The outrage around actor Parvathy's comments refuses to die down, with some famous face or the other weighing in on the issue day after day. While social media is rife with comments supporting the actor even as the abuse continues, the silence of the stars themselves has been appalling to say the least.
Other than actor and director Revathi who spoke in support of Parvathy and actor Rima Kallingal who shared Parvathy's now viral 'OMKV' tweet, the film fraternity has either chosen to keep mum or worse, actively encouraged the abuse. From calling the accomplished actor a "monkey in a circus" to "aunty" and slamming her for being a "novice" who has no rights to criticise a veteran actor like Mammootty, the contemptuous posts have added fuel to the fire.
The nature of the abuse directed at Parvathy and the arguments that fans and industry insiders have made against her views expose the highly patriarchal culture within the film industry as well as Kerala society.
Beyond the sheer vitriol, these arguments show a lack of understanding of the politics of representation as well as what would constitute consent and abuse.
"Malayali women are hot in bed!"
Take, for instance, the allegation that Parvathy's Qarib Qarib Singlle also glorified misogyny and was no better than Kasaba. The scene Mammootty fans have been tom-tomming was part of a promo video shot for the film which is titled 'Types of Men You Meet on a Date'. Irrfan Khan plays all the "types", appearing as different characters who meet Parvathy on a date.
The first, is called 'The Creep' and he asks the actor if she's south Indian, followed by a lecherous statement, "I've heard that Malayali women are very hot in bedroom." For this, Parvathy's character responds with a look of sheer disgust and actually walks out on the guy.
This scene, according to Mammootty bhakts, is apparently the same as the Kasaba one where a senior woman cop is shown to unbutton her shirt in a bid to attract Mammootty's character. The latter pulls her towards him in the scene and says he could "fuck" her enough to make it difficult for her to walk for a week.
Anyone with an iota of analytical ability would be able to spot the difference between how the two scenes are constructed – the first man is helpfully called a creep and is actually mocked in the scene. The woman does not validate his behaviour and chooses to leave. The audience is meant to laugh at him.
In the second, Mammootty's character Rajan Zachariah is glorified as having scored a "win" over the woman officer. The audience is meant to laud his "machismo" which validates the misogyny in the scene.
Further, one wonders if the Malayali gentlemen who find the Qarib Qarib promo offensive would have had the same reaction if someone had said "Malayali men are very hot in bedroom". Would they have taken the stereotyping as a compliment or outraged about it? Something tells me they'd have lifted and tied up their mundus and stroked their beards in pride.
"But this is reality!"
It's also asinine to pretend that Rajan Zachariah responded that way only because the woman cop initiated it. It's not as if the actors turned up on the sets one fine morning and made the scene up themselves. The scene is written with a high degree of misogyny, on the familiar trope of an "evil" woman sexually offering herself and getting rebuffed by the hero. It is designed to insult the woman character and that didn't happen organically.
We have a long history of such cinema – written, produced, directed, consumed and celebrated by men.
Then there are those who say that Kasaba represents reality. Seriously? Senior women officers go around unbuttoning their shirts for junior male officers? And then they don't respond when insulted? One wonders on which police station director Nithin Renji Panicker based his "research". The scene is so far out of reality that it could have been set on another planet altogether.
Kissing and assaulting are same to same
My favourite, however, is those who have been sharing Parvathy's scene with Dhanush from the Tamil film Mariyan. In the scene, Parvathy's character, who is in love with Dhanush's, goes to his house at night and the two of them exchange a kiss (all right, "liplock" as the trolls insist on calling it).
This scene is apparently worse than what we see in Kasaba – let's spell it out, two characters kissing each other with mutual consent on screen is worse than what Rajan Zachariah does.
It is hilarious and saddening at the same time that the two scenes are both seen as "vulgar" by so many. A woman asserting her sexuality is apparently on the same plane as a man being glorified for assaulting a woman. No wonder we're so messed up as a society when it comes to understanding gender-based violence.
"But it's just a film!"
Several people have also asked why Parvathy picked Kasaba and not some other film. This is, let's remember, a film which was trashed by critics and received a notice from the Kerala State Women's Commission for its misogyny, well before Parvathy spoke about it.
If cinema is just "entertainment" as so many have been saying, what explains the rage that has been directed towards Parvathy by fans who don't know Mammootty personally? Why do they deify him and issue death and rape threats to someone who merely said she didn't like his film? If it's "just a film" and he's "just an actor" who doesn't influence them beyond the 2.5 hours that they watch him on screen, why are they so upset?
More than anyone else, people in the film industry are aware of the power they hold over their fans. They know that cinema is larger than life, that the audience suspends their disbelief for much longer than the few hours they watch them in the film. From actors choosing cinema as a platform for a political launch to making ethics-driven decisions like not smoking on screen, they do know that their behaviour in films inspires millions to imitate them.
While films are very careful about representing religion, caste and other volatile issues, it's a free for all when it comes to misogyny, thanks to the highly patriarchal society we live in. These problematic representations have been glorified in hundreds of films, so much so that they look "normal" to us. The voices calling this out should be heard, they should be encouraged to speak louder.
Actors like Parvathy are putting their career on the line to speak up about such issues and it is saddening that this is read as a "publicity" stunt. If this was indeed a great way to achieve "publicity", we would be seeing a lot more people queuing up to spill the beans.
What we have seen instead are circus monkeys jumping in the hope that the circus masters would give them the banana.