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Interview Malayalam

WCC wants dialogue with AMMA to change patriarchal structure: Bina Paul

Bina, co-founder of the Women in Cinema Collective, which has taken up the task of questioning the stand of the powerful Malayalam artistes' body on the Dileep issue, demands better representation for women in the 23-year-old organization.

Anita Paikat

Late in June, four actresses quit the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes, popularly known by its abbreviation, AMMA. The reason for the uproar was actor Dileep's sudden reinstatement in the organization.

Dileep is facing charges of planning and ordering the abduction of and sexual assault on a Malayalam film actress. After spending 85 days in jail, the actor was granted bail on 3 October 2017.

Soon after Dileep was named an accused in the case, he was expelled from AMMA on the demand of leading actresses from the industry, including his ex-wife and top star Manju Warrier.

However, at the annual general meeting of the 23-year-old organization on 24 June this year, Dileep was welcomed back into AMMA's fold. Two days later, the victim, who was also a member of the group, quit along with Remya Nambeesan, Geethu Mohandas and Reema Kallingal.

Following the uproar and the media backlash, AMMA's newly elected president, veteran actor Mohanlal, issued a statement claiming that AMMA had only received two resignations in writing. He added that owing to the uproar, Dileep does not wish to become a member now and will return to AMMA only when his name is cleared in court.

Mohanlal's statement brought no respite for AMMA, which has been clearly favouring the accused and ignoring the victim. While Mohanlal claims the organization has provided the victim with all support, almost nothing has been done in the past 18 months in terms of policymaking to safeguard women working in the Malayalam film industry.

The body that has worked to improve conditions for women is the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), formed immediately after the sexual assault case came to the fore. The four actresses who quit AMMA are members of WCC. The newly founded group has taken up the task of questioning AMMA's stand on the matter and demands that AMMA take a fresh look at the patriarchal ways of functioning in the Malayalam film industry.

To know more about the issue and to learn the steps WCC has initiated, we spoke to Bina Paul. One of the founding members of WCC, Bina is a film editor and vice-chairperson and artistic director of the International Film Festival of Kerala. Excerpts.

What is happening in the AMMA-Dileep issue? While WCC says four female members have quit, Mohanlal claims only two have...

That is not true. There is obviously some communication problem. Four members have quit. We have sent the emails, etc.

He also says Dileep is not a member of AMMA.

You see, it's a very interesting thing. What we are actually fighting is that at the general body meeting, they reinstated him, saying he is put back. Which is what we reacted against. First of all, it was totally undemocratic, there was nothing on the agenda. Nothing. Somebody just from the floor said reinstate him and they said okay, we will reinstate.

Subsequently, because we made a noise, Dileep said 'I am not part of any group'. So AMMA said, 'Oh, he is not a part of any group.' But that is not the point. The point is that how is it possible that at a general body meeting, where she [the victim in the matter] is also a member, this decision [to eject Dileep from AMMA] was suddenly reversed without any democratic process. There was no discussion, there were no questions, there were no answers. Nothing.

As long as he is an accused, what has changed between the last meeting and this? This is our question. So whether he wants to be a member or not is not the question. The question we are asking is: what is the position of AMMA?

Did AMMA give any reason for reinstating him?

No, they didn't give any reason.

Is AMMA working under the premise that Dileep has not yet been found guilty by a court of law?

But he is accused. He is the second or third accused in the case.

Why do you think something like the #MeToo campaign, which was so successful in Hollywood, is not picking up here?

See, I don't know about 'Bollywood' [mainstream Hindi cinema]. We are very successful over here [in Malayalam cinema]. The problem here is, in Kerala, as we have said again and again, sexual harassment is not the only problem. We have so many problems. We are talking about them. WCC has raised these issues. The press, the media, everybody is taking note.

What is the male participation in this fight?

Lot of people have spoken out. Some people have spoken out openly. Even women have not spoken out openly but certainly the media and others... yeah, it's not easy, as you know. There is a lot of pressure. These are also professionals, so there are a lot of things involved. People don't speak so easily, but there is a lot of support.

How is WCC working towards setting up safeguards for women in the film industry?

Well, we went to the chief minister [of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan]. He has set up a commission to study the issues of women in the industry. It's a very important step because unless we know what the issues are, there are no solutions. So that is the first thing.

Secondly, we are talking to many organizations within the industry. Now we are asking even AMMA for equal representation on the policymaking body. So, we are working in those ways.

Mohanlal had also said that AMMA is not a male-dominated association.

Of course he will say that. He is not going to stand up and say, 'Yes, it's a male-dominated organization.' But very clearly, there are half the number of women. We can see how decisions are made. Of course, we know what Mohanlal will say and, of course, we are not fighting with him. We are talking about certain organizational structures which have traditionally been very patriarchal. And we are trying to bring attention to the fact that these things have to be re-examined today, when there is more participation.

Ten years ago, maybe there weren't so many women. Today, there are. Therefore, we have to relook at these.

What do you think is the ideal thing for AMMA to do at this point?

We have said some things. We have said that they must look at the whole Dileep issue again. We have said that the victim must also be given equal kind of consideration. We have said about policy matters. There are many demands. It's all in the public domain, what we have wanted from AMMA.

Basically, we want to have a dialogue with them on how an organization that has been very strongly patriarchal has to relook [at itself]. See, it's not a war. Try to understand, it's a dialogue that we understand things have changed and therefore, these things have to also change. Structures have to change.