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Actor, Singer, Poet – the multi-faceted Andrea Jeremiah discusses the social responsibility of cinema, how she chooses her roles, and her struggle with patriarchy in the film industry, in an interview at the recently held Bangalore Poetry Festival.
Andrea Jeremiah thoroughly surprised me. Given her presence as a well-known actor in the Tamil film industry, the candour and humility with which she spoke to me was refreshing.
The multi-talented actor and musician revealed yet another gift of hers at the Bangalore Poetry Festival, when her self-published book of poetry, Broken Wing was made available for sale at the venue. During her session at the festival with Author Anuja Chandramauli, Andrea disclosed that writing came to her more as an emotional catharsis; she says it was something spontaneous that helped her find solace during some of the darkest phases of her life.
When asked how she found the courage to bare her soul to the world, she answered that she did not write with an intent to be published. She however took it as a sign from the universe when she was invited by the team at the Bangalore Poetry Festival to participate, for the second year in a row.
Later during her one-on-one interview with me, Andrea revealed how she has been always living her life, going with the flow, by taking her signs from the universe and following its directions. That is how she started as a musician and later became an actor.
Andrea says that
she was initially a reluctant actor. Especially with Tamil movie industry being
very patriarchal and male dominated, she had to face not just the challenges of
being a woman but also the cultural gap of being an Anglo-Indian woman with a
mind of her own.
She thought of quitting acting many times in the initial stages, but when good roles like Annayum Rasoolum and Viswaroopam came her way, she decided to stay back and cement her position as an actor; something that she has successfully managed to.
After spending more than a decade in the industry, Andrea has been getting meatier and more interesting roles during the last few years, be it as the feisty and outspoken Althea from Taramani or the strong-willed and manipulative Chandra from Vada Chennai. While she likes playing strong characters, she clarifies that it necessarily doesn’t have to be a woman centric role. She doesn’t mind playing second fiddle to the male protagonist as long as she contributes strongly to the script and is not a mere prop.
When asked why female characters on screen are so unbelievable and women’s friendships so rarely portrayed in cinema, she feels that it’s because of the lack of many female scriptwriters. Andrea believes that since most men do not really understand women’s minds and cannot think from a woman’s perspective, they create women on screen who are a man’s idea of a woman.
The actor is optimistic though that in this respect, Tamil films are changing for the better.. This she thinks could be partly due to the social changes in women’s conditions and their empowerment reflecting on the screen, as seen in recent movies such as Super Deluxe and Iraivi. In her own Taramani, Andrea portrays the opinionated, angry female protagonist, which is a rare and refreshing depiction of a lead woman on Indian screens.
In spite of these
changes in the portrayal of women in cinema, Andrea feels women-centric subjects
are still scarce, and most of the time they are in the form of horror
thrillers. She also points out that even if good scripts get written for women,
most male producers are unwilling to produce them. Though they would be willing
to risk 20 crores on a hero led subject, they wouldn’t want to risk even 2
crores for a woman centric issue. Hence she thinks that real change can come
about only when there are not just more female scriptwriters but also female
producers.. She also adds that the gender pay gap cannot be addressed till more
women centric films get produced.
In this context,
she expressed her admiration for Actors Parvathy and Kangana Ranaut who she
feels are instrumental in changing the outlook of the industry towards women
centric scripts. Parvathy is the female star she respects the most in South
Indian cinema. She also reveals that she
hopes to do in Tamil cinema, what Parvathy and Kangana did in their respective
Andrea also spoke at length on how she believes movies carry a social responsibility since they are a very powerful medium with far reaching effects. According to her, movies can influence the thoughts of an entire generation. She expressed her disappointment at movies like Padmavat, which though women centric, give a very regressive message to the society. When she had just started out as an actor, she did a few such films for the glamour, which made her feel uncomfortable but she believes she would say no to such scripts now.
asked which of all her talents is the closest to her heart, Andrea shares that it
is her writing, since it is her most personal expression. While as an actor or
musician, her performance is dedicated to the audience, with writing she is
completely in tune with herself. Her future plans as a writer involve a book on
her identity crisis of being an Anglo Indian and the cultural isolation she
suffered throughout her life because of that. Meanwhile she has already written
a script with two women as main characters for a web series and doesn’t rule
out the possibility that she could also foray into scriptwriting on a more
regular basis in the days to come.
Leaving the conversation, I could not help wishing earnestly that Andrea’s dreams for more women-backed, women-centric films in South Indian cinema come true!
Images courtesy Bangalore Poetry Festival team
Gnanapriya is a Bangalore based Banker, a passionate feminist with a keen interest in philosophy,
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