With a mandate for equality, South Indian Film Women’s Association launched in Chennai
“Writers who pen scripts for films themselves tend to degrade women working in cinema. How can we expect the society to respect us?” asked actor Rohini at the official launch of South Indian Film Women’s Association (SIFWA).
On May 1, a small group of women from cinema came together to form the South Indian Film Women’s Association (SIFWA), a comprehensive association for women who don different caps in the industry. From workers to directors, the association is open for 24 departments in the industry including stunt, make-up, sound engineering and the likes.
The formation comes at a time when people are opening up to the prejudices running deep in the industry. Right from actor Varalakshmi Sarathkumar’s open statements on casting couches to actor Sri Reddy’s recent accusations of sexual harassment in the industry, there have been a number of women actors who have come out addressing the gender disparity in cinema industry. Malayalam cinema’s Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) that was started last year can be considered a successful forerunner.
SIFWA’s role is to represent women in cinema and to ensure their fair treatment by those inside the industry. A small workers association formed for women in 1978 by Ganthammal has been attributed as SIFWA’s precursor.
Speaking at the launch, Ganthammal who worked in the industry for over 50 years, washing vessels initially and then going on to do other odd jobs, said, “The very fact that there’s an association that cares about the welfare of women who work in cinema itself is a positive change. This will encourage young women to venture into cinema with more security and confidence.”
Several members from the film fraternity also came forward to extend their support towards this initiative. Speaking at the launch, director Pa Ranjith said that time and again women have been oppressed by the society. “The worst part is that it has become an accepted form of treatment. Many do not question it as oppression. Blaming women for anything that happens is also an accepted form of oppression. There is no point in asking someone else to represent our woes. It is high time we shout louder for our rights,” he said.
Associate Director Eswari, SIFWA’s Secretary, said that the agenda is to give paramount importance to the safety of women working in the industry. This will encourage more women to pursue a career in the industry. “Earlier women weren't allowed to do a lot of things. Even today if a woman wants to be a makeup artist she has to fight long and hard to be taken up for the job. We want to change this,” she said.
Actor Sathyaraj who came forward to extend his support for this initiative said, “Culture, traditions, rituals, religion, etc are the things that oppress women. People are blind to this fact. As long as such constructs remain, women will remain oppressed. To break from these shackles, Periyar’s Penn yen adimaiaanal book is a must-read for everyone.”
SIFWA also plans to bring out a quarterly magazine called Thiraiyaal. “The magazine will profile women from the industry. Many remain unnoticed. We want to bring them to light,” said Eshwari.
Some of the basic mandates that SIFWA has put forward includes providing makeshift toilets for women in shooting spots, including ‘Ms’/‘Mrs’ salutations in membership application forms given by the Director’s Association, equal pay, etc.
The board is currently headed by cinematographer Vyshali, flanked by Director Angel Philomena Samraj. Associate Directors Meena Marutharasi S, Geetaa Murugesan and Eswari are Joint secretaries. Actor Rohini and Director Myyskin have come on board as the Honorary Advisors.
Cinematographer PC Sreeram, actor Revathy, actor Aditi Menon, Director Pushkar Gayathri, actors Ambikaa and Sachu were some of the others who came in support of the initiative.