After actor Maala Parvathi, actors Shwetha Menon and Kukku Prameshwaran resigned, on Tuesday, from their posts on the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) in protest over the organisation not taking any action against actor-producer Vijay Babu, who was recently charged in a rape case.
In her resignation letter, Menon, who was the presiding officer of the ICC, said that she believed there is no relevance for the committee in the organisation.
Speaking to the media after resigning on Monday, Parvathi said that the ICC had recommended suspending Babu as he violated the law by naming the victim publicly on social media. “I thought the executive committee would consider this. The press release issued by AMMA said that Babu has volunteered to stay away from the association, but it does not mention that the association had sought the resignation letter from him. This is not disciplinary action. I doubt if this sends out the right message to society,” she added.
Babu was elected late last year as an executive committee member of AMMA for the 2021-2024 term. Last month, he was charged in a sexual assault case based on a complaint filed by a female actor from Kozhikode. The accused subsequently went live on Facebook and spoke about the matter. In violation of the law, Babu revealed the survivor’s identity by openly naming her.
Instead of suspending him, the AMMA announced that the actor had written to them stating that he wanted to stay away from the executive committee in view of the allegations levelled against him. “His letter has been discussed and accepted by the committee,” the association added.
In conversation with TNM, Parvathi said, “AMMA asking Vijay Babu to resign and Vijay Babu offering to resign as if he is extending a courtesy are two different things.” She further added, “Many members of AMMA believe that this is a war between men and women, it is not.”
“Being a committee member is a huge responsibility and it can only be done if the committee is autonomous. But now, I doubt whether I can deliver my responsibilities as per my conscience,” Parvathi said, in her resignation letter.
The AMMA’s soft stance has been criticised by the Women in Cinema Collective as well. The WCC, an organisation of women working in Malayalam cinema, earlier demanded that all film bodies suspend Babu’s membership in light of the rape charge.
It is notable that the formation of the ICC in AMMA came three and a half years after the WCC moved the Kerala High Court seeking the same and just a week before the order mandating it was passed by the High Court.
It was only on March 10, 2022, that the AMMA finally established the ICC to address the grievances of its members. And now, of the four members of the committee, all except actor Rachana Narayanankutty have stepped down.
This has put the spotlight back on the patriarchal nature of AMMA. The association has a history of inaction in similar circumstances.
AMMA and the 2017 female actor assault case
On February 17, a female actor who predominantly works in Malayalam and Kannada cinema was abducted and sexually assaulted in a moving car by a gang of men while en route to Kochi from Thrissur.
Malayalam actor Dileep was accused of being the chief conspirator behind the incident. Instead of calling out the accused or ousting him from the association, several members of AMMA including Mukesh, Innocent, Devan, Edavela Babu, and Siddique, spoke in defence of Dileep.
Actor Siddique, while speaking about association’s decision to not suspend Dileep, had said “Do they mean to say Dileep should never work? How can a film union deny a person’s right to work?” When cited examples of Bollywood actors who had decided not to work with those accused of sexual harassment, he retorted, “How can they do that based on ‘random’ allegations by women?”
Dileep was eventually arrested in the case on July 10, 2017. Following this, AMMA leaders held an emergency meeting at actor Mammootty’s residence in Kochi and decided to finally suspend Dileep’s membership. He was then serving as the association’s treasurer.
Dileep was released on bail on October 3. Following this, when actor Mohanlal took charge as AMMA’s new president in 2018, one of the first decisions of the new leadership was to revoke Dileep’s suspension.
This led to four members of the WCC – actors Rima Kallingal, Geethu Mohandas, Ramya Nambeesan, and the survivor – resigning in protest from the AMMA. They declared that they would continue fighting for justice outside the AMMA.
Later, in 2020, actor Parvathy Thirovothu also announced her resignation from AMMA, protesting against the association’s general secretary Edavela Babu’s comments on the survivor of the sexual assault.
WCC’s fight outside AMMA
It was in the aftermath of the 2017 incident that a group of female artists and technicians from the Malayalam film industry, including actors Manju Warrier, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Rima Kallingal, Geethu Mohandas, and editor Bina Paul, announced the formation of the WCC.
They met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and raised concerns about problems faced by women in the film industry. The WCC also began a social media campaign called Avalodoppam (With Her), in solidarity with the survivor. On November 1, 2017, the WCC was registered as a society in Kerala.
Since its establishment, the WCC has fought two major battles. One of these was the establishment of the ICC/Grievance Redressal Cell in the Malayalam film industry and to this end, in 2018, they filed a PIL. In February 2022, the Kerala Women Commission supported this and added itself as a respondent in the petition.
On March 17, 2022, the High Court ordered film production houses and film bodies in the Malayalam industry to form ICCs as per the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) PoSH Act, 2013.
WCC’s other fight has been to get the government to release the Hema Committee report and its findings.
On July 1, 2017, the Kerala government established the Justice Hema Committee to study the issues of gender disparity, sexual harassment, and other issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry and propose recommendations. Many women testified before the commission, which was headed by retired judge Hema. A report was submitted to the government on December 31, 2019. Since then, the members of WCC have been constantly pushing for the publication of the report.
Recently, the National Commission for Women (NCW) urged the Kerala government to publish the recommendations and observations in the Hema Committee report.
The WCC members were also invited to participate in a meeting convened on Wednesday by Saji Cherian, Kerala’s Minister for Culture, to discuss the issue.
The publication of the report is expected to throw further light on the issues faced by women working in the Malayalam film industry.