According to most actresses, sexual harassment in the south Indian film industry is nothing new. Unlike in Hollywood, when Indian actresses speak out against this, they were either ignored, berated, or accused of being hungry for fame and money, which, as a consequence will have their reputation trashed. Indian actresses are also afraid to speak out against this because of the power and fame that their offender holds towards the south Indian society.
Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, a south Indian actress who appears predominantly in Tamil films expressed in an interview on The News Minute, “Everybody is ashamed of it. They don’t want to admit to the things they have to do to get work. And half of them don’t have the choices that I or a few others have. Things like this are hushed up, and we’re taught not to talk about it. They say it will tarnish your image. So, when they say all this, no woman is going to come out and tell these stories.”
When men, especially actors, loudly confront and call out injustice as they see it, they are praised for it. They’re viewed as heroes and saviors. They’re lauded for speaking up and telling their stories. How brave, we say. However, when an actress voice out against abuse, injustice, and share her traumatic stories, people tend to cover their ears. Society silences these women by saying that they’re only seeking attention, money, and fame. Women are blamed for stepping outside of the boundaries that have been created for them by men. People bully and call these actresses names for naming their offenders who are very powerful in this industry. Most South Indians are not even ready to accept or listen to any accusations against their favorite actors; therefore, in anger, they shame the women for voicing out.
Society silences these women by saying that they’re only seeking attention, money, and fame. Women are blamed for stepping outside of the boundaries that have been created for them by men. People bully and call these actresses names for naming their offenders who are very powerful in this industry.
A genuinely devastating and unsettling example to prove my point above is the story behind this iconic scene in Tamil cinema starring Kamal Hassan, who is often referred to as pride of the South Indian film industry. Rekha is a very dedicated actress who became one of the leading and gorgeous South Indian actresses of the ’90s. This scene is from a movie called Punnagai Mannnan, which shows two people in love who are separated by the society and have decided to jump off a waterfall to die together. The couple seems to kiss each other in tears before jumping off the waterfall. During the shooting of this movie, Kamal Hassan was 32, and Rekha was 16 years old. At first glance, this scene may seem tragic yet beautiful for most viewers who have watched and cried along with it until Rekha revealed the dark backstory of this scene this year in an interview.
Rekha shared that the director of the movie, K. Balachander, instructed her to close her eyes before jumping off the waterfall so it will seem more natural given the situation. Considering her age and acting experience at that time, she didn’t find anything weird or odd about his direction and did as he said. She said, before they started the scene, the director reminded Kamal Hassan about something that he has spoken to him privately earlier.
As the scene began, Rekha closed her eyes while Kamal grabbed and kissed her without her knowledge and/or consent. Rekha was in shock as much as she was in fear of what her father might think of this. She told the director that her father will never approve of this scene, and in an attempt to justify his disgusting and unethical behavior, he responded, “Don’t think of it as something predatory or vulgar, think of it as some big king kissing a small child.” He went on and added that the kiss will not look forced and aggressive but romantic and innocent instead, even though it was forced and aggressive.
The saddest part of this interview is Rekha trying to justify K. Balachander and Kamal Hassan’s actions to herself as she goes on with the conversation. Rekha ended the interview by saying that both K. Balachander and Kamal Hassan might be infuriated with her for sharing this story. She also expressed that she has said this in many interviews as it is the truth, but no one believed her. The internal conflict of her trying to rationalize that incident and her indignation that people didn’t believe her when she said, “Sollitum nambala” (they didn’t believe me even when I spoke out) is both painful and sad to watch.
The saddest part of this interview is Rekha trying to justify K. Balachander and Kamal Hassan’s actions to herself as she goes on with the conversation. Rekha ended the interview by saying that both K. Balachander and Kamal Hassan might be infuriated with her for sharing this story.
She was 16 at the time, and he was 32. They fooled a 16-year-old and made him kiss her without her consent. The gravest part is that they planned beforehand on how to take advantage of a young woman who has little to no experience in this industry. Yet they are one of many celebrated and glorified celebrities in South India. There are no stains on their names. They walk out freely with their head high among us, but Rekha is still getting judged for telling the truth and is always called out for being an attention seeker whenever she brings up this issue.
Parvathy Thiruvothu, a South Indian actress who’s known for her work in Bangalore Days, explained, “We don’t have a culture of supporting each other when we go through horrendous experiences. And we never will. It is difficult – the survivor is always alone. And I’d like to state this in this interview – this question that several people have asked me, why don’t I name those who have molested me. Because I know I will be the only one standing. Everyone will go behind the curtain. Until I create that army for us to come out, I can’t. Because I don’t have proof, do I? We need people to come out and say yes, this man is a repeat offender.”
This is the society we live in right now. On a day when the world is dealing and celebrating with the news of Harvey Weinstein being sentenced to 23 years in prison, we have a group of people who have vast influence and power get their ways with women whenever and however they want and walk out with no consequences.
Pavithra Raman is an aspiring writer and is currently doing her studies in her native country, Malaysia. She feels unexplainable joy every time she writes about something she’s passionate about. She works with Google Docs because she can’t afford Microsoft Word. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Featured Image Source: Onmanorama