WCC in Tamil cinema? No way, says Chinmayi Sripada
Next door, Tamil cinema has also been witnessing many crucial legal battles that stemmed from the #MeToo campaign.
Next door, Tamil cinema has also been witnessing many crucial legal battles that stemmed from the #MeToo campaign. But the industry seems to lack an organised voice to combat the harassment women face there. In January, when the victim of the 2017 actor assault case finally broke her silence and took to Instagram to thank those who supported her, saying it has not been an easy journey, almost every celebrity from Malayalam cinema shared it. The public lauded her bravery too.
“But women in Tamil cinema lack that kind of solidarity,” said playback singer Chinmayi Sripada, who was ostracised and shamed by her peers and media after she raised a #MeToo allegation against lyricist Vairamuthu. She was banned from the Dubbing Artist Union too, for naming its office-bearer as a serial abuser.
“You see the way the media played out the Harvey Weinstein case or how the Boston Globe actively pursued the sex abuse scandal, but you know you can never expect such a treatment from media or public here. My abuser is being given awards, participating in programmes with public figures and national politicians, while I am ostracised and shamed. Male journalists ask my abuser ‘how he deals with criticism’. We are talking about a man who has been named as a harasser by over a dozen women. Now, what do they ask me?: ‘Where did he molest you’ or ‘Why didn’t you speak up earlier?’. I have done all I can, and now I don’t know who to turn to. Apart from a few of us, even powerful women in Tamil cinema are either silent or taking the side of the oppressor. It is painful to watch,” she said.
Her contemporary and filmmaker Leena Manimekhalai named director Susi Ganesan in a #MeToo allegation in 2018. Ever since, he has been actively trying to disarm her, she says. “Who wants to get their passport impounded? Who wants to face multi-tier legal struggles? Who wants to be branded as a ‘problem maker’ and totally ostracised? Who wants to be singled out to meet all the heavy repercussions for breaking the silence? Often, you feel like it is you against the world. It is a traumatic lonely experience to speak out on sexual harassment in a society like India,” said Leena.
Leena won a multi-tier (magistrate court, district court, High Court and Supreme Court) battle against her passport impoundment. “I am still facing the main criminal defamation case at the magistrate court. I am doing all this apart from studying and working to bring food to my table and pay my monthly bills,” she said, highlighting how women are almost always left alone to fight the career-ending, life-challenging battle against sexual exploitation.
Asked if Tamil cinema would have its own WCC, Chinmayi responded: “No way! So many women actors have come to politics and power in the last years. What have they done? Not a thing. For that matter, I respect the solidarity and resilience women in Malayalam cinema has shown in supporting survivors of sexual abuse,” she added.
Leena also says she has little optimism. “The industry, state and society are so driven by patriarchal values. Women are welcome to coexist if they are active agents of patriarchy. As simple as that! Any woman who questions the status quo will be witch-hunted,” she says.