The entertainment industry is notorious for gender disparity and the Malayalam film industry is no different.
Taking the bull by the horns, Manju Warrier, Parvathy, Bhavana, Anjali Menon, Geethu Mohan Das, Vidhu Vincent, Rima Kallingal, Remya Nambeesan, Didi Damodaran, Surabhi Lakshmi and other prominent women who work in the industry have come together to form a group called the 'Women in Cinema Collective' to represent their interests. This is for the first time that there has been a concerted effort to do so in the Malayalam industry.
The Collective met Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and presented a memo requesting that a committee which will study gender disparity and employment conditions in Malayalam cinema be set up in the state.
Speaking to The News Minute, actor Rima Kalingal said, "Women themselves are best equipped to talk about the problems that affect them. How can a group of men forward what our issues are? When one of us was attacked, I would say many organisations were confused how to react. We need to define a work space, since we don't work inside an office. There is no redressal forum, no welfare measures, maternity benefits, complaint cell, changing rooms and restroom facilities... we have nothing. We are trying to define our work space, to define the employer- employee relationship."
The memo presented to the CM begins with the assertion that like any other field, gender equality still hasn't been achieved in the film field where they live and work. Further, it adds that the film sector hasn't even reached a phase where "basic human rights or wage related issues can even be discussed."
"It's no longer a lonely camerawoman or editor in cinema, the tide is turning. There is a critical mass of women in cinema now. As more women come in, this place needs to be safer. Many people are still not welcoming of the women in their families entering the industry," film maker Anjali Menon told TNM.
The memo declares "equal rights in the film field can be achieved only by fighting" and that the Collective seeks the support of the government to ensure that the rights envisaged by the Constitution are upheld.
"Our Constitution gives right to equality, but the remuneration that women and men get in the industry cannot even be compared. Women in cinema are not given the visibility they deserve for their work or employment prospects. We want that to change. We have filmmakers like Anjali, Vidhu and Geethu in the collective. They will set an example and hire more women in their movies," Rima said.
Mollywood was recently shaken by the assualt on a popular actor and it has been suggested that the act was part of a larger conspiracy. The memo drafted by the Collective also speaks of the incident: "The recent attack on an actress is an example of the helplessness women have to face in the field. This is not the first such instance, but the first time that an incident was reported."
This sentence is especially revealing of the kind of exploitation that women in cinema have been putting up with silently all these years.
The Collective adds, "It is important to see such exploitation from the view of the victim or survivor. At present, such incidents are silenced for the sake of the dignity of the industry. If the current situation has to be change, the government has to ensure that justice is served in this case."
The Collective's Demands
The demands of the Collective include addressing the gender disparity in salaries, reservations for women in technical jobs in government-owned studios like Chtranjali where their presence is negligible, government welfare schemes like insurance, PF to women who were forced to abstain from work due to pregnancy, child rearing and physical ailments, awards for films that talk about gender equality, and subsidies for production crews that have 30% women.
Previously, the Pinarayi government had promised that it would accommodate more women in the news industry. The Collective has therefore demanded that the government start courses to train women in the technical skills required for filmmaking.
Commenting on the Collective's demands, Rima says, "Our Constitution gives right to equality, but the remuneration that women and men get in the industry cannot even be compared. Actresses don't have any role to play once a movie is made, no one gives them a stake in distribution or anything, We want that to change. We have filmmakers like Anjali, Vidhu and Geethu in the Collective. They will set an example and hire more women in their movies. "
Making it clear that their voices mattered, the Collective has said that the government should ensure that any discussion on cinema should necessarily involve women.
Earlier this year, Kollywood actor Varalaxmi Sarathkumar had set up the Save Shakti initiative to address gender disparity and sexual harassment in the Tamil film industry but the top female stars in the state have been mum about it.
"We are happy to come together, rather than sit in different corners and complain about it. Shine the light where the darkness is. This is a celebration for us. We are optimistic about the collective and the responses so far have been good," Anjali Menon told TNM.