Didn’t want to come back to Malayalam films like nothing was wrong: Actor Bhavana intv

In an interview with TNM, Bhavana, who survived a sexual assault in 2017, spoke about the colleagues who reached out with support, and the changing loyalties of others.
Bhavana in blue background
Bhavana in blue background
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The Me Too movements have shown the heavy price that many women pay for speaking up against sexual violence, including loss of livelihood and work opportunities. However, actor Bhavana, a survivor of sexual assault who spoke up and fought her case, did not lose work in Malayalam cinema, where she has been an actor for 20 years now. Five years ago, she was juggling Malayalam films and those in other languages when the assault on her happened in Kochi. And while several people in the industry were calling her with offers in the years that followed, Bhavana chose to stay away from Malayalam cinema. “I did not want to come back to the industry and work as if nothing was wrong,” she told TNM in an interview. 

"After 2017, I wanted to stay away from Malayalam cinema, but many of my colleagues and friends encouraged me not to. Prithviraj, directors Jinu Abraham and Shaji Kailas approached me for a project they were doing jointly, actor Baburaj came to my place in Bengaluru and told me to come out of this shell. Anoop Menon even offered to shoot his movie in Bengaluru so I could be a part of it. Aashiq Abu offered me two projects and told me that I need to come back to Malayalam cinema," Bhavana said.

Actors Nandu and Jayasurya, directors Bhadran, Hariharan, Madhupal, and Jean Paul Lal and producer Vijay Babu are others who urged her not to keep away from Malayalam cinema. Bhadran and Hariharan had a woman-oriented script for her, while Jayasurya surprised her by visiting her house with a cake on her birthday and trying to inspire her to act, she shared.

Bhavana cannot explain why she has been unable to come back to Malayalam films despite the opportunities. “I actually don’t know why I wanted to stay away, I cannot define or pinpoint that feeling. I felt that I was away from Kerala, living a peaceful life in Bengaluru. I felt going back on the sets will start new discussions," she said.

As the sexual assault case unfolded, Bhavana also saw the support of several colleagues withering after the initial show of solidarity. Bhavana remembers the gathering in  in February 2017, soon after the assault. There, actors, directors and others offered her support and hoped for strong action against the perpetrators. However, in July 2017, an actor who had also spoken at the gathering, Dileep, was charged as an accused in the case -- the mastermind of it no less -- and arrested. People who were coming forward as witnesses earlier -- at least 20 of them -- then changed their statements during the trial.

“When people in the industry came together after the incident and held that event in Kochi, I was thankful to all at the time. But soon, I started seeing people change their stands. Those who said they would tell the truth went back on their word. I don’t want to point fingers at anyone. But every morning I can't wake up and think about who will support me and who will not. These are individual choices they make,” Bhavana said.

“Coming back to the Malayalam film industry wasn’t easy for me. Initially I was not in the right frame of mind and I did not want to continue working here as if nothing went wrong," she said.

However, after five years, she has finally accepted an offer to act in a film. “The details will come out in some time,” Bhavana said.

Note: The survivor has given her consent to publish this interview and to make her identity known.

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