South Indian dubbing artist Bhagyalakshmi, who has been in the news after attacking YouTuber Vijay P Nair on September 26 for his explicit and abusive video about her, claims she would have been in less trouble if her sons had intervened.
“If I took my sons with me and made them beat him up, there would have been no issue … The big question everybody seems to be asking is ‘Why did a woman beat a man?’ or ‘Why didn’t you take your sons or any other male with you to beat him or do that job for you?’ Basically, they are trying to tell me that women shouldn’t react in any situation. This is our grim reality of being a woman in today’s times,” said Bhagyalakshmi in an interview over the phone in Malayalam.
Bhagyalakshmi has become the portrait of female resistance in Kerala ever since she took law into her own hands on September 27 and smeared motor oil on P Nair’s face following his video accusing her of derogatory feats and having questionable moral fibre. While Nair is in judicial custody for his sexually-explicit video targeting specific women, Bhagyalakshmi’s anticipatory bail — along with the bail of two other activist friends Diya Sana and Sreelakshmi Arackal who accompanied her — in connection with the YouTuber assault was rejected over the weekend.
The entire video posted on Facebook showing the three women forcing P Nair to apologise for his cyber bullying video has evoked polarising reactions and ignited debates on the rise of online assaults against women, the inherent misogyny among men in Kerala and whether women can take law into their own hands.
While Bhagyalakshmi has been advised by her lawyer and the court not to speak about this topic, she points out that women are penalised for being women in Kerala and across India.
“By asking me such questions, they are indirectly telling me that women aren’t supposed to raise their voices or allowed to react even when pushed into a corner,” she said.
The award-winning voice actress, who has lent her voice to the likes of top talents Shobana in ‘Manichithrathazhu’ and Amala in ‘Ulladdukam’, talks to Gulf News about deep-seated patriarchy and misogyny she has experienced during her career. Excerpts from our exclusive interview over the phone …
You have been a part of the Malayalam film industry which is notoriously male-dominated and patriarchal. Your thoughts?
It’s definitely a patriarchal industry, but if you are talented then they treat us with reluctant respect. Their attitude changes if we have talent, but there’s no denying that it’s a still a deeply patriarchal and male-dominated industry. But we can’t entirely blame it on the industry. The society, the media and the general public are male-dominated.
For example, when we turn on the movie channels we realise that films starring Mammootty and Mohanlal [Malayalam industry’s top stars] command a rate that’s massive when compared to other stars. And if the project is a heroine-oriented one, then our first thought is, ‘Oh no, there’s no male superstar’. The root of that gender disparity lies with the media, the theatre owners and those movie fans who consume superstar-driven films. I have seen how the general public barge in hysterically to a movie hall if it’s led by Mohanlal or Mammootty. So let’s not blame a single entity for this deep-seated misogyny … The headline that I have read on my issue are questions like: ‘Why did a woman beat a man?’
How difficult was it to gain acceptance in your field as an outspoken woman who doesn’t shy from taking a stand in life?
My reality is simple. Dubbing artists are like curry leaves. They use us when required and then throw us away when done. They don’t value dubbing artists in general and that mindset of how easily dispensable we are hasn’t changed. For instance, when we raise our opinion on a certain topic, producers and director often ask us, ‘Why are you giving us your opinion? You are just a dubbing artist’. And, if we state our opinions openly, they will attack us by reminding us to stick to our jobs of dubbing and not to step beyond that boundary.
We are not entitled to have an opinion or a stand. We are pushed to a side, until they need us for our voices … Ironically, they don’t try to stop me from airing my opinions anymore because they know that I will not give into them. A few of us like Reema Kallingal, Parvathi Menon stand strong. But at the end of the day, we are like a dust particle in their eyes that they are keen to blink away. But we aren’t people who are easily shut out. We speak our minds, no matter what or how much they try to stop us. Producers are not fond of people like us and we receive a lot less job offers due to our outspokenness. In my own career, I have seen a significant dip in the offers that come my way. Earlier, I used to get a lot more offers.
Do you regret taking a stand?
Never. I will always react, no matter what others say or feel about it. I will keep reacting. Even with my current issue [the assault on the YouTuber], do you know how many people reached out to me? Barely five or six women in total called me to extend their support. Think about how big my industry is … Even all those female artists in the industry who face cyber attack and bullying daily did not reach out to me. Ideally, shouldn’t they have called me and expressed their solidarity for speaking up for them? But I am relieved that I received supports from the likes of Manju Warrier, Bhavana and Urvashi. They reached out to me and called me, which meant a lot to me.
Do you think women are soft targets when it comes to cyber bullying and online assaults? Should there be stronger cyber laws in place?
Having stronger cyber laws is a hard thing to do. We live in a male-dominated world. We need to correct a lot of things starting from our attitude towards women, the way the media perceives women and more … An industry that runs on a business, economic model do not encourage seeing their women in higher positions. Also, if a woman were to declare that she cannot live with her husband, it is instantly looked down upon by the society. But if a man says he can’t live with his wife, then it’s fine. He gets away with it, but women are not supposed to say such things.
Are your peers hostile towards you because you represent a group of fearless women?
People cannot tolerate the idea of me being an independent fighter. Even though they don’t attack me on a full-frontal basis, they do have misgivings about my fearless nature.
Actress Reema Kallingal, in her post supporting your actions against P Nair, claimed that the issue wouldn’t have been as grave if a man had beaten him up instead of you three women barging into his home and slapping him? Your thoughts …
She’s right. If I took my sons and made them beat him up then there would have been no issue at all … And, that misogynistic and sexist attitude should stop. When we raise our kids, we should make sure that there are no gender differences. Boys and girls should be treated equal. We eat the same food, we are given birth the same way and we feel emotions like hunger and pain equally. Let’s not tell our daughters what not to do in life, we must teach our sons to do the right things. Avoid terms like boyfriends or girlfriends because we are assigning roles based on their gender. Let’s not make comments like boys do not belong to the kitchen … The truth remains that I had posted an online video crying about the abuse hurled at me by that man, then everyone around me would have been happy. As a woman, they prefer to see me cry in public rather than take an action directly.