The Internet is a treacherous place for women, especially for women who like to speak their mind. The backlash can be vitriolic and sexist, sparing nobody, not even a popular face on the big screen.
So last month, at a film festival in Thiruvananthapuram, when Malayalam actor Parvathy critiqued a 2016 film, starring a top billed actor, for its patently misogynistic narrative, all hell predictably broke loose.
Fans of the senior actor, Mammootty, took to social media to abuse Parvathy and issued threats, ranging from death to rape . Worse, a few of her industry colleagues joined the trolling and slammed the actor for her remarks. Support was slow in coming, but one of the first to come to her defence was the newly-formed Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), a platform for women working in the Malayalam film industry.
The platform includes young and senior women who work in the Malayalam film industry and aims to create a better work environment for all.
Soon after their formation in February this year, the group met Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and submitted a list of demands that included better pay, maternity benefits, reservation in government studios and incentives to productions spearheaded by women.
“It is not about complaining or whining and we are not against the industry. We are part of it and we are saying ‘open your eyes. Look, a problem exists, let us talk about it and find a solution together,” says WCC member Bina Paul, film editor and artistic director of the International Film Festival of Kerala.
WCC was formed in response to the abduction and molestation of a young actress reportedly at the behest of a leading actor.
Since then, the group has gone on to conduct signature campaigns expressing solidarity with the actress, and last month, came out in support of the two women-centric films, Nude and S Durga , which were refused screening at the International Film Festival of India.
Such an initiative assumes greater significance in an industry where the big names are seldom vocal about issues such as women’s safety or rights.
Despite the vicious backlash against Parvathy, mostly by fans and supporters of Mammootty, it is shocking and mostly saddening that thus far the actor, who is among the country’s top stars and fairly active on social media, has not come forward to rein in the unruly lot.
“If only the superstar — in whose name the trolling, including death threats, is going on — had said a few words... that he was not in favour of such activities by his fans, the uproar would have died down immediately. But his mystifying silence is adding fuel to the fire,” says scenarist Deedi Damodaran, a senior WCC member.
Last week, WCC and Parvathy filed complaints with the cyber police against the online abuse, following which arrests were made.
“A can of worms has been opened and I am determined that it shall not be closed. There are issues that ought to be discussed and aired. I am glad to be an agent of change. It is tough, but it is not about me. There is a bigger picture,” says the 30-year-old actor who is also one of WCC’s most vocal members.
(With inputs from Saraswathy Nagarajan)