Sandalwood & sexism: Controversy over Rachita Ram reflects double standards

Actor Rachita Ram’s comment on performing intimate scenes in an upcoming film triggered a row, with many seeking an apology from the actor.
Actor Rachita Ram
Actor Rachita Ram
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Being paid less than their male counterparts, not being able to find well-rounded roles in hero-centric films, and being slammed with sexist remarks passed by the media as well as the audience...women actors in India have to put up with a lot. Many actors have spoken at length about the misogynistic experiences and gender disparity they’ve faced. One of the most frustrating aspects of this misogyny is the moral policing that women in the film industry are subjected to. The latest victim is Kannada actor Rachita Ram, who is being abused and threatened with legal action for her comment in a press conference amounting to, “People have sex after they get married.” And while Rachita is being given lessons on Kannada culture, there’s little talk of how Sandalwood has promoted sexist, misogynist tropes as the norm, for a long time. 

Rachita Ram was attending a press conference on November 9 for her upcoming film Love You Rachchu, when she was questioned about her performance in an intimate scene. Like many women actors, Rachita, who was tired of being asked the same question in multiple press conferences, explained that she had acted in the scene because the script demanded it. Contemplating the relevance of the question, Rachita questioned the reporter about what he had done on his wedding night. “Among the people present here, many are married. I don’t intend to embarrass anyone but what do people do after the wedding? They would be in a romantic relationship, right? We have only shown that on screen. There is a reason why I have done the scenes, you will understand it once you watch the scene,” Rachita further said, while still maintaining her calm demeanor.

And as is almost to be expected from the moral police, Rachita’s comments soon snowballed into a controversy with the Kannada Kranthi Dal seeking an apology from the actor. Accusing the actor of tarnishing the image of the entire state, they alleged that her statement is against the ‘culture of the land’. Discussions on whether the question by the reporter was relevant to the news story, why Rachita’s male co-star was not approached with the same question, or whose ‘culture’ the Kannada Kranthi Dal collectively claim to represent, were nowhere to be found. The group went so far as to seek formal action from the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC) and warned that if she does not apologise, they will prevent the film from releasing in theatres. 

This, in a state where the film industry — like most others across the country — consistently shows stalking and harassment as expressions of love. A scene from Vishnuvardhan’s 1972 Kannada film Naagarhaavu, shows actor Ambreesh stalking Aarathi. Although she looks disinterested, he continues to sing for her and says, “Aye Bulbul Maathadakilva?” (Aye Bulbul, won’t you talk to me?). To this day, the dialogue is used by real life men while they stalk and harass women. 

Not much has changed since 1972. In the 2021 Kannada film Pogaru, the protagonist (Dhruv) not only stalks the heroine (Rashmika) without her consent, but also touches her, forcefully pulls her, and plants a kiss on her cheek without her permission. The song 'Karabuu' was called out for glorifying violence against women and promotes criminal acts like stalking and molestation. Despite the portrayal being problematic and even unlawful, no action has been taken and no clarification was issued by the makers of the film. The 2002 Sandalwood film Appu has a similar plotline, wherein the hero (Puneeth Rajkumar) who is obsessed with the heroine (Rakshita), spends most of his time stalking the latter and refuses to take no for an answer.

Kannada Kranthi Dal and its counterparts and supporters did not have any objections to any of these scenes. Nor did they raise their voice when actor Sruthi Hariharan accused Arjun Sarja of sexual harassment. They did not stand up to be counted when the #MeToo movement was raging, because apparently, sexual abuse of women isn’t against their culture. It isn't ‘kranthi’ — it isn’t revolutionary to speak up against actual crimes and harassment shown as romance in movies; it’s only revolutionary when they’re targeting an actor for stating facts, it seems. 

The Kannada industry today does have some good roles for women. Shuddhi (2017), Act 1978 (2020), Gantumoote (2019), and Pinki Elli? (2020), have great women characters — however, these films are exceptions at best. Most commercial movies are still centered around heroes, with women actors being reduced to glamorous roles that do not make significant contributions to the plot.  

If Sandalwood fans and culture vigilantes must outrage, we can give them list of actual reasons — like the insipid portrayal of women in films, the gendered wage gap among stars, and sexual abuse of actors. 


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