Trolling
Chinmayi's husband and Swarnamalya speak up about the character assassination that female celebrities undergo when a controversy breaks out.

The 'Suchi Leaks' controversy as it is being called has shaken up Kollywood and generated enough material for the rumours mills to pound ceaselessly. With videos, photographs and insinuations doing the rounds, social media users have had their fill of "entertainment", with many asking Suchitra (or whoever was operating her Twitter handle) to release more such content.

Because that's all this whole thing was about: entertainment. However, for the people involved in the controversy, who have been inundated with abusive messages, troll memes, hate mail, vulgar phone calls, and rape threats, the situation is far from amusing. 

Watching a famous person go down gives an odd sense of satisfaction to many but in the adrenaline rush that drives this, we've forgotten that celebrities too are human beings with emotions, people who have families and friends who are put through trauma when such issues blow up. 

Speaking to The News Minute, actor Rahul Ravindran, singer Chinmayi's husband, shares their predicament. He calls the allegations made about his wife a stack of lies and says that it is high time someone from Suchitra's end spoke up about what was going on without hiding the truth as there are lives at stake. 

Clearly upset about the events of the past few days, Rahul says, "We've both mostly maintained a stoic silence about what has happened. We were aware of what's going on right from the beginning when these tweets started coming. Chinmayi was the first person to say that we must extend our understanding and not go public about what we'd been told or Suchitra's life would become a circus...however, nobody expected things to escalate so much."

Rahul adds that the threats from Suchitra's handle about leaking videos and pictures involving Chinmayi have been traumatising not because the couple fears that anything would come out of it - because there is nothing, they say - but because how quickly people latch on to it and believe it to be the truth. 

Chinmayi who entered the industry at 15 as a child prodigy was one of the first people to bravely counter Suchitra’s handle openly. Though ‘Suchitra’ kept making threats to ‘expose’ Chinmayi, finally there was nothing.

"Can you imagine what some of the other celebrities must be going through? Those pictures and videos may not even be theirs but who's going to believe them no matter what they say? And most of those were normal pictures with insinuating messages. What happens if someone commits suicide? Who is going to take responsibility for it?" he asks.

Rahul points out that trying to explain all these things to the troll army on social media is an exhausting and pointless exercise.  

For most celebrities, the entire controversy has been exhausting.

“I don’t even know Suchitra. It’s not like I can call and ask her to stop,’ one of the celebrities said.

A few actors who had become targets of the tweets like Parvathi Nair and  Anuya replied boldly. Anuya later deleted her Twitter handle.

"Chinmayi is very upset about what has happened. She becomes okay for a couple of hours but something triggers it and she starts crying again. She has worked so hard to build all this and she asks what's the point - all it takes is a bunch of tweets and 40,000 people immediately believe it to be true. We will fight," Rahul says.

The couple is undecided on whether taking on the abusers at this point will serve any purpose: "We'd rather wait till there is official word from someone at Suchitra's end before we say anything more."

Not a new trend

Years ago, much before the advent of social media, Swarnamalya too was subjected to character assassination and her name was dragged through the mud because of her alleged links to Vijayendra Saraswathi, who was then the junior pontiff at the Kanchi mutt. 

Recalling the traumatic period, Swarnamalya says, "It's very easy for people to place character judgments on women. And then, if they're women in the public eye, if they are women who are artists, it becomes easier. It's a societal mindset. There's very little thought people put into this."

Swarnamalya at the time was in her early 20s and fresh out of an ugly divorce, a fact which added juice to the gossip surrounding her. 

"Whether there's any truth to the allegations made on a woman's character or not, it doesn't matter to people. The first thing they say is oh she must be a whore. It's a mindset and that's what we need to question," she asserts.

Swarnamalya points out that if the whole circus that unraveled around her had taken place today; there might have been at least a few voices who spoke up for her, given how young she was back then. But in 2004, there was nobody to call out the misogyny in the character assassination that she was subjected to.

"There was no social media back then where I could put out my version. I was a 21 year old caught in a whirlpool of these things," she says. 

Swarnamalya confesses that around this period, she was nearly driven to commit suicide because of how things stood, not only about the mutt controversy but her divorce, too. 

Her family, too, went through a difficult time. 

"My family has always stood by me. They are my strength. But those days were hard. I had a young sister who was at school at that time. You can imagine the kind of looks and stares she got. In fact, her principal shamed her in front of the whole school in the assembly. She came back home crying," Swarnamalya says. 

Another instance was when a group of women at the airport saw Swarnamalya's mother with her and made a cruel comment on her character within her mother's hearing.

However, Swarnamalya says that though the family was affected by incidents like these, they chose to stick together and sail away from giving such people any more importance than they deserved. 

Explaining her stance on such controversies that break out every now and then, Swarnmalya says that she doesn't bother to acknowledge such insinuations because they are "unimportant" and that it doesn't help to get defensive. 

She recounts the time when there was a nude MMS of a woman who looked remarkably like her which was doing the rounds. 

"My friends in the industry called me and told me not to see it. But I wanted to see it. And yes, the girl in the video did look a lot like me...she had an uncanny resemblance to me. But the giveaway was that she was speaking in Hindi and anyone who knew me knew that I didn't know Hindi at all at that time," she says.

Swarnamalya spoke about a schoolmate of hers who'd told her that it was better for her to die than live such a life when the MMS came out.  

She, however, didn't bother denying that she was the woman in the MMS when the media questioned her about it. Instead, she chose to tell them off by saying, "All of us have to bathe every day. All of us have to take off our clothes every day. For our own private chores. It's not like I can stop doing that just because you people want to peep into my bathroom."

Swarnamalya finds it unnecessary to answer people who ask if she was "really" the girl in some video or picture because "doing so gives the people asking these questions a sense of power over you."

Today, Swarnamalya is a stronger person for all the controversies that have dogged her. She says, "People are very scared of strength. The fact that you are strong at the face of adversity scares and frustrates people. And I think I have mastered it."

But not everyone grows into resilience, not everyone is equally strong. And that is something we will all do well to remember when we're indulging in vicarious gossip.

Listen to Chinmayi's mesmerising voice

Watch Dr Swarnamalya Ganesh's dance