There aren't too many women reviewing south Indian films. There aren't too many women watching these films in theatres either. Especially if you go for the first day, first show.
This often translates to being the only person squirming in the seat as a "mass" hero ticks off a woman on screen for wearing a certain dress or behaving in a certain way that does not subscribe to his moral (double) standards.
It involves feeling isolated as the theatre explodes in cheers and you take the response personally - because these are the dreadful statements that have governed your life for the most part and here they are again, amplified and applauded on screen. It involves planning strategies to get inside the theatre and out, without anyone grabbing your ass.
For films where there's hardly anyone in the theatre and you are the only woman, it involves taking a count of the men and where they are seated as everyone stands up for the National Anthem.
I did not get into reviewing films because I loved cinema as many reviewers would say. I got into it because certain films made me angry. I have a background in Literature and Gender Studies and this led to a great interest in studying popular culture, of which I've always been a big consumer.
I began to look at many of the films I'd grown up watching with new eyes and I found that there was very little analysis of such films from a woman's perspective. Directors who are revered, films which have attained the status of classics - looking at how these narratives have often let down their women characters so badly, I began to question their status of being sacrosanct.
So, I wrote about it.
I did not plan to become a film reviewer. Most of my work experience is in the development field and publishing industry. But when I started writing about cinema, from the perspectives I think are important, I found that there was an audience which wanted to read such analyses.
Along with those who agreed with me, came armies of those who dissented (often rudely, abusively). From the comments on social media, I gathered that most of these were men. They "advised" me to watch a film as a film, they told me that since they loved the film, I was clearly wrong. Most of all, they told me that I had no idea what it was to be a woman because I was a "privileged" woman. The irony did not escape me.
There were also many men who would not read what I'd written but would "inform" me about cinema because they assumed I wouldn't know this already (even if the article or review already spoke about it - but then, who reads the entire piece?). Then there were those who'd say I didn't know enough about "technical" issues - after I read a few of these comments, I took the effort to analyse if male reviewers went into great detail about a film's technicalities. They did not. Beyond saying "cinematography super" or "this shot was mass", they really did not have to say anything more.
The few women reviewers I've spoken to told me that it's routine for them to get such comments, too. While these comments irked me in the beginning, I learnt to distance myself from them. The abuse made me raise my voice louder, stronger. Because if we don't speak for ourselves, who will?
Over the past few years, with increasing discussions on the politics of representation on screen, I have observed a perceptible change in how people read these articles. There is more willingness to engage or at least acknowledge that yes, not everything is kosher. This is still a slim minority but a growing minority nevertheless.
And I see this change as something that has happened because there are more women speaking and writing today. More women refusing to be silenced, more women registering their opinion.
I don't depend on the cinema industry for my bread and butter. While I enjoy interviewing stars and trying to understand the creative process behind a film, I'm not enamoured by the film industry. Of course I've had my fangirl moments but I'm clear that I will not compromise on what I will write and how I will write it because I'm afraid I will upset industry people. This is a tightrope that many mediapersons working in the entertainment field have to walk - you cannot be too honest and hope to keep getting the big interviews and invites to special screenings. I sympathise with them but don't see myself as part of the same crowd.
Not because I am superior but simply because that's not why I came here and that's not why I have stayed.
I enjoy my job. There are many lovely, wonderful films I'd have never gone for if not for my job. I've laughed, cried, and learnt with cinema. And despite the outrage, opposition and abuse, it's a happy ending as far as I'm concerned.