Anchor asks Malayalam actor if she slept around for roles, later justifies question

Malayali actors Hannah Reji Koshy and Ashkar Saudhan were in conversation with anchor Suhaila who asked Hannah an invasive question about harassment in Malayalam cinema, prompting the latter to walk out.
Suhaila, Hannah Reji Koshy
Suhaila, Hannah Reji Koshy
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A YouTube promotional interview for the Malayalam film DNA created a controversy in Kerala after the lead female actor walked out upon being asked about harassment (termed as casting couch) in the Malayalam film industry. Actors Hannah Reji Koshy and Ashkar Saudhan were in conversation with anchor Suhaila, who asked Hannah if she had to “sleep with people” to rise in her career. The actor appeared stunned, and went quiet for a few moments, while Ashkar criticised the framing of the question, calling it “inappropriate, especially when coming from a female anchor”. Hannah was further probed for her lack of response, almost as if to reprimand her, equating her silence to an admission of guilt. When she responded, the anchor further asked why her voice was raised. The altercation escalated into an argument, culminating in both actors walking out of the interview. 

Hannah described the experience as disrespectful, saying that the question was framed in a way that hurt her. “I had to clarify my stand because it came across like a personal attack. They may have asked the question to grab eyeballs, but it was highly inappropriate. I did not want to continue the conversation, which is why I walked out,” she told another YouTube channel after the issue gained traction. She also thanked her co-actor Ashkar, who also happens to be megastar Mammootty’s nephew, for trying to speak up for her. 

While many viewers initially assumed the incident to be a prank staged to increase the reach of the interview, anchor Suhaila later said that the question was deliberate. “Acting was my dream career and I have personally been asked for sexual favours by film producers to be cast in their movies. I did not mean to humiliate Hannah but wanted to understand what her take on the issue was, since she comes across as an opinionated, bold woman. So when she kept quiet to my question and instead let Ashkar take over, I was pushed to question her again, and to ask her if her silence meant approval,” she said in a video on her YouTube channel Shaluz Boon. 

Discourse about sexual exploitation in the entertainment industry is crucial, and many female actors have opened up about their experiences, while many others dismiss it as hearsay. What Hannah’s incident however underlines is the need for interviewers to be more mindful of boundaries while raising sensitive questions. It also highlights the growing click-bait culture in Kerala’s social media space, especially centred on YouTube as their medium, where anything can be broadcast by anyone.

The YouTube ecosystem has taken over as the primary medium to promote films and film-based content. Since the reach of videos on this medium depends on how many people view them, dramatic situations are often staged to pique curiosity and create a buzz. Many celebrity interviews have recently started following the “prank model” wherein the interviewers are asked personal questions and an altercation is provoked, only to be rebuffed as a joke later on. This is probably why a significant chunk of viewers did not take Hannah’s issue seriously when it came out online a few days ago, assuming that in the second part of the interview, they would all laugh about it.

But now that Suhaila herself has confirmed that this was not pre-planned, questions are being raised about the lack of professional ethics in YouTube content. While some comments shame all female actors, accusing them of participating in the casting couch, others laud Suhaila for bringing the issue up for discussion. A few others have pointed out that one cannot project their personal trauma on their interviewee, citing this as a breach of professional objectivity. Hannah too has clarified her part, stating that the task at hand for her is to promote her film and not engage with questions that make her uncomfortable.

However, a crucial aspect that warrants thought here is why it is always the female actors who are asked about exploitative practices and not their male counterparts who often don the hats of producers as well. In addition, when the cyber harassment starts, it is again the women who are picked apart for either asking these questions or responding to them, while their male colleagues are treated with absolute impunity, or even lauded for speaking on behalf of their female counterparts. 

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