On Saturday morning, ahead of the official launch of his next film, Adam, actor Prithviraj Sukumaran did something unprecedented. Through a lengthy note posted on Facebook, he apologised for mouthing sexist dialogues in his films, and for being part of movies that celebrated misogyny. In the note, titled ‘Courage’, the actor said:
“And to those voices I apologise..for at an age and time when I wasn’t wise enough..I have been part of films that celebrated misogyny..I have mouthed lines that vilified regard for your self respect and I have taken a bow to the claps that ensued. NEVER AGAIN..never again will I let disrespect for women be celebrated in my movies! Yes..I’m an actor and this is my craft! I will whole-heartedly trudge the grey and black with characters that possess unhinged moral compasses…but I will never let these men be glorified or their actions justified on screen.”
Prithviraj was one of the first actors in Mollywood to speak up in support of the actress who was kidnapped and assaulted by a gang of men in a moving car in Kochi last week. “…As a man who has to share the responsibility of a society that bears this shame, I hang my head! But please..the most we can collectively do at this moment..is to respect the guts of this girl,” he wrote in a note that was posted on Facebook on February 19. The actress, who was cast opposite Prithviraj in Adam, had backed out from the film after the incident. “I was supposed to start work with her in a week, and she told me that she’d not like to come back in front of the camera so soon..and so is pulling out of the film. I know this girl..I know how brave she is…if it’s affected her enough to make her stay away from what she loves the most..I can only imagine how harrowing it must have been,” said Prithviraj in the statement.
However, on February 23, the film’s director Jinu Jacob announced that she would join the film on the scheduled date.
At the official launch of Adam on Saturday morning, Prithviraj also asked the media to respect the privacy of the actress who, according to him, has legal and personal difficulties in issuing a public statement at the moment.
Prithviraj’s public apology comes at a time when Malayalam cinema is facing heavy criticism for its misogynist content. The top male leads in the industry, over the years, have mouthed some of the most sexist dialogues in their films, demeaning women and other gender. In Prithviraj’s 2007 super-hit film Chocolate, his character warned a woman onscreen that he would rape and impregnate her; a dialogue that was cited many times by the media and the public on social networking sites, in response to the actor’s February 19 Facebook post.
While Prithviraj has apologised for being part of scenes that celebrated machismo, his male co-stars, senior and junior, who are responsible for similar or worse faux pas, are yet to speak up. Actor Mammootty, whose 2016 film Kasaba drew brickbats from all over for its highly sexist content, is the secretary of AMMA (Association Of Malayalam Movie Actors), an organisation that recently advised its women members to avoid travelling alone, in the wake of the incident. AMMA held a meeting in Kochi on February 22 ‘to take concrete measures to ensure safety of female artistes in the industry’. In the meeting, it urged female artistes to stop traveling alone. Many artistes, including director Aashiq Abu, and actress Sajitha Madathil, have slammed the association’s stance. “This has left me without a hope… Is AMMA saying that the safety of a woman artiste, who is working day and night, is not the association’s responsibility? Isn’t it the responsibility of the employer to ensure the safety of its employees in work-spaces?” asks Sajitha Madathil in her Facebook post. “It hurts to see an organisation in Kerala taking such a regressive anti-women stance in 2017!”