On Tuesday morning, Tess Joseph, a casting director, joined the #MeToo campaign and shared her experience from two decades ago. It was for the first time that an actor from the Malayalam film industry had been named ever since the wave of #MeToo hit social media in India. Mukesh Kumar is an actor, a CPI (M) MLA from Kollam district and the Vice President of the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA).
“I was 20 years old quiz directing #koteeswaran when the mallu host #mukeshkumar called my room multiple times and then changed my room to beside his on the next sch. My then boss @derekobrienmp spoke to me for an hour & got me out on the next flight. 19 yrs on thank you Derek,” she wrote.
Tess wrote about how she stayed in her colleague’s room when the calls were never-ending. Speaking to TNM, Tess says that the reason she spoke about the issue was to point out how the system has been broken for a long time, and that this was the time to fix it.
Detailing what happened 19 years ago, Tess said that she had started working with Derek O'Brien Associates, and was part of the control room of the popular game show ‘Koteeswaran’ (Millionaire) in Malayalam.
“Since I was in the control room, I was the person who interacted with him over the prompter and the head-set when needed. During one recording he had introduced the show in an impressive manner. When the show got over, I spoke to him and congratulated him. He asked me how I understood what he said and I told him that I was a Malayali and could understand Malayalam,” Tess recalled.
Mukesh then told her that it was a pity that she could not speak Malayalam well, and after a friendly chat of the crew meeting for dinner, they parted.
“He messaged me later saying he has dinner in his room and invited me. But I told him that I eat dinner with my crew in the restaurant,” she said. The crew was staying at Hotel Le Meridian in Chennai.
“My room phone kept ringing post that and I refused to pick up. I stayed in my colleague’s room for many hours after that as I felt jittery,” she added.
Tess then went back home after the schedule, and when she came back for the next schedule, she realised that her room had been changed. On her return, she discovered that her room had been changed to a different floor.
“When I asked the reception why, they nonchalantly said that I could be closer to Mukesh,” she said. Shocked that the actor had asked the hotel to change her room, Tess called Derek. “Those days, not everyone had cell phones. I somehow got in touch with Derek from my cell phone. I was upset; he spoke to me for a while, calmed me down and then got me on a flight. Maybe we could have gone back to the issue and inspected it. But at that time, Derek did what he could. But now there is scope to do more, to have standard practices and have better systems,,” she said.
Tess stresses on the need for Internal Complaints Committees in the every profession, and especially hers. “This happened a long time ago, people who were close to me knew about it. When #MeToo started, I had spoken about how the film industry needs sensitisation. An Internal Complaints Committee doesn’t come to play in our industry. The system is broken now and we have a chance to fix it,” she said. Ever since her revelation, Mukesh’s political rivals in Kerala have lined up against him and Tess is disappointed with the way things are panning out. "I am bothered by the politicisation of the issue, this is my story, not their politics. How can any political party talk as if they are holier than thou?” she asks. Tess adds that she left the 'Koteeswaran' set worried and never returned to the show. “I, too, lost something by that incident. My opportunity to quiz-direct a show at a time where there were so few women in my industry.” she concludes.