Famous blogger Titas Biswas spoke to filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh, sister of late journalist Gauri Lankesh, on the #MeToo movement in the Kannada Film Industry and Section 377 of the IPC.
Titas Biswas (TB): What is happening around the #MeToo movement in Karnataka right now?
Kavitha Lankesh (KL): I am the chairman of this committee in Karnataka and I’d suggest it is prime time that it has begun here. Being a director myself, and hence a part of the film industry, I’ve always heard claims of not socialising enough, of not attending parties. So, if you have to party in order to win over a producer, I don’t think I’d approve much of such a situation. I’m way too passionate to make a compromise in that area. There have been times when one or two of them have kept calling me for coffee or further partying and that’s absolutely useless. One day, the lead actress called me up and asked me, “When are we shooting abroad, Ma’am?” And I was like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” This producer had set his mind on that without informing me about it once and tried to impose it on the rest of the crew. This is where the #MeToo should take up its role. See, what they’re doing out of willingness is not my concern. If they are being exploited, molested or being harmed in a way, then it must come out. Because I have observed this particular trend throughout my life. If you’re not compromising, then they’ll predate on you in such a manner and go on saying nasty things like you’re not on time or you’re not…
TB: …good enough?
KL: Not good enough as an actor, or similar things which are not true and you will be out of the industry before getting a chance to react about it. What has happened to one might happen to another tomorrow, so it’s a good thing that a lot of youngsters are actually showing support for the cause.
TB: But, don’t you think there could be loopholes in it? Like, it can be used otherwise even if the incident hasn’t happened for real. I mean I’m not saying every time someone comes up with claims of being victimised, we need some sort of standardised proof but…
KL: It is not just about women. There are men in this industry who are…
TB: …exploited the same way?
KL: Yeah, they should come out as well. Women, especially because the casting couch problem is infused with misogyny – say, sometime back an entire event was caught on camera in a hotel. So, it’s about things like that, you know. Maybe it’s a tad bit more subtle here in Karnataka but the problem is aggravating further everywhere, nonetheless. How do we ever know what extent is too much?
TB: Because we don’t have a scale.
KL: We don’t have a scale. We cannot say if it is “rape little” or “rape lot”. So, rape is rape. Or, even molestation is an incident that leaves deep scars inside. If someone comes to the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC), we should listen to him even if he is a male. It is not just pro-woman, I’d say it is pro-humanity. Think about the transgender people and how social conditioning leaves deep scars in them. Simply because some people think it is okay to accept everything and segregate crisis as being non-crisis, say harassment is not harassment, it only makes matters worse. We do not know the difference between what right and wrong is like that anymore, so whatever lies inside should be exposed.
TB: What do you think about Section 377 being decriminalised?
KL: Well, this was long overdue I think…(laughs) Because, in India, I have a lot of gay friends and that is not what they can be criminalised for! I loved the fact that the judges apologised for being able to achieve this so late…this really was long overdue. Apart from that, I think we should look into the social aspects beside the legal inscriptions. It starts from a very young age, and the kind of isolation they face is difficult to handle. I always suggest exposing children to good films. However, the kind of mainstream cinema they are exposed to distorts the real facts.
TB: And portrays a very commercialised ideation of sexuality.
KL: Yeah, sexuality has to be dealt with from an early age. And the entire unit, consisting of teachers, parents, acquaintances have to be supportive enough and careful not to isolate them, not to make them feel strange about something that is absolutely normal. Parents of these kids actually make things look more difficult than it is supposed to be. And then these children have to wait until they are eighteen to twenty years old before they get to exercise their freedom. Eighteen years of living in confusion! Imagine the extent of internal trauma that might cause.
TB: Yeah, that would probably turn your life upside down.
KL: I think the teachers might help by organising workshops, by helping kids realise that this isolation is not necessary at all.
TB: So, there should be some kind of sex education for kids as well?
KL: Yes, this is another problem here. Nobody wants to talk about it! Your kids actually learn about sex education through commercialised media, through the porn industry, which are not ways in which you are supposed to learn about it. So, you’re taking your kids to Khajuraho and you don’t want to talk to them about sexuality, then why are you taking them there in the first place, or anywhere else at all? There are these Goddesses in Khajuraho with absolutely naked bodies (laughs)…I mean when you’re exposing them after all, then do talk to them about sex education – the right time to have it or not to have it. Tell them the necessities of taking precaution.
TB: (Laughing back) Yes…there is this realm of confusion adolescence suddenly lands you in, right?
KL: When you tell a child not to do something, the first thing that they’ll respond to that is by doing it! That is what children do. (Laughs)
TB: Right. What do you think about women directors in Indian cinema? Like, say ‘Village Rockstars’ has really made it big this time.
KL: Yes, I would say it is happening gradually. A lot of women directors are coming up. But, there is a problem with producers here. It doesn’t matter to them if you’ve won a National award or an International award. They will probably pick a director who has no clue about what direction is, and then ‘direct’ things their way. You see, it’s quite difficult out there.
TB: Is it because of…the nature of the sponsors?
KL: Sponsorship could be one thing but they do not really like professionals or professionalism to begin with. They like petty stories, or commodifying every element there is, picking out the leads et cetera…
TB: And is an inherent pattern of misogyny existent?
KL: Absolutely. Obviously. I hope I am not talking in an absolute pro-woman tone here, but I think a womanly touch to the separate departments can bring out wonderful essences and flavours! Like, women can really be fantastic sometimes. Say with the lights, or costume designing, or anything – as a matter of fact.
TB: Is there anything new that you’ve been working on? How…did you come into film; like, how did it matter when you were younger?
KL: No, I mean I was basically running an Ad agency. Then, I chanced upon making a documentary film. After that, I was doing corporate films for a while. But corporate films were not satisfying mentally. You just do what the company tells you to do.
TB: Very robotic.
KL: Yeah…Right now (I’m working on), a woman who used to work with folk music once, now had to sell her medals in order to earn a…
KL: Earn a livelihood, run her expenses. This is something that has been intriguing me for quite a while. Haven’t planned it out very well yet but might just be taking this up once I’m feeling all is set. Half my time now goes to my daughter and being a single Mum is not an easy task, quarter of it goes to Gauri and quarter of it is what I am left with.