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Media trial is well and good, but we have taken the next step: WCC at MAMI panel

In a calm, detailed discussion, the Women in Cinema Collective talked about the constitutional change the collective aims to bring into the Malayalam film industry. 

Shriram Iyengar

The 20th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival has seen a collection of panel discussions and debates about the ongoing #MeToo movement, and rightly so. On the last panel discussion held on 30 October, the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) represented by directors Anjali Menon, Rima Kallingal and Parvathy Thiruvoth, and actress-screenwriter Archana Padmini outlined their struggle and the attempt to bring a legal construct to safeguard women's rights in the Malayalam film industry.

The discussion, titled #MeToo@MAMI: The Power of the Collective, saw the women outline their plan of action, role, and the need for more men to participate in the movement.

The WCC, which was established in 2017 after an actress was molested and assaulted in a production car, has been at the forefront of the ongoing battle to institute a redressal board in the Malayalam film industry.

Speaking about the collective, director Menon pointed out that they were as lost as anyone else when the movement began. She said, "We were a self-mandated organisation and there was nobody telling us what to do. We were the only organisation of our kind, there was no precedent to follow. We couldn't consult with people within the industry either, because very often we would be working against them. So we didn't have a lot of allies either."

This lack of allies forced the collective to approach the Kerala state government for help. As actress Parvathy pointed out, "When we looked around we were not sure of how much support we would get from the actors' bodies in the state. So the first step was to reach out to the political body, the chief minister's office, as the head of the state. We needed a concrete structure to come and needed the government to support that."

The guests revealed that the women in the collective were united in the effort to bring about a 'constitutional change'. This, they added, is already in process.

Parvathy said, "The chief minister in turn immediately appointed the Hema Commission led by chief justice Hema, and Vatsala ma'am and Sharada ma'am [actors]. They have been studying the Malayalam film industry and making reports on what takes place during shoots."

The Hema Comission led by retired, Justice Hema also consists of former bureaucrat KB Vatsala Kumari, and senior actress Sharada. The commission was appointed on 17 May 2017, and is currently collating data.

In addition, Menon added that there are talks of instituting a 'sexual offenders' registry by the Kerala government. "There have to be a lot of things that need to take place before it goes through, but it is well on the way. It is, again, unprecedented, and has not been done before. But we will be sharing more information about it."

The WCC has also filed a writ petition PIL in the Kerala high court last week demanding that the actors' and other film bodies in the state institute an ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) to deal with incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace and comply with POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) act immediately.

The respondents of the PIL include the State of Kerala, Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce, Kerala Film Producers Association, Film Employees Federation of Kerala (FEFKA), Malayalam Cinema Technicians Association (MACTA), Kerala Film Distributors Association and Central Board of Film Certification

Women's rights advocate and lawyer Veena Gowda, who was also present at the discussion, said, "It is quite a landmark litigation that they are filing. The kind of respondents they have taken to task, every union, every association in the industry. Last, they have also taken it to the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification). One of their requests is that unless ICC is set up film certification should not be given. It is an extremely interesting demand to make before the high court."

The WCC has been on the crossroads with the Association of Malayalam Movie Actors (AMMA) over the handling of producer-actor Dileep's membership in the association. Dileep was arrested and remanded to custody as one of the masterminds behind the abduction and assault of the actress mentioned before. He is currently out on bail after having spent 85 days in custody.

Despite the growing media attention on the #MeToo movement in the Hindi film industry as well, and the controversies surrounding it, the group emphasised on the need for a legal change.

Activist Gowda emphatically stated, "Today if the #MeToo movement happened, it happened because of the failure of society, government, these bodies, to listen to the law and execute the law," before adding, "The purpose of the law is not only to punish. The purpose of the law is also to prevent."

Related topics

MAMI Sexual harassment