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Many actors today use their privilege to speak up against misogyny and violence against women, making things better for all women in the long run. Here are a few of these.
There was a time when women actors were considered below par as compared to male actors. But in the past few decades, things are changing, even if the pay gap is still very much there – an unfortunate fact. But many women actors today often carry the entire movie without much help from their male co-actors, and that gives them a clout that is almost equal to, and sometimes better than male actors, in the eyes of the audience.
These inspiring and very talented women have been using their considerable privilege and the platforms they get, to use their voice, raised against internalised and overt misogyny and sexism, the violence against women, and other issues that women are often silenced for.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2020 #IWD2020 is #EachForEqual. The spirit of sisterhood, in which women help other women rise up to equal, help them towards a better life, using whatever privilege they have.
There have of course, always been some such women actors who shone above all others, made unusual personal choices, and spoke for all women, like Smita Patil, Rekha, Shabana Azmi, Madhubala, Waheeda Rehman, Nargis, etc, who have been role models of a sort.
Let us look at 5 such amazing recent women actors in some detail.
A top actor from the Malayalam film industry, Parvathy was the female lead in Qarib Qarib Singlle. As a responsible, and feminist actor, Parvathy has been very careful about the roles she chooses, that they do not pander to sexist stereotypes.
Member of the Women in Cinema Collective
The film industry of the South is even more misogynist (if at all that were possible) than Bollywood, with many male actors even being considered superheroes and worshipped. In such a milieu, it isn’t any mean feat what Parvathy does. As a member of the Malayalam Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), she regularly raises her voice against the sexism and violence against women, for the women in the industry, from the stars to the smallest crew member.
On the Sabarimala issue
Parvathy has said that people wrongly believe that a woman’s “purity” resides in her vagina, and it will take a long time to change people’s mindsets on this. Despite the challenge, she is standing strong for the rights of women.
Parvathy has shared about her childhood sexual abuse during India’s #MeToo movement, and has staunchly stood by those calling out their molesters. Parvathy says, “I had no idea at that age what had really happened; it took me 17 years to even understand and speak about it. Sexual molestation is not just physical abuse, but mental abuse too, and speaking about it can make you feel powerful.”
The Kabir Singh controversy
Parvathy spoke up about her thoughts on the movie, the way toxic masculinity was glorified, and against the views of the director and also the actor Vijay Deverakonda, at a round table discussion. This got her a lot of trolling, but also had people who thought similarly hailing her for her words.
Chinmayee Sripada is a playback singer who sings mostly in the South Indian film industries, and also dubs for many women actors there, wherever needed. Not just that, Chinmayee is also a businesswoman with her own translation services company established in August 2005, called Blue Elephant. In 2010, this won her an award from the the SAARC Chamber for Women Entrepreneurship. She is also Tamil Nadu’s first businesswoman who has been chosen for the Fortune/US State Department Global Women Mentoring Partnership programme.
A feminist, Chinmayee Sripada doesn’t hesitate from speaking up against violence against women.
Chinmayee had spoken up about the sexual harassment she faced at the hands of lyricist Vairamuthu, and had stood firm in her accusation and the support for other women in the industry who came forth with their stories, despite pressure from a misogynist industry. This firm stance led to her and many other women refusing to work with those accused.
Speaking up against rape culture
After the Hyderabad rape and murder, many men had tweeted that “rape is not that serious but murder is inexcusable”. Chinmayee hit back at these men on social media, saying that it is because of men and others with this mindset that rape culture is so prevalent in India, and that it had to be demolished.
If you check out her twitter handle, you’ll see her speaking up again and again about these issues, warning women about perpetrators, etc., even after the storm over that incident has settled now.
Chinmayee Sripada has been very vocal about the marginalised, especially women who will be the first ones to be victims under the controversial CAA saying, “A woman’s character, a Dalit’s merit and a Muslim’s patriotism are always questioned in this country”.
Coming from a liberal home, Vidya Balan has been always outspoken about feminist issues, calling out things like fat shaming, and slut shaming women for their choices. With 6 national Awards, 6 Filmfare Awards, and 1 Padma Shri to her name, she is one of the voices well heard in the industry.
Against body shaming
Vidya Balan has not just spoken about this in an interview, but also featured in a video that spoke about how body shaming can affect women negatively. Celebrities speaking up about this validates the feelings of hundreds of women, breaking the silence around these issues.
Against child abuse
Vidya’s 2016 film was on the theme of child abuse, and this led her to think deeply about the problem. She joined hands with an NGO that fought against child abuse, taking part in many awareness drives. “We feel that a child is the safest at home, but unfortunately in reality, that is where they might be most in danger,” she has said, while talking of this experience.
A part of the drive for toilets in India
Vidya Balan is part of this endeavour, the face on your screen who speaks to people about the need to stop open defecation and build more toilets, using examples that are culturally aligned for Indian rural society. Yes, she is speaking scripted lines, but she has also come out in real life and spoken up about the inconvenience and pain of open defecation for women.
Multiple award winning actor Nandita Das has always been vocal about issues that affect women and children, even her roles chosen with thoughtful care.
Dark is Beautiful
This is the movement Nandita Das is best known for, and which has endured for so long. Indian society is so biased towards “fair and beautiful” – anyone who is fair is also by definition considered beautiful. In fact, in India’s “marriage market”, only the fair is considered beautiful. Nandita Das, by aligning herself with this movement, has lent her clout and voice to the demolishing of this misconception. Beauty isn’t skin deep.
Nandita has called out at the 2020 Jaipur Literature Festival, this obsession about “proving one’s citizenship” based on religion, at a time when the economy of the country is in the doldrums, and we really do not need all this.
Holding space for women through her work
By representing the real Indian women through her roles, very thoughtfully selected, Nandita Das has let her art speak for itself, including her recent directorial venture, Manto, in which she has presented the thoughts of Sadat Hasan Manto that speak up against social ills, in the form of the biopic.
Maybe the one on the list who is best known to readers today, and also the most vocal, the most controversial on and off screen, and the most active on social media for the rights of the common woman, even seal rights, which often are shrouded in a thick silence.
Vocal about current politics
Swara has been a very vocal supporter of the anti-CAA anti-NRC protests, as the controversial law could be worse for women, especially among those marginalised, like Muslim, Dalit, and those in the lower socio-economic communities, clearly because of a lack of documentation of most of these demographics in the Indian social hierarchies.
She had spoken up in the Babri Masjid issue, making a controversial statement that we live in a nation the Supreme Court says that those who demolished it was wrong, but at the same time, the verdict is as though they have been rewarded for it. Recently, she had called out for the arrest of Kapil Mishra in the NE Delhi riots – all these are worse for women and children, always the collateral damage in any conflict of this level.
Speaking up about women’s sexuality and choice
Huh?! Women’s sexuality? WHAT is that? – this would be the reaction of most of our “sanskaari” society. Swara has consistently called this out, even doing a a masturbation scene in Veere di Wedding, all of which gets her violently trolled.
After watching Bhansali’s Padmaavat, she was equally vocal about the way Johar was glorified, the glorification of a painful and gruesome death and honour above the choice of a life of dignity after rape that was forcibly taken away from women then. Titled At The End of Your Magnum Opus… I Felt Reduced to a Vagina– Only’, this open letter is worth reading.
Swara has spoken up for girls and women shamed for their choice of clothes, calling out the “sanskaari” moral police who make life difficult for women, denying them their choice and full humanity.
Other than these five women, there are others like Taapsee Pannu, Deepika Padukone, Richa Chadha, Kangana Ranaut, Kareena Kapoor Khan, etc, who have spoken up from time to time, and even used her roles and public clout to support women’s voices and choices.
Do join the #IWD2020 #EachForEqual movement from your social media handles, and support and magnify women’s voices. Today.
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