February 17, 2019, marks two years since a prominent woman actor was abducted and sexually assaulted. The case is still in court, with the accused delaying the proceedings with one petition after the other.
The Malayalam film industry, which initially stood by the survivor staunchly, developed cracks when the police arrested Dileep, one of their biggest stars, for allegedly masterminding the assault.
Two years on, what has changed for the survivor in the industry? Where does the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC,) which was formed soon after the attack, see itself in the future? Actor and director Revathy, who is part of the WCC, shares her thoughts with TNM.
It's been two years since the assault happened. Do you think the survivor still has the support of the Malayalam film industry?
The fact is, somewhere their conscience says it is right to support her. And so the support is there. But active support, nil. I will not blame anyone. It's because each one gets busy in their own life. There's a bunch of people - the WCC and a few others - who are very close and around her. This includes some journalists who are sincere, and are following the case, but that's it.
Life goes on. The only person whose life stops is the survivor. And the people who have been charged.
Dileep and the other accused have tried a number of delaying tactics, prolonging the case in court. How has this impacted the survivor?
Very badly. Questions like should I go on, is this fight worth it come to mind. Here is where our judicial system really needs to be looked at.
The incidents subsequent to the attack kind of divided the Malayalam industry into factions. But will these stand when it comes to the business of cinema? For instance, Prithviraj was among the first to demand justice for the survivor, but he's also directing his first film with Mohanlal, who reinstated Dileep in AMMA.
It comes to the same thing. Life stops only for the people who are directly involved, and the next close rung. For the rest, life goes on and that's what's happened. I really don't want to pinpoint one person working with another. Because that is reality. The sad part is the judicial system. There are certain cases which should be fast-tracked. Sexual abuses cases, from minors to women, have to be fast-tracked. It's very important.
When it's delayed, the survivor and the people around her, get tired. Mentally tired. The people around them slowly forget. The seriousness of what happened gets diluted.
Women from the WCC have spoken about being denied work opportunities. As an organisation, are you in a position to do anything about it?
Yes. I feel that was the first reaction and all of us were willing to take that risk. But things are changing. There are projects being made by supporters and we're getting work. I feel that over time, it will totally change. Because how long can you keep good talent away? It's not possible. Things will turn around.
Initially it was bad. It was an unsaid ban. But that can't last. It will only become better from here.
In Hollywood and Bollywood, men who have been accused of sexual harassment have been removed from projects. But in the Malayalam industry, Dileep continues to get work despite an ongoing court case. What do you think can be done?
WCC has bigger issues - seeing to it that survivors get justice. But we cannot stop anyone's work, it's not the WCC's job. People in the industry have to be conscientious and do it. What happened in Hindi was something CINTAA (Cine and TV Artistes Association), and the Producers' Council did. None of our associations seems to have the conscience that the people in Bollywood or elsewhere have. That's something they have to introspect and we cannot police that.
We can start a conversation with them only if they can understand the conversation. Here, they don't even want to come face to face, they don't want to come to the table in the first place to speak. What is an organisation for? It's to protect the rights of your members, and when the organisation doesn't do it, I don't get why it exists.
Where do things stand with AMMA currently?
At the moment it is who is going to start the next conversation! Is it you or me?
The Kerala govt recently announced Rs 3 crore for women filmmakers in the state budget. How do you think this can be put into use?
That's a great initiative. We've started a conversation with the government to work towards putting some guidelines so that the funds are utilised for the exact purpose for which it has been set aside. The way the funds are used this time should encourage the government to set aside more funds in future.
What is the roadmap ahead for the WCC?
It's a long roadmap. The attitude that's there in our film industry and our society is something that cannot change overnight. I'm not talking about just one gender, but both. It's going to be a long battle. The start has been fabulous, it's wonderful to see more women saying oh can we also think like this - which is a great step. Even they were not aware.
I think the people who are in the WCC, the founder members and the voluntary ones, everybody is absolutely enthused by the two things that have happened right at the beginning of this year. One is, the government giving us the fund for women filmmakers. And two is recognition by a prominent media house that's come in. The news will be announced soon. It means a lot that your work is recognised. This has given us a bigger push.
The networking of women technicians from all over India has started and it's really nice. You suddenly realise how when sisters go through something, we can really hold each other's hands.