The noise over the Weinstein scandal in Hollywood is yet to die down. Story after story on how women in the film industry are commodified and treated like sex objects have been tumbling out of the closet. It's not that none of this was known before – what has changed is women refusing to put up with it any more.
In the Indian film industries, too, the attitude towards women actors is hardly any different. Forget their colleagues and co-stars, even those who interview them routinely treat them as objects to be lusted after, displaying more interest in their bodies and love life than their actual work which has brought them into the limelight.
In a recent interview with actor Andrea, a popular male anchor started the show by saying (in Tamil) that he, like other men, had ogled and lusted after Andrea and that he was glad to be speaking to her in person. He goes on to add that when he watched Pachaikili Muthucharam, in which Andrea starred with Sarath Kumar, he felt that she was "too good" for the latter. This, of course, is an assessment on Andrea's looks and not her talent.
In the film, Andrea plays mother to a child with a chronic condition. The couple finds themselves in a scary situation when a woman who had seduced her husband, blackmails them for money. A complex character for a young actor to have played, and yet, this was the only observation the anchor had to make about the film.
Though Andrea plays along, smiling and answering the questions which are more or less in the same vein (at one point, he even says he thinks she'd make a good Wonder Woman and not because he imagined her in a short skirt), the question remains why such unprofessional behaviour is considered normal.
This is hardly the only such instance. From top stars to internet celebrities like Jimikki Kammal fame Sheril, male anchors seem to believe it's completely alright or even flattering to talk to a woman in a professional setup in such a manner. It's not surprising then that when director Suraj made his infamous comments on keeping the clothes of his heroines short, the first impulse of the two male anchors was to laugh (although they apologised later when the issue snowballed).
Sycophancy to male stars and their fans
Yet another common aspect of interviews with women stars is how the anchors try to get them to praise their male co-star, especially the ones with large fan followings. The question, "How was it working with XYZ Sir?" is a push to get the women stars to start speaking of their powerful male co-stars in glowing terms.
Considering the sexism and misogyny widely prevalent in the industry, it's quite ironic that women actors are constantly placed in such a position where they're required to sing the praises of the men in the industry. Invariably, the headline for the interview becomes about the male co-star's humility, generosity, and hard work rather than the woman's own contribution to cinema.
We've seen this play out in several film promos. Sometimes, it gets even uglier. During the audio launch of Lingaa, comedian Santhanam quipped that Sonakshi Sinha would appear in "sleeveless" in the second half of the film and that people could go and watch it just for that. This was the only comment he had to make about Sonakshi, after he'd waxed eloquent about how wonderful a person Rajinikanth was. Santhanam also recounted that when bantering with Rajinikanth on sets, he'd asked him the difference between love and lust and the latter had told him that it's the difference between how we look at our "ayah" and Anushka.
Rajinikanth, director Ravikumar and actors Anushka Shetty and Sonakshi were onstage when the comments were made.
'Who is your ideal man?'
Women actors are also frequently asked who their ideal man is and when they plan to get married. In a recently conducted award show, the male anchor pretends to fall when actor Sai Pallavi comes to collect her award. He follows this up with saying, "I fell for you."
Not stopping with this, he goes on to ask her who her ideal man is. Sai Pallavi, who looks surprised by the question, says she hasn't thought about it. It's then that the woman anchor interjects to ask Sai Pallavi about her journey in the film industry – the reason why she was onstage.
While male stars like Prabhas too are asked about marriage if they're well over 35 and single, women stars are asked to describe their "ideal man" as a matter of routine. The Andrea interview mentioned above is, in fact, titled 'No one proposes to me'. Sometimes, as in Sai Pallavi's case, male anchors seem to think nothing of "joking" that they could be that "ideal guy."
Infantilising women actors
If it isn't annoying already to see women actors infantilised on screen, they are also asked to do the "cute" acts on TV shows and award functions for the benefit of viewers.
All of this is supposedly of more interest than the many aspects of film and the cinema industry that they could be asked about. The assumption seems to be that the women can only talk so much and do so much. The abject lack of respect for their talent and abilities couldn't be more apparent.
Yes, the women actors do smile, stay polite, and play along. Many accept that this is how it is and go along with it. But that doesn't mean the people who put them in such a position and even seem to believe this is all fun and games shouldn't be called out for it.