Tamil actor Mansoor Ali Khan recently made obnoxious comments about how he wished he had some “bedroom scenes” (reference to rape scenes) with actor Trisha. The duo acted together in director Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Leo starring Vijay, Gautham Vasudev Menon, and Sanjay Dutt, among others. In a press meet, Mansoor lamented that he was not getting opportunities to act in villain roles where he could enact rape scenes like he had done in the past with actors Khushbhu Sundar and Roja. While his extremely problematic comments have drawn the ire of several Kollywood personalities, including Lokesh Kanagaraj, one wonders whether the Tamil film industry will go beyond social media outrage and take action against such actors.
Getting away with misogynistic statements that fall under harassment in the workplace and not being held accountable is not new to Tamil cinema actors. Actor-turned-politician Radha Ravi had made disparaging statements about actor Nayanthara in 2019 but faced little to no consequences. In a speech, Radha Ravi remarked that Nayanthara was not ‘virtuous’ enough to be playing goddess roles in movies. He went on to objectify actor Oviya for starring in a movie titled 90 ml as it allegedly romanticised women drinking, having sexual relationships, and living freer lives.
Like Mansoor, Radha Ravi received flak for his statements. While his political career hit a snag after he was ousted from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (only to be welcomed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and later by the Bharatiya Janata Party), he went on to act in several movies, and continues to do so. He has also remained president of the South Indian Cine Television Artistes and Dubbing Artistes’ Union. Despite the outrage over his vile comments, no producer or filmmaker came out publicly to declare that he would not be cast in movies. Business as usual for Radha Ravi and Kollywood.
In a similar vein, comedian Robo Shankar made distasteful comments about actor Hansika Motwani earlier this year comparing her to a “wax doll” and “maida flour” and expressing disappointment in how she had not let him touch her leg during the filming of Partner. He went on to lewdly add that he now knew what it meant to be a hero as Hansika had permitted only the lead actor Adhi to touch her. Shankar was rightfully called out by journalist Ottran Dorai at the event and the video clip garnered anger on social media. However, there was no apology from the comedian nor was his career affected in any way.
There are countless incidents in which women actors were at the receiving end of extremely offensive and problematic comments from their male colleagues. While no actor or producer-related association has condemned these statements or demanded an apology, there is also little recourse for women actors seeking redressal.
In the case of Mansoor’s comments, since he and Trisha worked together in Leo, an Internal Committee (IC) by the movie’s production house could have addressed the issue. Since the comments would qualify as workplace sexual harassment, an IC could have prescribed action against the actor. An IC in associations like the Nadigar Sangam (actors’ council) or the Tamil Film Producers Council could have also helped foster a safe and harassment free environment for women actors and technicians employed in Kollywood. Internet outrage and strongly worded condemnations do not translate into getting redressal for women actors.
Tamil Nadu and Kollywood can learn a lesson or two from neighbouring Kerala. Several women actors in the Malayalam film industry came together to form the Women’s Cinema Collective (WCC). Despite its members being trolled as ‘feminichis’ (a derogatory term to make fun of feminist women) – who are apparently ‘ruining’ the industry – the WCC has been proactive in creating a safe environment for women technicians and artists. It was the WCC’s intervention that ensured that the Kerala High Court came out with a ruling asking for ICs to be formed in all Malayalam film production sets.
Mansoor’s statements evoked public outcry from several members of the film industry. One hopes that suitable action will follow even after the outrage has died down to ensure that film personalities are held accountable for their remarks while film sets are made safer for women actors and technicians.