I have always been an admirer of actor Mohanlal. I grew up watching his films and most of my favourite Malayalam movies have him in the lead role. Being such a big fan, I am disappointed to hear his thoughts in a press conference a couple of days ago in response to the AMMA-WCC-Dileep issue.
Actor Dileep, who was arrested for orchestrating the abduction and molestation of a Malayalam actress, was accepted back to AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) after being released. Actor Mohanlal, who is the currently the elected president of AMMA broke his silence days after the incident. He started his press conference with the usual “I was out of station didn’t know what was happening” and then he resorted to “Ask me anything, I will answer“. Just as I expected, most of his arguments which only reflected AMMA’s agenda to take Dileep back. WCC (Women in Cinema Collective), Kannada industry and various other sections have been calling AMMA out for this decision. Above all, Mohanlal’s arguments only enhanced male privilege, something he has the pleasure of experiencing due to his gender and caste.
First of all, when asked about male dominance within the Malayalam industry, he went on to deny its existence: “There is no male domination in Malayalam industry, I have never noticed it.“ As a man at the top, it is easy for the actor to not notice it. He earned the place he has with his talent but what the gentleman doesn’t realize is that it has been far easier for him as opposed to actresses who are forced to give up their career post marriage or denied mainstream roles. Even at the age of 58, he still gets the same kind of roles and stars next to actresses who are young enough to be his daughter. And as a woman, bringing this issue up might attract the wrath of “fanboys“.
That’s the privilege men get to experience in a patriarchal society. This is rather disappointing because, over the past few days, more and more women from the industry have been coming out to speak about the harassment they’ve faced. Recently, a TV actress said that she had been unfairly dropped from the lead role in a popular TV serial because she rejected the advances of the show’s director. Then, over 100 female actors and technicians spoke out against male domination in Malayalam cinema. Actress Bhavana, in an interview last year, candidly spoke, “Actresses are given limited roles. I have been part of superhit films yet I have never benefited from it career-wise or financially. Actresses could be replaced easily unlike actors who are at the centre of the story and revenue generation.”
Most films are written keeping the men in focus, women rarely get space. When actress Rima Kallingal spoke about it in a TED talk, she used a “fish fry” metaphor to talk about the mainstream audience’s selective outrage and trolling.
The denial of women’s voice in the industry has been reconfirmed by an audio clip of Ganesh Kumar, VP of AMMA and communist MLA, where he said that “These actresses are not even active currently. Who cares?” He further added that they are always trouble makers. Mohanlal simply laughed off that detail in this press conference.
Actor Remya Nambeesan reiterated in an interview that one of the reasons why she is not active and not getting enough projects is that she asked for a salary hike. “Women can’t survive unless they resort and adjust to patriarchal standards,” she said. If you look at the number of Malayalam films, they are occupied by men, women are just love interests or a source of motivation. Apart from Parvathy and Manju Warrier, women barely get their space. So when a powerful person like Mohanlal simply denies the existence of male dominance, then it adds fuel to patriarchal norms, just like how Mammootty’s silence affected the cyber trolling faced by both Parvathy and Asha Rajan last year.
Actor Mohanlal added that when the decision regarding Dileep was taken, none of the members opposed. He also (indirectly) blamed the absence of WCC. Personally, I agree that WCC members should have been there and they should have fought for a better place on AMMA. Actress Remya Nambeesan who resigned from AMMA conceded to the fact as well. “Maybe it was wrong of us to be absent in those meetings. We should have been there we should have raised our voice.”
Mohanlal went on to say that AMMA is a great organisation which has been doing a lot of charity work for struggling actors and did a lot to help poor people. He claimed that there is no other organisation like AMMA.
However, his remarks make me ask one question. If AMMA is such a great organisation with stupendous reputation, did they have to be reminded by WCC or other women regarding the ill effects of bringing back someone who is accused of a heinous crime? Isn’t that expected from a reputed organisation? Maybe AMMA’s by-laws claim that removing someone hastily is wrong but as per the Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace Act, 2013, the actress should be given priority.
Dileep was not arrested until there was irrefutable proof. Several members of the industry even claimed that Dileep had a grudge against the actress. Keeping in mind these allegations and the fact that he is yet to be cleared of charges legally, it is highly irresponsible for AMMA to decide in his favour. I also felt that in the conference, Mohanlal tried to shift the blame on the actress survivor and her lack of participation, especially when he claimed that she never gave him a written complaint about Dileep blocking her film offers like she alleged. “If the others have plans to come back, I would like to remind them that they cannot go and come just like that. There will be a general body meeting where they have express the reasons.“
What I felt was that Mohanlal deliberately tried to vilify the women involved, making them look like they didn’t follow the rules or co-operate with AMMA. It is a typical move to wash his hands off all charges as opposed to hold oneself accountable. Also, in the end, in a massive WTF moment, when he was asked who he supports, Mohanlal replied, “I am with the actress survivor but I also pray for Dileep,” showing that he batting for both sides.