The action of the Karnataka Film Producers' Association (KFPA) in banning model-turned-actor Nikhita Tukral for three years from the industry for allegedly “creating disharmony in Darshan's family” has triggered a debate around the seemingly patriarchal norms that rule the film industry.
Not surprisingly, this action reflects the dominant theme of Kannada films themselves.
The film industry, an offshoot of professional theatre, has in its 75-year history, rarely defied conservative, male-dominated norms. Exceptions have been few and far between but the dominant message is upholding of the so-called “Indian values”. Producers and directors are careful not to ‘dilute' patriarchal authority in their films even while dealing with women's issues.
The hero is usually all-powerful, embodying manly virtues.
The female lead is usually eye candy, cheering him on from the sidelines. Their roles are restricted to singing and dancing “to the tune of the hero, with heroine remaining loyal to him, even he if he commits the gravest mistakes”, as film historian and critic Vijayamma puts it. “It is difficult to find women-oriented films.”
There have been exceptions like N. Lakshminarayan and Girish Kasaravalli who have dealt sensitively with women's roles.
“Mooru Daarigalu, Nayi Neralu, Akramana, Gulabi Talkies, Tayi Saheba and Hasina by Girish Kasaravalli have dealt women issues sensibly.
“Similarly, Lakshminarayan's Uyyale and Mukthi are also exceptional. Puttanna Kanagal, who made women-centric films, also succumbed to the sugar-coated ‘Bharatiya Naari' image,” she notes.
Veteran actor Srinivasa Murthy agrees the industry is patriarchal. It is not just on screen that the women are subservient. As the Darshan episode illustrates, they endure untold humiliation exploitation.
A leading actor who has had a glorious career once admitted that she was eventually forced to marry a producer who had traumatised her by sexually exploiting her in her early years.
Many of those who spoke to The Hindu did so on condition of anonymity, admitting that exploitation “of all types” is well-entrenched in the industry.
“They will be exploited to the hilt before they become ‘respectable' as female leads. They have to make all kinds of ‘sacrifices' to remain in the industry,” said a senior woman artiste, in a reference to the ubiquitous casting couch.
It is significant that barring a couple of women in the industry, none of the heroines have criticised the ban on Nikhita Tukral.
“A forum of women artistes is the need of the hour,” says Vijayamma, who is also a feminist.