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Chat Deedi Damodaran became the first woman scriptwriter to be inducted into MACTA. She dwells on gender and Malayalam cinema

When scriptwriter Deedi Damodaran was filling the application form for membership to MACTA (Malayalam Cine Technicians Association), she got stuck at a space that demanded ‘Name of wife.' “I was angry and amused at the same time,” recalls Deedi, adding: “And equally thrilled to strike ‘wife' off and write ‘husband' in that place!” Deedi recently became the first woman to be inducted as a scriptwriter into this forum for technicians working in Malayalam cinema. Her latest film, Nayika (directed by Jayaraj), the second full-length feature film that she scripted after Gulmohar , was released yesterday. Nayika takes the viewer into the life and times of a yesteryear heroine of Malayalam cinema. In a candid interview, Deedi spoke to MetroPlus about cinema, her career, and how gender has always been an important issue in all that she pursues.

Cinema is considered to be the youngest and most advanced form of art. Ironically, a majority of films continue to perpetuate stereotypes and outdated traditions in their crudest form. How does she cope with such a male-dominated, commercially-driven medium?

Crucial step

“I was always clear that I shared my father's (veteran scriptwriter T. Damodaran) passion for films. At the same time, I was also aware that I was expected to follow in my mother's footsteps, and emulate all her self-sacrificing qualities. While my mother will always remain my source of strength, my father is my model. So my struggle started quite early. However, I do not assume that any field, let alone cinema, can boast about gender equality. And I am determined to carve a niche for myself here,” says Deedi.

The scriptwriter says her MACTA membership is a crucial step in this direction. The association usually gives memberships only to those who have written at least three scripts. “I guess, apart from Gulmohar , and Nayika , they might have also considered my work in Makal , one of the 10 films in Kerala Café .”

Deedi says that when she pointed out the “gender anomaly” in their form, the MACTA office said they never assumed a woman would ever fill out an application form for scriptwriters! “But, I see this as a beginning. More and more women should come forward to contribute to all facets of cinema,” says Deedi, adding that she understands that the actual process of filmmaking alters the original script, its sensitivity and unique balance. She had reservations about how Gulmohar finally turned out as a film and so she had the script published as a book to let people know what she really wanted to say.

She points out that a section of the media portrayed her general dissatisfaction with “commercially viable” filmmaking as her personal grudge against director Jayaraj who was accused of “altering the entire story.” “If that was the case, why did he make me write the script for a second film? I could argue with him and make my voice heard in all discussions. For a filmmaker who had done more than 30 films across genres, that is unusual. I know the director has to make several compromises for after all, cinema is an industry. And Jayaraj had done just that,” says Deedi.

“While I have to make compromises on the script front, I am still convinced that things can be changed. My MACTA membership is proof of it,” says Deedi. May be it is this resoluteness that helped her brave cancer, and continue her creative pursuits with an added zest.

The male gaze

According to Deedi, films across the ages have perpetuated the myth that when a woman says ‘no' she actually means ‘yes.' “The male gaze has been entrenched so deeply in our psyche that even women seem to endorse “consent” in a rape scene. People are even disappointed when certain situations in movies don't lead to rape. No woman speaks her heart in our movies except ghosts and sex workers,” Deedi quips.

“The audience psyche is heavily influenced by the male gaze. It is a concern that filmgoers don't get to see how a female looks at a female,” she adds.

Talking about unique themes, Deedi has a different take on the much-lauded, unconventional climax of Namukku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal , directed by the legendary Padmarajan. “Everyone is so upbeat about the ‘magnanimity' of Solomon who accepts a ‘blemished' Sophie. But why doesn't he call up the police and report on Sophie's stepfather who raped her? He is let off the hook all too easily,” she says.

Rasmi Binoy

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