Nayanthara is not the first and she won’t be the last

S Subhakeerthana
The problem with Tamil cinema is-it lacks unity. Someone's problem is just theirs and doesn't belong to the industry.

In 2019, a senior actor slut-shames a top actress on the stage publicly and walks away scot-free. In 2018, a bunch of male journalists repeatedly ask the members of South Indian Film Women's Association to produce more evidence for their allegations of sexual harassment. In 2017, a filmmaker-actor-politician makes a distasteful joke on an actress for not having come to the event dressed in a sari. In 2016, a director slut-shames a top actress saying he doesn't like to see his heroines fully clad in a sari. Why? He thinks the audience pays money to watch heroines in full glamour.

The problem with Tamil cinema is-it lacks unity. Someone's problem is just theirs and doesn't belong to the industry. How many top film personalities show the willingness to acknowledge misogyny in their films? I know of male actors who chose to remain silent because it is ‘not their problem.’

We call ourselves progressive, but are we? Time and again, we come across many incidents that reiterate Tamil cinema thrives on ugly stereotypes of misogyny and sexism. Women, even today, are seen merely as a sum of their physical appearances.

In January, I had a pixie hair cut, and a male journalist addresses me 'Thambi' (brother) because he thinks I look like a man. I question him, he laughs uninhibitedly and says I don't appreciate 'innocent humour'. Another male journalist asks if I'm a lesbian, taking a dig at the LGBTQ+ community. Even if I am one, how does it matter? Why should I owe explanations to others for my choices? And for how much longer will women have to be tolerant?

Last week, when I was returning home after a night show, I sense someone was following me on the bike. I stop by a local police booth and alert the sub-inspector. Instead of asking for details, he slut-shames me for wearing ‘skimpy clothes’, and for being out after 11 pm. Also, he lectures how a ‘good woman never goes out unescorted by a man.’

A couple of years ago, a music director offered me an opportunity to sing in his film. But what really shocked me was his 'casual sexual advances'. Despite knowing I am a journalist, he insisted that I 'adjust', so that my dream of becoming a singer gets fulfilled. One day, everything hit me at once, and I hated myself for being a woman. I started feeling bad because I couldn't take how manipulative men I have met are. I am vocal about this now because I am not ashamed of myself any more.

You criticise a famous actor on Twitter, you will be slut-shamed by his fans. They will attack you, silence you and shame you. At some point in time, you will end up blaming yourself, thinking, maybe, it is your own fault. When will you realise your average audience does take home what is said or being shown on screen? When will you realise 'casual mistreatment of women' for the sake of establishing 'heroism' is no joke?

We constantly raise our voice in disagreement but are we being validated for what we have been fighting for? Of course, there is Twitter/Facebook. You rage, you post statuses and you will be engulfed by a mix of constructive criticisms/feedback and mindless trolls. But what lies beyond? There is misogyny everywhere. If I analyse every character portrayed by a man in films I have watched, I could come up with a thesis. If I analyse the behaviour of every man I've come across, I could write a book.

A number of women chose to share their stories of sexual harassment as the whole nation was waking up to the #MeToo movement, including yours truly. But we were questioned why we didn't speak up immediately when the incident took place. They don't understand what it takes to come out in public at the cost of one's reputation.

Men charged with sexual harassment don't always pay the price for it. Take the case of a Resident Editor, who was thrown out of an English daily, after seven women journalists accused him of sexual misconduct. At present, he works for another newspaper-heading a department. He was given a job despite those allegations levelled against him.

Similarly, an award-winning Tamil poet, who was accused of sexual harassment, continues to work in the industry. You see him attend events and address the audience. Again, reasonably a top actor, accused of the same complaint, is repeatedly cast in films.

And what about those women who exposed the perpetrators? They are labelled 'troublemakers' and systematically denied work. What's worse? We all know the truth, but we don't buy it. We don’t want to, rather. It is unfortunate how harassment is often normalised, and for so long the opposite gender in power have gotten away with peddling misogyny and sexism. It is much easier to lay the blame on this patriarchal culture, but men, when are you going to own up to the ugly mess you have created?