Actors Sheela and Shakeela, while participating in separate sessions held as part of the Kerala Literature Festival in Kozhikode on January 13 addressed the question of whether the cinema industry is a women-friendly workplace and the absence of internal committees (IC) in the field.
Responding to the query, during the session titled 'Life story told by Sheela', moderated by Deedi Damodaran, the actor raised a counter-question, asking if all other movie industries have internal committees. She expressed her belief that women are not necessarily unsafe in the cinema, asserting that any untoward incidents receive ample media coverage. She emphasised society's fascination with negative stories about celebrities.
"I don't think women are unsafe in the cinema. Because now if bad things happen in the cinema, it will be reported. People like to read negative things about celebrities," she remarked.
However, she said that there is a broader issue of women's safety, noting that women face risks beyond the confines of the film industry. She challenged the notion of absolute women's freedom, citing concerns about walking alone on the streets at night. Reflecting on her era, she mentioned the absence of women-centric organisations in cinema during her time.
Sheela said women are not safe anywhere. “There is no point in saying women have freedom, as a woman cannot walk alone on a road at night. So women did not get freedom anywhere. Now there are certain organisations for women in cinema, but in our time it wasn't there. Also, we don't know what happens with the young actors now. It's good to have an IC, as there is no safety for women anywhere, so they should be safe," she added.
"Nowadays, men should be careful as they will have legal issues if they stare at a woman for more than three seconds. Men should form an organisation. You guys might be looking somewhere else, but the women may think you are looking at them. Also, if a woman has some grudge and complains about men, he will be arrested. Poor men," Sheela remarked.
Speaking at a session titled ‘The Myth of Morality’ at the seventh edition of the Kerala Literature Festival (KLF) in Kozhikode, Shakeela, who is still active in Tamil film circles and the miniscreen, said while an IC is a good idea in itself, it is not practical in the film industry. She was responding to a question on exploitative tendencies in cinema and the need for ICs to prevent them. Shakeela reigned the cinema halls of south India with her stints in erotic films in the early 2000s.
“Do you think if somebody goes and files a complaint to the IC, they will continue to get work? No,” she said. The actor went on to question the #MeToo movement, making a controversial statement, asking why women had to degrade themselves and tell the public that someone harassed them when nothing would eventually come out of it. “But shouldn’t the offender be punished?” Deedi asked, to which Shakeela questioned how many rape accused persons have been punished. She also alleged that the punishment for rape was not severe enough in India, and that complaining about rape was therefore pointless.
Shakeela also recalled how Malayalam cinema once made a brand out of her, and how the same Malayalam cinema is now scared to cast her. “Now they say that if they cast me, the film will be perceived in a different way,” she told moderator Deedi on Friday, January 12.