Actor Sridevika has spoken up about an unpleasant incident, disturbed as she is by two press meets conducted by the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA).
Sridevika has disclosed that she had written a letter to AMMA after the press meet conducted by actors Siddique and KPAC Lalitha on October 15, when she heard them say that no member had complained about any sexual harassment until now.
That is not true, Sridevika writes in a Facebook post, after her letter written on October 16, went unanswered. Now with a second press meet by AMMA led by president Mohanlal and co, Sridevika felt the need to put the post and her letter out. "Shaming is not my agenda here, I do not wish to name anyone. Awareness is what I am aiming for, not publicity," she tells TNM, when asked for comments.
"To unanimously speak now, in contrast to the difference of opinion which was showcased in the media two days before, between two Executive Committee members, isn't it obvious to the public that the Executive Committee is trying to hide some of the facts? As a member, I did not get any update about the IC committee that was formed? Did it happen in any Executive Committee meeting? Because, in the minutes of the last General Body Meeting, it was only written that a there is a plan to introduce women’s cell under the Disciplinary Committee. So when did this new women cell generate?" Sridevika writes in her post.
In her case, when the incident allegedly happened in 2006, there was only one point of contact for AMMA - the then Secretary, who did not let her give a written complaint. "The method was to console the complainant and dissuade her/him from making it official. Hence complaints were never raised nor were they properly addressed," she writes.
Sridevika has not acted in a while, so one would need to go back a few years to understand the background. To the times of Parthan Kanda Paralokam, Chempada and Manjadikkuru.
Somewhere around then, Sridevika had faced an unpleasant incident and also an issue with payment. In her letter, she writes of both.
"Someone was constantly knocking my hotel room door in the middle of the night and this happened for 3-4 nights continuously. I had called up the reception to look into who it was, and later they confirmed it’s the Director. My mother then addressed this issue with my co-actor and he helped me shift to a room on the floor where he was also staying,” the letter says, the last line reminding one of a similar incident mentioned by casting director Tess Joseph recently, during the time of the television show Kodeeshwaran.
The director had then allegedly turned rude to her, not explaining scenes or looking at her face. Her lines and shorts were chopped. But she did not know how to confront these issues. AMMA did not have a grievance committee then. So she kept it to herself.
Sridevika goes on to write in her letter: “Many of the production controllers who called for casting in new projects first ask the question: ‘Will you compromise with producer/ director/ actor?’ before even asking whether the actor has interest to work on those projects.”
To TNM, she says that this is happening everywhere and that she is sure that 95 per cent of women in cinema go through this. “They should come out and speak,” she says.
It is when there was an issue with her payment that she finally met the AMMA Secretary. “After listening to my concerns, the Secretary asked me not to raise a complaint since that may hamper my career, as no producer would cast me in the future,” her letter says.
When she was not paid for her next film as well, she remembered her previous experience and did not complain to AMMA. She fought the issue herself by refusing to go for the shooting till her dues were paid. The AMMA Secretary then called her to report for work without pay and not raise an issue, Sridevika writes. But she stood her ground till she was paid half of the agreed contractual amount. The rest, she writes, is still unpaid, more than a decade later.
Sridevika writes that when you make a call to the Executive Committee (for an issue), the EC member would try "to put the fire out on that very first call". They shunt the complainant, she says.
“Partnering with the powerful and asking the weak to adjust/take a pay-cut is not what people join an organisation for, it is supposed to protect us and not those with money and power,” Sridevika notes.