What’s the difference between Dileep, Vijay Babu and Rima Kallingal? While the first two actor-producers could manage to be in the good books of Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), and other associations in the Malayalam film industry, actor-producer Rima Kallingal and several other women have had to leave AMMA to form the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC). WCC is an organisation that fights for the rights of women artistes and technicians in the Malayalam film industry.
There is a power imbalance in the industry and that is why the Justice K Hema Committee report matters, Kallingal told The Quint.
The three-member Justice K Hema Committee was formed in 2017 to study the work conditions of women in the Kerala film industry. While the members, including retired judge K Hema, south Indian actor Sharada, and retired bureaucrat KB Vatsala Kumari, submitted the report to the Kerala state government and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in 2019, it has not been shared with the public.
‘Preferential Treatment for Male Artistes, Women Remain Dispensable’
Rewind to the beginning. Actor Rima Kallingal faced a setback when she hosted a reality television show – Midukki. In 2013, the Kerala film chamber banned her from acting in films as the body felt that the show could “affect the theatrical performance” of her films.
Kallingal cited this arbitrary ban as one of instances that she had mentioned in her deposition before the Hema Committee.
In an attempt to explain why case studies examined by the committee – sans the details of the survivors – should be brought to the public domain, Rima Kallingal spoke to The Quint. Earlier, The Quint had published parts of the depositions of actor Divya Gopinath, actor Archana Padmini, and director Anjali Menon.
But what of the film chamber’s rift with Kallingal and the resultant ban?
“You have to understand that we live in an industry where getting constant work as a woman professional is very hard. (While doing Midukki) I was trying to figure out my work and livelihood. But the ban was what happened to me,” Kallingal said.
She almost immediately drew a stark contrast between her experience and the protective treatment which male artistes and technicians enjoy in the industry. “They feel women are dispensable…At the same time, (actor-producer) Dileep or (actor-producer) Vijay Babu get to be part of every other film organisation despite the criminal cases that they face. There is power imbalance,” Kallingal clarified.
Kallingal said, “We really needed to see how to bring about change. We needed to understand how power works within the dynamics of the industry." The state government should take a proactive role in bringing the report out, she added.
‘On Whose Side Is the Kerala Government? Case Studies Matter’
The actor said that film professionals including herself, who broke the silence of women in a century-old industry, had put their careers and lives at stake when they shared their experiences with the Hema Committee. They expected the state government and the committee to be “outraged at their problems.” Several women professionals had deposed before the Hema Committee even as their depositions remain sequestered.
Meanwhile, the Left Democratic Front’s state government has not been helpful. Kerala’s Cultural Affairs Minister Saji Cheriyan recently hinted that the Women in Cinema Collective could have “other reasons” to ask for the release of the committee report. “Who will benefit from making the report public?” he had asked.
Kallingal rebutted, “I would really want the government to let us and the public know why they have a problem with making the report public.”
She explained that the committee report should be out to understand “how nuanced the problems are.”
When sexual assault cases – like those against Dileep and Vijay Babu – come out, a section always asks questions about the woman survivor’s intentions. “These questions won’t be asked if the public understands how powerful predatory people work. They need to know how predators lure women into compromising situations. They need to know the kind of situations women are subjected to.”
The report should be out with redactions that protect the identity of survivors, she said. “Talking about this has to be normalized because the era of silence is over.”
By keeping the committee report under wraps, is the Kerala government attempting to protect any perpetrator, she asked. “What is the message that the government is giving out? That they are protecting these people (criminals). This is the message that a Left government, which is very serious about its women and child development agenda, is putting out,” Rima Kallingal ripped into the continued insistence of the government to keep the report secret.
‘Onus of Calling Out Bad Practices on the Commission, Not Survivor’
Kallingal, a highly sought-after woman actor in the industry who had continuously stood by the 2017 actor-assault case surviror, said that survivors are often discredited by the society. In such a situation, a commission calling out bad practices in an industry would matter.
“Because we are conditioned to believe the law of the land, it is different when a commission calls out an incident and a survivor calls out an incident. Survivors are cornered and socially demoralised. Change would be so swift if a commission calls out (bad practices),” Kallingal said.
While women actors had first suspected that the report is not being let out because it contained names of powerful male professionals, they later realised that neither the survivors nor the accused are named in the report. “Then why can’t it be released?” she asked, adding women professionals of the industry have been baffled by the question.
The report's release could help sensitise men in the industry, Kallingal stressed. “Right now, they (male professionals) have a free run and are not accountable.” However, women too could benefit from the report, she added.
“We are always catching up and trying to figure out whether we are being treated fairly. We are always wondering, what does getting treated fairly mean to us as human beings. Even that realisation is yet to dawn on us,” she rued.
As she shoots for her next film, Rima Kallingal imagined an industry where women can work freely. She imagined an industry where women would feel happy and content. “When I walk into a workspace my first thought should not be to cut-off all this negative energy and doubt. Now, the first thing I do at my workspace is not work but convince others that I can work,” she said.