Going the extra mile

Going the extra mile

With a passion for art and social service, I left the USA—a land of my birth and education after 23 years—and moved to Karnataka —the land of my forebearers—permanently in September, 2005.

Humanities, I believed, had the answer to remove hierarchies, uplift our weakest sections, and instill an egalitarian ethos in a nation reeling from socio-economic inequality.  After years of grassroots involvement throughout Karnataka, I realised that although the antidote was not too far off base, the prescription had to be written by the appropriate hand to make the necessary impact.  In other words, a mid-20s social worker’s words did not carry the weight a popular film actor’s would.  So, I gave cinema a shot.

Today, I write this piece after completing 10 years and half dozen ventures as lead actor in the Kannada film industry.

Our on-ground mobilisation across the state has been robust, and I thank the film medium for providing a platform to spread our message of equality and justice from nook to corner.  But what about the injustices that exist within our own industry—what have I done to improve the livelihoods of personnel here who come from various backgrounds and persuasions?

 In March this year, I – along with several respected industry members from various departments—founded the ‘Film Industry for Rights and Equality’ (FIRE) to help make our working environment more inclusive and safe.

FIRE’s major focuses include 3 W’s - women (addressing sexual harassment), workers (economic benefits), and writers (creative dignity).

 Sexual harassment must not be viewed as a women’s issue but as an institutional one, existing in workplaces across the spectrum since power-plays continue; acknowledgement, regulation and retributions are keys to removing this evil practice.

Due to the lopsided access to opportunities and education in our society, the vast majority of those in Kannada film industry as well as those in positions of power — producers, directors, stars, etc — are males. Such an andro-centric quantitative dynamic not only increases prevalence of sexual harassment like ‘casting couch’ and others but also institutional cover-up.

A questionable practice that continues to fester should not become more acceptable but is even more critical to rid, which we intend to do through a legally-constructed ‘Internal Complaints Committee’.

 Also, a large percentage of cinema workers live in economically backward conditions, with over a thousand members hovering below and at the poverty line.   

 Finally, the most significant factor for the success or failure of a film is its writing. To uplift the creative quotient and success ratio of our industry, we must build a ‘writers’ guild’ that provides script certification, financial requirements, etc. for those creative minds that not only influence the box office but society as a whole.  Also, the Kannada film industry lacks women writers who can bring a unique experience and worldview to our industry; tackling sexual harassment may also open doors for this possibility in the future.    

 Though many may view the industry on the basis of what they see on screen; the few of us who have had an inside look have a responsibility to look at the industry off screen. The process of giving back has begun; and I am grateful for such an opportunity to actualise my purpose for making Karnataka my home.

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