At the centre of the current back and forth over the reinstatement of actor Dileep into the film artistes body is a skit performed at AMMA’s “cultural” show. What actually happened in the skit and what does this say about the cultural attitude towards women?
The star-studded Mazhavil Azhakil AMMA shows always follow the same pattern. Designed to be a superstar gratification vehicle just like their movies, the show features women stationed as props, dancing girls, and arm candies. It happened last year, and it was a repeat telecast, or maybe a more outrageous version this time.
There were enough instances that made it clear that apart from the humanitarian purpose, it was also a ploy to deride the newly formed organisation called Women in Cinema Collective. The patriarchs were up in arms against this sudden rebellion by the “minions” in the industry.
Note how they took out every cheap and available weapon from their armour. From jokes dripping in misogyny, female actors in every shape and size salivating over the ageing superstars, young things dancing around Mohanlal, an entire 15 minutes glorifying Lal and his stardom, and a silly skit featuring Mammootty in a silly role with a young starlet ogling him. The show was a bizarre spectacle. It was interesting that despite featuring over 100 artists, that night primarily rode on the star power of mega and superstars.
Take this skit featuring a host of talented women actors (Thesni Khan, Ponnamma Babu, Manju Pillai, Surabhi, Kukku Parameshwaran, Ananya) staging a mock “WhatsApp Sthree Shakthi formation”, a thinly veiled nod to WCC. They openly ridiculed and challenged every little act of rebellion put forward by the members of the WCC. From laughing at Rima Kallingal’s "fish fry" metaphor to offering nasty, casteist jokes to body shaming to what have you—it wasn’t a pretty sight. That they were using women to defile their own gender was not lost on anyone.
Just when we were recovering from this onslaught, enter Mohanlal as “Casanova”, amidst the deafening background music of his film by the same name. The ladies go under his spell with folded hands. The 58-year-old superstar smiles at them and they salivate, throw a few punchlines from his films, drool and gape or queue up to talk about his “youth and good looks” as he walks away.
Mammootty comes next, in his trademark Raybans and the ladies continue their gape fest. “Oh my! He looks like Dulquer Salmaan” and they break into a hapless jig. The 67-year-old actor doesn’t hide his glee, flirts mildly (and awkwardly) and walks away leaving behind a trail of “broken hearts.” Thereby achieving two things—their egotistical and misplaced obsession with youth and how it is all correlated to their image on screen, refusing to play their age.
Apart from the horrid humour, the message was loud and clear—women were better off in the traditional roles allotted by men. In this case, women actors should just shut up and listen to the patriarchs or end up making a fool of themselves. So, the fumbling speeches, the crude domestic gags, the hare-brained conversations and the general flippancy between the women, were a carefully thought-out script by the men in the industry (it was written and directed by Siddique).
As for the women actors who played their part, they are part of a social conditioning where feminism is still an abusive word. Probably unaware of the power and rights they have or preferring to keep their position safe in the industry and obviously unaware of the breakthrough empowering moments for women in the world (#metoo, #timesup). Manju Pillai had earlier brushed aside the need for a separate women’s wing while Surabhi has always given the impression that she was there to act and didn’t want to mess with the top brass by putting on the garb of an activist. Kuku Parameshwaran giggling and running around the superstars on stage was the saddest sight at last year's AMMA meeting.
This skit or rather the show itself puts everything back in perspective—Malayalam cinema, ever since its origin, like its southern counterparts, has always been a predominantly male dominated space. True, in sharp contrast, we have had a better deal with women characters. But even those were penned by the male of the species and were short of being well-rounded and truly empowering.
The distance between screen and real life is a thin line—the women actors are still paid less, still being treated as second class citizens, still expected to be subservient to the man on and off screen, still viewed as being without intellect and any form of dissent on their part is seen as a threat by the men in the industry.
Another example of the industry ridiculing the WCC
Look at the newly formed AMMA—all the chief positions have been allotted to the male actors and that too a few are known for their dubious reputations. Mohanlal is president, Idavela Babu is the general secretary, Jagadeesh treasurer, Mukesh and Ganesh Kumar are vice-presidents. Siddique is the secretary. The number of women representatives has seen an increase, but they are in the less-challenging executive committee.
It is significant to note that this is despite the WCC demanding 50% involvement in the board last year. So, it’s a no brainer that one of the first things the new committee did soon after they came to power was to resurrect their fallen hero—Dileep, who was jailed in the conspiracy case for abduction and rape of his colleague a few months ago. That they sneakily elected to pick a woman actor to bring this up says a lot about the men at AMMA.
What can be more diabolic than to name an organisation that has no empathy for their woman colleague who went through such a nightmare as AMMA—the symbol of love, strength and compassion? For these patriarchal feudal lords, the survivor must always be made a forced martyr, whatever the law of the land may think.
This article was first published on Fullpicture.in. The News Minute has syndicated the content. You can read the original article here.