On February 17 in Kochi, a group of seven men abducted and sexually assaulted a female actor in a moving car, as she made her way back from a shoot in Thrissur. The police have made arrests in the case, and the film fraternity has risen in support, and protest. In what sends a firm message about refusing to back down, the actor, who’s a part of Malayalam cinema, has now returned on the sets of her next film, with many encouraging her. One of them being popular actor Prithviraj Sukumaran who wrote about this in a Facebook post titled ‘Courage’.
Sukumaran most firmly stood by his friend saying, , “I […] bear witness to an extraordinary moment of courage from an extraordinary woman in my life! Today..she makes a statement..a statement that will echo through time, space and gender..that no one or no incident has control over your life but YOU!”
And he didn’t just end it there. In a move that all of us who have ever demanded better from the cinema we watch, have constantly hoped for, the Malayalam actor took responsibility for his own work explaining the influence it has.
It’s a big step in the Indian film industry that has, for years, created sexist and misogynistic cinema in the name of ‘entertainment’. Sukumaran went on to talk about how the actor’s decision to start off on her next film is a bold step in a society that shames survivors who actually speak up and try and reclaim their lives. Take the case of Suzette Jordan, who refused the ‘Park Street rape victim’ tag and chose to reveal her identity, and was disbelieved and shamed, by the then state CM herself.
While female actors have often called out sexism in films, Prithviraj’s note proves how important it is for male actors to take a stand, in a profession that’s dominated by them. His voice joins actors Siddharth and Aamir Khan’s who have publicly spoken out about the issue as well. Last year, Siddharth slammed the glorification of stalking in movies, and said it has real-life consequences, contributing to rape culture. And in his TV show Satyamev Jayate’s episode on masculinity, Aamir Khan pointed out how he has played roles in movies that objectified women (remember “Khambe jaisi khadi hai”?) and spoke about just how deeply movies impact our society.
These actors’ statements go a long way in fighting the industry’s inherent sexism. While it’s extremely saddening that a real-life incident of sexual violence brought this forward, such violence is and continues to be the harshest reality we must confront today. And in light of that, statements such as Sukumaran’s are especially significant because they prove just how individuals can be shaken to introspect, and truly promise a change.