Actor Amala Paul and director AL Vijay are headed for a divorce, two years after their much talked-about wedding. The reason cited by Vijay’s father, AL Alagappan, a film producer, is that Amala Paul ‘broke her word’ and decided to pursue her career despite the family’s displeasure. AL Vijay has nothing much to say about the whole thing. He will go by his parents’ decision. Either AL Vijay has been wildly misquoted or here’s proof that a spine is a vestigial organ for some of us.
I wonder, though, what this says about female actors and how their own industry views them. Here are two men who earn their living through films but believe a woman in their family cannot do the same. This isn’t the first family with roots in the industry to believe so, of course. Actors Suriya and Jothika had to wage a war of sorts before Suriya’s father, Sivakumar, a veteran actor himself, would accept their relationship and agree to their marriage.
Jothika fell off the radar for several years after their wedding but made a come-back through advertisements and ‘36 Vayathiniley’, the remake of the Malayalam ‘How Old Are You?’ At the audio launch of the film, however, Sivakumar was quick to stress that despite his happiness at Jothika’s return, her priorities would be ‘Family, Child, Husband, and then Cinema’. Aishwarya Rai, ever since she became part of the Bachchan family, has stayed away from doing intimate scenes. According to reports, the Bachchan family clout was enough for Karan Johar to drop a kissing scene between Ash and Ranbir Kapoor in his forthcoming film ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’.
What is it that male members from the industry fear will happen if women from their family do films? Particularly, if it’s the daughter-in-law who wants to pursue her career in the industry without pandering to any morality-inspired rules? Are these men then ashamed about their profession? Do they view the film industry to be inherently ‘indecent’ or ‘immoral’? Why is it still okay for a daughter to act in films but not for a married woman? Why is it okay to date a female actor but not marry her if she wants to continue to act? The strong opposition is evidence of how highly misogynistic the film industry is - and the fact that its powerful male stars are more than aware of how often a female actor is reduced to the sum of her body parts on camera.
Talk about the male gaze and the objectification of women in films and you’ll be accused by industry insiders and their avid fans for taking ‘entertainment’ too seriously…but all these issues suddenly appear valid when applied to their personal lives! Director Thangar Bachan’s infamous comment that women in the industry were no better than ‘prostitutes’ created an uproar but clearly, he is not the only one who has such ‘high’ regard for his colleagues.
Way too many female actors have disappeared from the big screen after marriage for us to think that all of these choices were independent ones. In the Southern industry as well as in Bollywood. A Radhika Apte is as rare as an okapi sighting. So is a film like ‘Manmadhan Ambu’ that depicts an independent-minded female actor who doesn’t give in to her fiance’s (and his mother’s) demands that she give up her career to marry him.
Comebacks are becoming more common, with stars like Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi, Nadiya, Kushboo, Manju Warrier, and many others finding their way back to the industry but we’re not asking loud enough why these women needed to disappear in the first place. When a female actor announces her wedding plans, the first question everyone asks is if she will continue to act in films. Perhaps we should be asking the men in her life some tough questions too.