The Malayalam actor Sreenath Bhasi was arrested by the Kerala police recently for allegedly hurling abuses at the female hosts and other crew members of a famous YouTube channel. The incident took place during the promotion interview of his latest Malayalam movie Chattambi (meaning rowdy).
Reportedly, the actor lashed out at the interviewer when he was asked to rank his co-stars based on their rowdiness, as part of a funny task during a promotion interview with the said channel. He said, “I’m pissed off right now”, before giving out the F-word. It is also alleged that he requested the crew to switch off the cameras and then, continued with his abusive slurs. However, the actor has denied having used unparliamentary language off screen .
Following this, the film production team including the producer and the director of Chattambi tried to cool off the situation. Consequently, a complaint was lodged against Sreenath Bhasi by one of the female interviewers who was at the receiving end of his comments, after two days.
The police collected the video of the interview and the CCTV footage along with the biological samples of the actor to test if he was under the influence of intoxicants during the interview. The actor was also asked by the police to submit himself for questioning and later, he was arrested and left out on station bail.
A few days after submitting the complaint against the actor, the complainant has withdrawn the plaint. The reason given by the female interviewer was that she saw a completely different, repenting Bhasi at the office of the Producers’ Association, where she was invited to discuss the issue. She also said, “I have quite a few reasons to withdraw the complaint. The day I was summoned by the Producers’ Association to discuss the issue was when I met Sreenath for the first time after the incident. Though he had tried to meet me several times before that, I wasn’t mentally ready. What the Association members told me first is that from the time he reached the office, he was in tears for hours. They said, “What we understand is that he repents his actions. Are you planning to continue with the case?” I had not yet met him at that point, and so I said, “Yes. Nobody else should go through a similar situation again.”
The female interviewer also said that she received numerous calls from numerous persons associated with the actor. Some of them requested her to withdraw the complaint as it could affect their upcoming movies with the same actor, while the others supported her to go on with the case, offering her financial and other support. According to her, this included people who have had similar experiences from the actor.
This is not the first time that the actor has been alleged in a case of a similar nature. In 2017, a Malayalam actress had filed a harassment case against director Jean Paul Lal, Sreenath Bhasi, and two other technicians. She had complained that she was not given her promised remuneration and when she enquired about this, some sexually explicit comments were passed at her.
However, the case was withdrawn when both parties settled it outside the court. Another such instance was when the Kerala Film Chamber took disciplinary action against the actor due to his inappropriate behaviour on his professional front. Numerous videos showcasing such behaviours and responses of the actor also have resurfaced on the internet now.
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The Kerala Film Producers Association (KFPA) has taken disciplinary action against the actor following this, temporarily banning him from movies until the case is settled. But at the same time, he is given the liberty to continue with the films which he has already committed.
The Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) has openly applauded the KFPA but, at the same time, has questioned its partiality in dealing with the other powerful men in the film fraternity who are facing similar charges, like Vijay Babu and Liju Krishna. The WCC statement reads like this:
“The Kerala Film Producers Association has taken a disciplinary action against Sreenath Bhasi for insulting a woman journalist. This action definitely helps to understand the relevance of respect which we have to show towards our colleagues. Parallelly, we have to evaluate whether action in this one incident is enough. There are numerous cases in our police stations and courts where men in our Film Industry are accused and facing trial for sexual crimes. The recent cases of Vijay Babu and Liju Krishna are some of the few examples. Liju Krishna, the Director of film Padavettu was arrested and is out on bail currently while there have been allegations against the Executive Producer of the film. The film producers are celebrating the upcoming release of this film, directed by the accused. Vijay Babu went into hiding when a woman filed a police complaint against him for rape. While in hiding, he publicly named and shamed the rape victim. He too is on bail and is celebrated by the industry members and allowed to function as if he has done no wrong.”
The AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) has not taken any action against Sreenath Bhasi, justifying it on the ground that he is not a member of this association. In the meantime, the actor had also attempted to turn around the allegations levelled against him saying that he is the real victim: “They abused me and I became the victim. That is not right. I’m the real victim here. They have ruined my name, my cinema, my happiness, the love that people had for me. I think death by suicide is easier. They will be happy,” he said, following the public outcry about the incident.
Amid all these allegations and counter allegations, the poster for his next movie was released with an intriguing title ‘Namuk Kodathiyil Kaanam’ (meaning ‘let’s see at the court’). Thus, it is suggestive that the current situation is being utilised to create popularity for the said movie. The poster displays the title, with only the actor’s angry looks foregrounded.
But, for the movie ‘Chattambi’, the makers had initially removed the actor’s image from the poster. The contrast in these acts highlights the understatement of how ethics and non-ethics attract viewership and profitisation in show business.
The nexus of power prevalent in these discourses is always male dominant and hence, has a silencing impact on women. The female interviewer abused by the actor is a popular host loved by many Malayali viewers. Though the question of actors being coerced by producers to attend an indiscriminate number of promotional interviews in a single day, and the responsibility of anchors to come up with more engaging conversation pointers remains, her immediate withdrawal from the case after facing abusive remarks together with her YouTube channel crew is a blow to the innumerable women who fight against the deep-seated inequalities in their workplace.
Nonetheless, as a victim, she was also exposed to many trolls aiming at her insufficiency to interview celebrities which might have affected her personally. “As my police complaint was leaked online, my phone number got public and I started getting calls and abuses from many quarters, including social media. Many were scrutinising my interviews from years before and finding fault with them . . .” she says.
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Evidently, even with the indelible efforts of various movie organisations, subjugation and regression continue to operate in the Malayalam film industry. It is even more upsetting when these acts are initiated by the so-called young, educated, front rowers of the new movement in Malayalam cinema. Most of the Malayalam movie organisations still work with accused members based on their power and influence. Thus, the major wrong-doers are left out while the smaller ones are caught and warned.
This ultimately brings the realisation of how such organisations prune and fortify the male power norms of the industry. Consequently, this becomes the basic structure for functioning and women mostly operate as the immediate implementers of such norms, without a choice, to ensure their individual survival.
As for now, Sreenath Bhasi has moved to the High Court to quash the proceedings in the case, since the petitioner has withdrawn her plaint. Consequently, the High Court has stayed further proceedings of the case. Likewise, the petitioner too has moved on, after posting her stance on the issue and why she retracted from the complaint. As for the trolls against the petitioner, they continue to thrive.