Indian actress Malavika Mohanan, who has worked with blazing talents including Rajinikanth, Vijay, and Dhanush, paints a somber picture when asked if the prolific entertainment industry in India continues to be plagued by sexism and wage gap.
“Even when it comes to pay disparity, the biggest female actor in Hindi [Bollywood] and the biggest male actor in Hindi have salaries with a ridiculous difference. The same goes for all the other industries as well. Some industries disguise it better,” said Malavika in an interview with Gulf News.
Malavika, who headlines her new coming-of-age film ‘Christy’ playing in UAE cinemas now, describes this grim scenario as far from ideal. But there’s a silver lining, she says.
“I am just glad that there are so many conversations happening about it right now. We can see and hear about a lot of changes happening in Hollywood. There are some female actor putting their foot down and demanding the same money that’s being paid to their male counterpart especially in movies where they have more to do,” said Malavika.
The actress, who has also worked with acclaimed Iranian director Majid Majidi in ‘Beyond The Clouds’, hopes such fierce women would lead the way for change.
“Change is happening somewhere,” declares Malavika, who claims that she was paid more than her male co-star Mathew Thomas of ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ fame.
A proud feminist who has always believed in equal rights and bridging gender divides, Malavika believes that “disparity in pay” is just scratching the surface.
“You have to go deeper into like why’s that happening in the first place. We live in a very patriarchal society where male needs are always given more importance than female needs. Women’s wants and needs are just casually dismissed and there’s zero sensitivity towards them and complete disregard in most cases. So it comes from our patriarchal misogynistic mindset,” she points out.
While male privilege is a reality in most homes, especially in the Indian sub-continent, Malavika believes change needs to happen in the grassroots level.
“Just start with equality in your own house. Otherwise, it can never change. If a boy grows up seeing his dad treating his mother a certain way or parents treating his sister differently than him, then he will grow up thinking it’s normal. That’s what is happening around us … Fortunately I grew up in a home where my brother and I were treated equal and I can see that attitude in my brother and the way he treats women,” said Malavika.
In ‘Christy’, directed by Alvin Henry, Malavika plays the titular role of a winsome tuition teacher who becomes the object of desire and affection of her young, teenage student. But there’s nothing remotely scandalous about the way the story has been treated, she adds.
Excerpts from our interview with Malavika as we discuss her new film, her role, and why ‘Christy’ is not a scandalous romance:
The trailer indicates that ‘Christy’ is about a teenager (Mathew) who falls in love with a relatively older woman. It’s a bold role and required nuanced acting. How did you strike the right chord?
I don’t think I approached it from that point of view. When you are playing a character like that there’s no need to dwell on this thought: “Oh he’s younger to me”. You always think about what the film is about, what is the character feeling at this point, and the story. I don’t see ‘Christy’ as a bold movie particularly because it’s just a journey of two characters and it comes from a true, innocent, space. There’s nothing that’s morally reprehensible in our story. Plus, I don’t think I will ever play a character which would be termed “bold”. Even when it comes to the performance, you’re approaching every scene through a lens of how to do justice to the narrative that the director has in mind. My father has always said: “Try and always be as subtle as you can”. Subtlety always works. This film is about smaller emotions and isn’t about loud emotions. The script of ‘Christy’ doesn’t have any loud emotions or expressions. So, it had to be nuanced, there’s no other way to do it.
Malayalam cinema is known for its realistic portrayal of love, relationships, and courtships. What kind of films did you grow up watching and which films/genre influenced you the most?
I will first talk about the films that influenced me the most. I was exposed to two different worlds since my parents were Malayalis and I was growing up in a vibrant metropolis like Bombay [now Mumbai]. My childhood friends were Gujaratis, Maharastrians or Sindhis. I grew up in a cultural mix, but I also grew up watching lots of Malayalam movies because we lived in a one BHK [bedroom, hall, and kitchen] space and my parents loved watching classics of Mohanlal and Mammootty. Movies ranging from ‘Manichithrathazhu’, ‘Spadikam’ to ‘Akare Akare’ were movies that I grew up watching. But don’t forget that when you live in Bombay, the Bollywood/Hindi film Industry is just in the air you breathe. It’s a part of our pop culture. Today’s generation, thanks to social media, is acquainted with South Korean music and Japanese bands. We didn’t have that while growing up. So Bollywood ended up influencing me a lot. But the adult in me started appreciating Malayalam cinema a lot more.
Why did you think you began appreciating it more?
The portrayal of characters seen in Malayalam cinema and staying true to the film instead of adding fluff for the sake of it makes it stand out. But I do have my favourites when it comes to Malayalam pop culture as well. I loved Shobana and I felt ‘Manichitrathazhu’ was an amazing films. Out of all the remakes, nobody could come close to her dance performance. Mohanlal and Srinivasan’s comedy ‘Pattana Pravesham’ is a movie that I have watched at least 100 times in those VCR [Video Cassette Recording] era. I just loved the chemistry between Mohanlal and Sreenivasan.
You play the titular role ‘Christy’. Did that fill you with a sense of validation?
No, not really. It didn’t feel like a validation because I know what the film is about. The film is through the eyes of Mathew’s character Roy and the phase of his life which involving Christy. In fact when I read the script for the first time my first thought was that ‘oh the film is entirely through a male gaze’. I didn’t know how I felt about it, but I wanted to experiment and do something different. Until you try, you’ll never know. So, I thought -- even if its through his perspective, let me try and play it a certain way. But I do wish the film had etched out better what goes through its female character’s mind. I actually wished that from the beginning. But there are battles you creatively win and some doesn’t pan out the way you want it. But on the whole, I still wanted to work with this team and the story like it.
This seems to be an unconventional romance … almost incestuous when a young boy professes love to an older person. Did you have any reservations while taking on the role
I genuinely don’t see what’s incestuous about a younger boy and older woman [forming a bond]. Incestuous is a term reserved for an entirely different scenarios. I had no reservation on taking up the role. It’s about a very pure emotion and it’s about love. Love has no barriers whether its religion, caste. We have seen such crazy scenarios like truth is stranger than fiction right. In the real world we have seen such crazy things happen in the name of love. Compared to that, this has absolutely nothing because it’s about two characters who are fond of each other. There is nothing controversial, sensational, or blasphemous about a situation like this.