What is the wage gap like in the Malayalam film industry?
At the higher end, I’d say it’s less than 50% of what male co-actors would make — and those are the rates for the most popular female actors. Otherwise, we probably make 15-20%. Let’s just say they earn crores while we earn in lakhs or thousands. It doesn’t matter if it is the main or supporting role, the male actors’ pay doesn’t vary much.
How do producers and directors treat actresses on the sets?
I’ve worked with many brilliant, respectful producers and directors. Things have improved a lot from the time I joined the industry. That said, there are also those who behave in an entitled manner. There are times they talk to you as if they are doing you a favour and I’ve seen that happen to a lot of supporting actors. They won’t do that to a male ‘star; because they know they’ll need him again. There is a sense that actresses are easily replaceable. A lot of women (and men who are older and come in for supporting cast) have also opened up about how basic facilities are important. It’s still surprising that most production houses think it’s a waste of money to invest in e-toilets.
You have spoken about casting couch in the industry. Have you thought about naming the perpetrators?
There will come a time. But we need to have enough evidence. If I came out with names at this point, I do not believe I will get the kind of support, either in society or legally, as those who got in the case of a Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nasar. If my colleague could have been attacked the way she was, (you can imagine) to what extent they can go. What’s the worse they can do — they can make me disabled, throw acid on me, kill me. I’m ready for this because I can’t go back to the other life; that of pretending everything is okay and that things are just the way they are. I want to live and work with dignity and, hopefully, help others too.
Would you still say Kerala is a bastion of progressive cinema?
I still believe it is very progressive. That’s why I feel possessive and protective of Malayalam cinema, and why I said let’s not glorify misogyny in the name of entertainment. If it was any other industry I don’t think I’d have bothered, because we have a history of making really progressive cinema and literature. I am proud of the changes happening here. We have started a conversation and, while it will take some time to understand how to go about solving the many issues at hand, at least we are doing something. There’s this deafening silence elsewhere. Their silence is scarier than our noise.