“I have had a casting couch (harassment) experience when I was 18 and on my first Kannada film. It did leave me so scared and petrified that I remember me crying. When I told my dance choreographer about what happened, he told me that if I didn't know how to handle this, I should leave,” said actor Sruthi Hariharan who was one of the panelists at the ‘Sexism in Cinema’ session in the India Today South Conclave held in Hyderabad.
The actor, who predominantly does Kannada films, also revealed that she stopped receiving good offers from Tamil after she berated a top Tamil producer for abuse, four years after she was harassed first in Sandalwood.
“This was 4 years after my first experience. One of the leading producers in Tamil Cinema bought the rights to my Kannada film and offered me the same role in the Tamil remake. He said, and I’m quoting him verbatim, “we are five producers and we will exchange you however we want.” I retorted by saying that I carry a slipper with me in my hand,” said the actor to much applause.
The actor also said that after this incident, rumours about her being a difficult person to work with spread in the industry.
“Many producers who knew this man asked me if I actually said what I said. Since then, I have not received good projects from Tamil,” she added.
Highlighting the appalling sexism in the film industry, film editor Bina Paul, also a panelist, observed that the only way to end it was for more women to enter cinema.
“There is still immense underrepresentation in the film industry today. There are no toilets for women in the sets. Vishaka guidelines and other laws aren’t being followed in the industry. But who do we complain to? The answer to this is for more women to enter cinema, whether as editors, make-up artists or costume designers, doesn’t matter” she said.
Speaking about the current incidents of social media trolling of female actors who called out the sexism in films, actor Pranitha, the third panelist, said that there was a need for a safe and anonymous complaining mechanism within the industry.
“We should have a system for reporting this. A committee to whom we can complain in anonymity so that our identity is protected and we don’t face backlash,” she said.
Speaking about women in commercial cinema, she also added that there was no role definition for these characters in big-budget commercial flicks.
“We are asked to be bubbly, spread sunshine, and be glamorous. What the character does in the film doesn’t matter. However, it is hard to say no to such films because the visibility they give you is immense,” she said.
Bina Paul also observed that this culture of cinema is one that is inextricably linked to the deep patriarchy in our society.
“I may sound like a broken tape but the answer is for more women to enter cinema,” she added.
The three women with India Today's Sushant Mehta at the conclave. Courtesy: Sushant Mehta's Twitter.