. It is part of the conditioning of women too that some of them even think they need not be part of it. We need to have proper education on these issues. Cinema is not just an artistic activity, it is a political activity too.”
She faced a furious backlash on twitter where Mammootty fans started threatening her with rape, death and social ostracization. The trolls made derogatory and personal remarks about her. What the trolls did not realize they were only emphasizing the urgency of the point she was trying to make.
A 23-year-old Malayali from Thrissur district was arrested when he made the following rape threat, “we are planning to rape you. You better be ready. #WithHim“.
So this is one of the messages that this 20 year old young man sent @parvatweets. How is this acceptable? In which world is this okay? The next message was in the same vein. Story here: https://t.co/5MODHDgyT6 pic.twitter.com/YPNngZWPpA
— Dhanya Rajendran (@dhanyarajendran) December 28, 2017
In the film Kasaba, Mammootty’s character in an attempt to berate a female officer – who is also his senior, says – “I can easily make you miss your menstrual cycle if I want to“, pointing at her waist. Yes – this is a rape threat, and is uttered by a police officer – the hero of the film. What follows the dialogue is a “heavy” heroic music leading to thunderous applause in the theatre. This normalization of violence was what Parvathy was talking about.
Journalist Anna MM Vetticad mentioned in a review published on Firstpost, “Nitin Renji Panicker’s work seems rooted in a conviction that you cannot entertain the janata without bottom-of-the-barrel sexist one-liners… A female officer, Zachariah’s junior in age, but senior in the profession — he unbuttons her uniform shirt before she needlessly needles him. He strikes her down with his words, grabs her by the belt, and as he holds her crotch against his, makes a disgusting comment about how he could disrupt her bodily functions“.
Parvathy in an interview with Manorama saying, “When a star like Mammootty – who is an icon, says this dialogue with such a visual grammar – then the context is glorified“. After Kasaba, the women’s commission asked Mammootty to reject roles like that.
The director of the film Nitin Renji Panicker gave a cold response to the same in an interview with NDTV, “What you have seen in the movie happens all around you. Even worse things than this – Like the Nirbhaya case. The dialogues are nothing new and I have not made them up. We’ve heard these things. This is a commercial film and that’s why the clichés.”
Women who supported her received similar threats, and men who supported her were called “pavada“, which means “skirt” because nothing can hurt a man more than “feminine” vocabulary being used to describe him.
A post written by a female Mammootty fan went viral. In the post she attacked Parvathy’s character, feminism and Women In Cinema Collective. She took internalized misogyny to a whole new level when she wrote, “None of you WCC feminists are worth what Mammootty has achieved“.
What’s even more disheartening is the response from the men in the industry. Veteran actor Siddique said, “She asked for it and now she is facing the consequences“.
Parvathy managed to keep her head high and held on to her retort. She reported some of the rape threats to the police. Many celebrities, notably Rima Kallingal, Geetu Mohandas etc came out to support her.
Mammootty is no stranger to misogynist dialogues. In the movie ‘The Truth’ (1998), he says “Nee varum pennaannu” (translation: ‘you are only a woman‘) as a conclusion to the end of a long conversation with a woman IPS officer played by Vani Viswanath. This is considered one of the most iconic dialogues in the Malyalam film industry and the young men often try to emulate Mammooty’s character from this film. Let that sink in.
Parvathy is a critically acclaimed actress. From her debut in Notebook and the recent film Take Off, she represented a female role model that the Malayalam film industry needed. She has international acclaim as well. However, her right to speak should be based on the respect she deserves as an individual – despite her work and credentials.
The gendered abuses and hurls directed at Parvathy paint a grim picture. The ageist and sexist trolling she had to endure goes on to show we have a long way to go.
In an interview, Mammootty finally broke his silence and said, “I don’t go after controversies. What we need are meaningful debates. We all abide by freedom of speech and right to opinion. I have not assigned anyone to respond on my behalf or defend me.” Mammootty’s tone-deaf statement shows his complicity in perpetuating rape culture.