They are the trend changers. Kannada cinema is coming alive to women’s issues with films like Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu, U-Turn, Priyanka, Mummy, Ring Road Shubha and now Urvi . But the winds of change are blowing a tad too slowly and attitudes to women as filmmakers or actors remain as archaic as always. Was the sexual assault of a popular Malayalam actress a symptom of the rot in the film industry as a whole?
It was real life immitating reel life in the worst possible way. A popular Malayalam actress, who had wrapped up shooting in Thrissur, was driving to Kochi some 10 days ago when horror unfolded. A gang waylaid her car and entering it, molested her, leaving her shaken and distressed.
An expectedly shocked film industry lost no time in expressing its moral support for the actress and Mayalayam actor, Prithviraj, went even further. Questioning the portrayal of women in films, he pledged to never encourage any misogynistic content in movies himself. While they have no quarrel to pick with his views, Sandalwood actors and filmmakers believe things are changing, but at a very slow pace.
Leading actress, Ragini Dwivedi says it’s okay for a young actress who is starting her career to be given small roles in films, but once she matures as an actor, the industry must give her her due and offer her meatier roles.
“A heroine or the lead actress in a film is as important as the male lead. How long can the audience watch only the male actors perform? I honestly feel that the industry should treat actresses with a little more respect both in terms of remuneration and facilities,” she stresses, adding, “As a woman, I still feel unsafe and I don’t only blame this on the men. The belief that women are weaker needs to change.”
The actor also believes that when women are not safe on the roads anymore they should be legally allowed to carry a knife or some such weapon for use in self- defence.
In a frank admission, director P.C, Shekar from Kerala, says the film industry is undoubtedly male dominated. “The practice of women being used only to provide the romance element in a movie has not disappeared. But there are also some movies today which portray women differently. Their percentage is , however, very small as it’s a male dominated industry,” he regrets.
Observing that the presence of women as a whole in the industry is not very high as it requires application of physical, mental and management skills round -the- clock, he observes that if 100 films are made in a year, only a couple are made by women. “It is not a 9 to 5 job and a woman could feel uncomfortable working in an industry where she is surrounded by men. Even heroines have very little control over what happens,” he says candidly .
While agreeing that there is some change in recent years in the portrayal of women in films, actress Shanvi Srivastav deplores that the mindset remains the same. “ Even off screen, I believe people need to respect an individual irrespective of gender. No one has the right to pass a comment or talk ill about anyone. The issue is not only about men. Women too need to respect their own gender and win respect for it,” she sums up.
It’s time attitudes changed: Kavitha Lankesh, director and producer
Often women actors, who do guest appearances in movies, and are called 'item girls,' are not treated well. People think of women actors as 'loose,' that they will do anything to get a role. When I joined the industry I had to gain the respect of others. However, a man entering the profession is taken seriously from the start just because he is a man, even if he is uneducated. He gets to be domineering and commanding right from the beginning.
Directors work under extreme pressure and I have heard of actors being slapped. I am a director too, but being under pressure is no excuse to disrespect someone. The good news is more people are taking an interest in experimental cinema and women characters are not restricted to 'bubbly and cheery' roles any more in this genre.
Older Kannada actresses like Jayanthi had fantastic roles, but Karnataka has not as a whole moved forward with respect to women -centric films. The lyrics of Kannada songs too are often in praise of the hero. Recently Pahlaj Nihalani from the Censor Board had a problem with the 'Lipstick Under my Burkha' song because it was woman oriented.
It’s as if women cannot have sexual fantasies and highlighting this is considered obscene. But somehow men gyrating against women's hips is not thought of as vulgar. As a director I am okay with sexy scenes and eroticism but not with vulgarity. Even in romantic films, the “stalking syndrome” has been in play from the very beginning and still continues.. If I portray a woman, I show her as someone who has aspirations and a career, and present her as she is in real life instead of merely the hero's love interest. It’s time attitudes changed.
Women power to the fore
“Men are always considered strong physically, but women are not weak either. Urvi talks about such strengths. There has been some good work in Kannada cinema lately thanks to talented writers and filmmakers. But most of the credit should go to the audience which is slowly becoming receptive to new kinds of films,” says actress Shruthi Hariharan.
Other Industry insiders too note that Sandalwood is seeing more women-centric films today, bringing to mind the golden era of directors like Puttanna Kanagal , who made many women oriented movies. They point out that the industry is churning out films like Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu, U-Turn, Priyanka, Mummy, Ring Road Shubha and Urvi that have one factor in common : their focus on women’s issues.
That the Kannada audience is maturing was evident by the response to Suman Kitoor’s ‘Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu’ that was based on the work of popular writer , the late K P Poornachnadra Tejaswi. The director’s honest portrayal of female characters got her much applause.
Director Priya Belliappa impressed many with her treatment of crime against women in a film that was partially inspired by a true incident. And now upcoming release, ‘Shuddhi, with its strong tag line ‘let no sins of man go unpunished,’ and based on crimes against women, is trending on various social platforms.