Padmapriya Janakiraman: We've put our cards on the table, there is no going back
Janakiraman became central to this conversation because, nearly 11 years ago, she too, had been the victim of inappropriate behaviour by a director named Samy, who slapped her on the sets of a Tamil film
Co-founded the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) and campaigned against actor Dileep's reinstatement in AMMA
Long before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement gained steam in Bollywood, a storm had started brewing down South. Helming this campaign were leading South Indian actors Revathi, Parvathy and Padmapriya Janakiraman, who had come together to start the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC). Instituted a few months after one of their female colleagues was abducted and brutally assaulted in February last year, WCC became formidable force, when they spearheaded a campaign in June this year, to protest the reinstatement of actor Dileep - allegedly involved in the assault - to the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA).
"The degree of victim shaming, and the number of people casting aspersions at her, was shocking," says Delhi-based Janakiraman. That they were challenging the decision of its president, Malayalam superstar Mohanlal, set the tone straight - they were fighting for the right to equality.
Janakiraman became central to this conversation because, nearly 11 years ago, she too, had been the victim of inappropriate behaviour by a director named Samy, who slapped her on the sets of a Tamil film. "He later tried to defend himself by arguing that he wanted me to cry as the scene demanded it," she recalls with a laugh. But Janakiraman took him head-on. He was later banned by the Federation of Film Employees of South India (FEFSI) and the Producers' Council from making films
for a year.
For Janakiraman, it was also a time of reckoning. "I came from a cosmopolitan Army background, where my parents treated me and my brother as equals. Later, when I joined the movies, I also had a day job as a risk analyst; I did that for more than four years. So, even though I, as an actress, wasn't being paid on par with the male actors, it never directly affected me," says Janakiraman. But, it hit home, after she took a break from her film career to pursue an MBA from NYU. "When I returned, I felt that all these directors, who I otherwise thought were great to work with, were patriarchal and sexist."
Post the Dileep incident, WCC helped take this conversation one step further. "All we wanted to do was create a space that assimilates and understands us. Our organisation wants to have a women-friendly environment, where there are equal opportunities for all. We hope to provide them [female colleagues] with counsellors, networking, legal aid or just a friend to talk to, so that they don't feel alienated," says Janakiraman.
Unfortunately, it's not been rosy. "Ever since we became part of WCC, a lot of us have been denied work opportunities. When I meet a colleague now, I can sense that they are uncomfortable around me; I have to remind them, that 'hey, I have a whole decade of a relationship with you'. Having said that, we have put all our cards on the table, and there is no going back."
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A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli