Ms Representation: Women of our cinema must unionise
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author writes about the need to form a women's collective following the Nayanthara-Radha Ravi controversy
The recent debacle over Radha Ravi’s distasteful comments on Nayanthara and the subsequent rumble (as opposed to complete silence that singer Chinmayi and actor Varalaxmi were met with when they complained) is an indication of just how powerful Nayanthara is today. By asking for a Vishaka Committee to be set up she has made good use of her fame. One hopes it will lead to better and safer working conditions for women in cinema. The abduction and assault of a Malayalam actress recently led to the forming of the Women in Cinema Collective in Kerala, although actresses who are a part of the collective like Parvathy have said that work has thinned and people have stopped hiring the women who have shown solidarity with the assaulted actress. This is why it is important for women to unionise and protect each other’s interests.
Tamil cinema has many unions and associations already, for dancers, technicians, and musicians. (Disclaimer, the cine musicians union was founded by my grandfather and I do have a soft spot for unions). Yes, unions don’t sound glamorous, but they offer you the protection and power of a collective. This is why the women of Tamil cinema must come together and set up a union. You can demand better wages and equal pay, better working conditions, set up a Vishaka Committee, give voice to those who aren’t as powerful and most importantly, force those with money and muscle power to listen to you.
Let’s be clear, there is no point in shunning unions at this juncture considering most actors are already part of one or another organisation. An umbrella organisation that speaks for women and will demand justice for women is especially needed in our cinema space, considering the abuse – verbal and physical – that women are at the receiving end of. I mean, if the Lady Superstar of Tamil cinema upon whose fame crores of money are right now riding, and who is single-handedly leading multiple projects, can only ask for a Vishaka Committee, and the man who speaks ill of her at her film’s promotional event can get away with less than a slap on his wrist, what hope do others have?
The Nadigar Sangam for instance, is overwhelmingly male (Nasser is the current President while its Committee members are Vishal, Karthi, Ponvannan and Karunas) but claims to speaks for women too. Radha Ravi as the head of the Dubbing Association initiated action against Chinmayi, and the singer has stated categorically that it is because of her #Metoo allegations against Vairamuthu. Recently powerhouse performer Rohini tweeted, “If the Dubbing artists union committee members stood by me when I raised my voice against Radha Ravi for talking ill of women, there would have been some respect for the committee. Instead he removed me from the committee.” In short, men have formed collectives and have used it against women. Is it not time for the women of our cinema to come together and demand a better workplace?
Radha Ravi’s distasteful remarks are also a reflection of how women in cinema are viewed by men (even those in the industry themselves). I would like to reiterate what I had written a year ago, in this very column. A woman venturing out of her home and a woman entering cinema, have indeed a lot in common. Lots of ‘warnings’ are given to both of them. Warnings about men. And sometimes I wonder how men feel. That they are the cautionary tales women are brought up on and that they are used to crush women, and their dreams… And if women ignore these warnings and proceed bravely to make a mark in cinema, what are they offered? Equal pay and respect, you think? Ha. Think again. The amount of rumour-mongering regarding their personal lives that actresses face is astounding… It is a fact that women in cinema are at the receiving end of blatant misogyny, sexual assault, harassment, unwanted advances from men within and outside the industry, hostility, casting couch, and to top it all, denigration and objectification.
If this has to end, the power of the collective must be unleashed.