In a recent interview, the director, who was among the first to defend Dileep in the actor assault case, said that he would hesitate to work with women in future.

Will think twice about hiring women Director Lal Joses veiled threat on Me Too
Flix Mollywood Tuesday, January 01, 2019 - 16:55

Prominent Malayalam film director Lal Jose has said in a recent interview that the 'Me Too' movement has created an atmosphere of fear and that as a consequence, people like him would hesitate to hire women. The director suggested that it was unnecessary to talk about what happened "20 years ago", and that hiring women was akin to asking for trouble in the current scenario.

In recent times, the Malayalam film industry has been going through a period of churn, after a popular woman actor was abducted and sexually assaulted in February 2017. Not surprisingly, Lal Jose was among the first people from the industry to defend Dileep when his name cropped up in the police investigation. Sharing a photograph of the two of them together, Lal Jose wrote on his social media page that he was with the accused actor and that others were trying to "defame" him. Dileep was arrested by the Kerala police a few days later.

In the interview given to Jamesh Kotakkal, Lal Jose focuses on false accusations, pretending ignorance to the widely prevalent problem of sexual harassment in the industry. When asked by the anchor for his take on the Me Too movement, Lal Jose says, "How necessary is to make a revelation that someone misbehaved with you 20 years ago when the man in question may be in different circumstances now? There are genuine cases, but many are not."

He then goes on to refer to a Malayali ad filmmaker who was falsely accused of sexual harassment as part of the 'Me Too' movement, suggesting that this instance showed that the movement itself was unreliable. The person in question is Prathap Suthan, the Chief Creative Officer of the Delhi-based Bang in the Middle ad agency. He was accused by two women of sexual harassment when he was the creative director at Trikaya Grey. Journalist Sandhya Menon, who has been the face of the Me Too movement which broke out in October 2018, also shared the first allegation made by Jaya Prasad, which appeared on Medium, a public forum.

It has subsequently emerged that Prathap was falsely accused by Jaya Prasad, with the latter admitting to it in a private conversation with Sandhya Menon. The admission came after Prathap rebutted the allegations with a legally vetted and detailed statement.

Latching on to this one rare instance of someone misusing the movement, Lal Jose says that though he had three women working with him ten years ago, he'd think twice about hiring women now because everyone is "scared".

“What has actually happened is that people are scared. Ten years ago, I had three women working as assistants, they were also in charge of costumes. I have never heard of them facing any problems, they are continuing to work even now. But now when women approach me to work as assistant directors, I think about what to do. I wonder whether this would lead to trouble. On the sets, our temperament changes all the time, sometimes we abuse or shout. I treat a man and woman the same way and speak to them in the same manner, but now there is a fear. Whether that fear is good or bad is the question before us. Now, when a woman who is an assistant director criticises all men in the film industry, and when the public starts believing it, I believe it hampers the chances of those who want to enter the industry," he says.

Not only does Lal Jose paint the picture that women cannot tell the difference between sexual harassment and receiving feedback/criticism for their work, he appears to have forgotten that no film set is completely devoid of women – if not technicians, there are always women actors. And many of the allegations that have been made from the film industries are, in fact, by women actors, who are far more visible to the public than women technicians. Does he then propose to make films without any women on screen too?

Besides, what the women are asking for is not niceties but the implementation of the law. The 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace law defines what constitutes sexual harassment and also puts forth measures that can make the workplace a safe environment. This includes the setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), which the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) has been asking for.

Instead of focusing on how to address the issue, Lal Jose, like many others before him, has chosen to burden women further by denying them work opportunities and contributing to a vicious cycle: women are expected to provide sexual favours in return for work, women remain silent about the harassment because they will be denied work otherwise, and now, women must remain silent forever because the act of speaking up will kill the prospects of future women. Nowhere does he ask why men in positions of power, like himself, continue to support those who have been accused of sexual harassment or feign ignorance of the law.

It is to be noted that nobody who champions the 'Me Too' movement has ever said that it is a substitute to the legal process. Several allegations have resulted in concrete results, including the resignation of a minister of state. And while the possibility of false allegations cannot be dismissed, the accused person too has numerous options to prove their innocence – through social media, an internal investigation, or the court (as the Prathap Suthan case has shown us).

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