At 7 in the evening, Ramya Nambessan is still flooded with calls about a short film she released two hours earlier. It is more than a new step for the actor and singer who has begun a YouTube channel to bring out her own content. This is unexplored territory for her, filmmaking. The film is exceptionally short – three minutes in all – and looks at a subject that’s broken her heart: abuse. She calls it Unhide.
In three minutes, Ramya tells you a lot. It is her concept, narrated in her voice, written in Tamil by her friend and the director of her next film, Badri Venkatesh. Everything from women’s clothing to the meaning of consent, abuse and the need for a better upbringing is in that text, spoken with urgency, enacted powerfully by two women – Ramya and Sshritha Shivadas.
“When I began my YouTube channel Ramya Nambessan Encore, I was very clear that it was not going to be just for my art. It was also about how socially responsible I can be through my art,” Ramya says. The topic needs no explanation. Abuse is everywhere. And the blame just continue to fall on the woman, her reasons for being somewhere at a certain hour, her clothing, her lack of reaction. Nothing, Ramya noticed, was said of the men.
In the film, Ramya explains what consent is. That it's something you need to get from a possible sexual partner before you touch them, no matter how you are related to them or what their profession is. You might think it’s too obvious and doesn't need to be told, but Ramya throws examples at you, reminding you of the everyday concerns of an average woman. Beginning from choosing what to wear every day – will it be too revealing, will the neck show, the legs be exposed, will every inch of the body need to be wrapped up. No, you cannot explain enough the meaning of consent.
“Not just consent, the punishments we celebrate. Encounter killing, capital punishment, castration – none of this is stopping the abuse. We should look back at the system to understand where we go wrong. At the grassroot level, it goes back to the upbringing of a child, from telling a boy to learn to look at the eyes of the girls he talks to, it goes back to education,” Ramya says.
One of the lines she says in the video is about mothers and sisters being able to do a lot to stop the men in their family from going wrong. “It should be read in context. I speak about men’s responsibility – about everyone’s responsibility in stopping abuse. But women can’t wash their hands off it either. Children pick up a lot from their mothers, it matters what you tell them, how you tell them. I say this because even today you’d find parents asking a boy how come a girl in his class scored more than him. That has to change,” Ramya says.
The speedy narration and the scenes, impactful in their brevity, were inspired by the content she's enjoyed watching, the new filmmaker says. “From watching the Unblushed series on Amazon Prime, I have been inspired to do something myself. And this is the medium in which I know to express, as an artiste. I made it short knowing that the attention span of most of us browsing the internet is very short and we would postpone watching a video that is longer than a few minutes.”
She is known for her music, rendering songs in films as well as independently. Ramya had launched her YouTube channel with a music video called Kuhuku, a Malayalam song, only months ago. But for Unhide, she chose the medium of film. “I felt it’d reach out more than a music video,” she says.
She chose Tamil because she has a larger fanbase in Tamil now and Malayalis have the habit of watching films in other languages, so this would ensure that the message reaches more people.
It’s been a very spontaneous process. The thought came a week ago, the execution happened in two days at Ramya’s home in Kochi and the Kalikotta Palace in Tripunithura. The crew was a very close bunch of people, including her brother Rahul Subrahmanian who did the music, Rojin Thomas the editor, and Neil D'cunha the cinematographer.