A dam burst and water flooded the entire region angrily. It is, perhaps, the best way we can describe the ongoing #MeToo movement that has taken India by storm. Survivors from all walks of life are speaking up about predators in their workplaces. However, one industry remains mum - the South Indian Film Industry. Very few names have been accused, the accusers stand even lesser. We caught up with filmmaker Leena Manimekalai, who has accused director Susi Ganesan of a grievous crime, to ask why.
Q: What made you speak out about Susi Ganesan?
Leena: I have been absorbing what is happening to the #MeTooMovement nationally, and have been following it internationally. I have been reading all these stories coming up on Twitter with women exposing offenders. These stories took me back to my path and what I have gone through. I was actually feeling dizzy. If I am not wrong, why would I keep silent? The initial reactions to Chinmayi Sripada's story were so regressive! They hounded her and the ordeal she went through affected me on a deeper level. Why are they hounding a victim of sexual harassment? Why can’t they go behind the accused? All this was creating a lot of pressure on me. The Tamil industry and the Tamil media are completely recursive - very machismo. They have totally misunderstood the #MeToo movement. They hear one voice and they s**t their pants. Everybody is so afraid because here we are surrounded by offenders. So I re-shared my story and thought I should name him. The rest of the industry is very silent, but I think this situation is also because they all are afraid. If you are silent than I have a serious assumption that you are also an offender and if your silence is only supporting the person who is a predator - the message is so clear.
Q: Do you plan to proceed with legal actions against Ganesan? He says he wants to.
Leena: He is going around the world and saying "I have filed a case". Nobody can file a criminal case like that! It's a long procedure. He is going around saying that he has filed a criminal case and it's because he has influence. You know what influence can do in the courts and police stations and all that. I will continue to fight because this will be a landmark case here. I can file a hundred cases against him considering how many times he's slandered me, saying I am immoral and I had many lovers and so on. He is just making a scene. He wants to threaten me and my family so that I shut up. I am not going to shut up.
Q: In Bollywood, actors like Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan are stopping their shoots to have the accused properly investigated and/or pulling out of their films, do you think actors in the south will go that route?
Leena: I really expect that to happen and at least one powerful person comes across and raises his voice for the women. The whole dynamic will change. Nobody has come out and I suspect it is because they are all offenders. I want to ask them: are you all afraid?
Q: South journos barely even mention the name of the lead female actor, let alone ask them sensible questions. Do you think this has something to do with the accusations you've made? How can a woman report sexual misconduct when her work isn't even considered important?
Leena: Ya I mean they (the offenders) are so confident about the society. They know that this society will empower them to continue the sexual harassment. As an example, my body of work is much, much bigger than his internationally. He has done nothing significant but the entire media is calling him "director" Susi Ganesan. The media is carrying articles from his point of view. Media is carrying all his slander because they want sensational content and the moment you demean a women everybody wants to read it. It is quite imbalanced here and really very toxic but somewhere something has to start.
Q: What steps do you think the industry can take to protect the people working in it? Surely, women aren't the only ones facing sexual harassment.
Leena: When you look at the content, every film stereotypes women. Every film is encashing by insulting a transgender. These portrayals are not empowering anyone so the portrayal has always been mocking, both, the opposite gender and the other gender. If you look at Tamil films, transgenders are always shown to be doing some kind of anti-social activities. This is how they are portrayed! There isn't a sensible script that has LGBTQ characters. Nothing is written for the minorities. What they do with women is similar. It is to keep their box-office ringing. There is humour in suppressing the other gender. I mean, what will you expect out of these people and it is a clear indication that something is wrong.