THE MALAYALEE MAN often shows his true colours in cyber space—especially when it comes to women who have a voice of their own. The cyber bullying and rape threats against actor Parvathy is the latest example. Parvathy critiqued Kasaba, a Mammootty film for glorifying misogyny. The trolls claiming to be ‘Mammootty fans’, went into overdrive. Parvathy lodged a complaint, even resulting in two arrests. The dust didn’t settle. Now the unscrupulous fan mob has turned against her upcoming movie My Story, where she stars alongside Prithviraj Sukumaran, resulting in thousands of online ‘dislikes’ and malicious comments.
The men in the Malayalam film industry have stayed silent. A few who opened their mouth did it to ridicule Parvathy in an indirect manner. It is an irony that Parvathy is embroiled in a hate campaign soon after she was honored with the award for the best actor at the International Film Festival of India held in November in Goa.
As an active member of Women in Cinema Collective, the recently formed association of women in the Malayalam film industry, Parvathy has deliberately decided to be vocal. “We can’t simply give in, we have to fight,” she says.
Parvathy is the first Malayalam actor to win the prestigious Silver Peacock award. She won for her role as Sameera in Take Off, a story about a young Muslim nurse who is emotionally torn between her son from her earlier marriage and her new love. Directed by Mahesh Narayan, the movie tells the story of a group of Malayalee nurses captured by terrorists who took over Tikrit, Iraq, in 2014. On stage, Parvathy said, “The reason I do this job is because of the sheer need to remind myself what is empathy, and to connect to people who are not me.”
She went on to dedicate the award to “all the nurses of Kerala and all those women who stood their ground with love and hope and conviction and got up and out of the terrible dilemma they were having”.
It was a quintessential Parvathy TK moment.
Parvathy does not shy away from the recent controversies that have gripped Indian cinema. She has strong views about the censorship of movies and intimidation of artists.
I am happy irrespective of commercial success because my work and the actual act of it is what drives me
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Speaking on the phone after her win, she says, “I have nothing but absolute contempt for fanatic religious groups. They are using fear as a tool to intimidate us, and by doing so, they dig their own grave. Fear might have won smaller battles, but love and acceptance will win bigger ones. They might succeed in harming us, but they can’t crush our voice. Art transcends people. The Government accuses films of inciting violence on one hand, and on the other keeps mum when people put a bounty on an actor’s head. Why is it so? The whole idea of censorship itself is debatable but this is taking it to a dangerous level. They don’t mind sexualising women in a gross manner, with item numbers or glorifiying violence against women but suddenly have a problem with the term ‘sexy’ because it precedes a goddess’s name. I refuse to go with the abbreviation to smoothen it out for them. ”
Parvathy has 19 films to her name today, nine of which are in her mother tongue Malayalam. She started her career in 2006 with the Malayalam film Out of Syllabus. She has been awarded for her heart-rending performances in Ennu Ninte Moideen (2015) and Charlie (2015). If in Ennu Ninte Moideen she plays the role of a love-stricken Kanchanamala, in Charlie she plays the rebel Tessa, caught in a cat-and-mouse chase.
Now with the Silver Peacock to her credit, she has become a star to reckon with in the Indian film fraternity. But according to her, this might not translate into work opportunities. “In fact the bigger the success, the narrower the chances get. In my case it has already started to happen, but I am okay with it. Success or failure—be it commercial or otherwise—have never been the driving force for me. I know this may sound arrogant but I have not felt failure in any of my work—since as an actor I gave my best with the team that came together for each of my films. My phone stopped ringing when a few of my early films suffered box office defeat.” She is confident that good offers will continue to come her way, as there is no monopoly over art. She also finds hope and solace in the younger generation of artists, especially women, with whom she feels a certain “kind of sisterhood”.
Twenty-nine-year-old Parvathy also made her Bollywood debut recently opposite Irrfan Khan in Qarib Qarib Singlle, as Jaya. She feels that Malayalam cinema is far better at breaking stereotypes than Bollywood. She cites her character in Take Off as an example. Sameera doesn’t have the usual filmi female vibes. “In other languages,” Parvathy says, “even in the so-called ‘female oriented films’, there is certain kind of stereotyping. We never call a film ‘male oriented’, but just a film. But we call a film in which a woman does the role of protagonist ‘female oriented’.”
Parvathy likes to render her rhetoric into practice. Even some shooting locations, such as forests, she says, can be discriminatory towards women. So she opens up her vanity van for the women crew so that they use its amenities without having to wait to reach a hotel, for example.
The limelight does not attract her. She tries to keep away from photoshoots. She prefers people to “forget” her after she is done with a film, so she refuses most interviews.
“I want people to identify and talk about the characters, not me. I find it very important to be vocal at times. Through my art and otherwise,” she says. “What’s tricky is to find a balance —you need to make your voice heard, as an actor and as a citizen as well.”