Violence against women in Kerala is a burning issue and consummate actors Aparna Gopinath and Anusree will shine a light on the topic in their latest film ‘Safe’, out in the UAE on November 12.
It’s a socially relevant film that will make you think, believes theatre actor Gopinath, best known for her role as a spunky journalist in the serial killer thriller ‘Munariyuppu’, starring Mammootty.
“In today’s time and place, there’s this necessity for women to be consistently safe and aware of where and who are you with… On one hand, we women are trying to be individualistic, independent and trying to leave a mark in this world; but on the other hand, we have this constant fear of going out alone or at a certain place at night,” said Gopinath in an interview during a press junket in Dubai last week.
In ‘Safe’, directed by Pradeep Kalipurayath, 35-year-old Gopinath plays police officer Shreya who trains all her energies towards nabbing a serial sexual predator. Her character is intelligent, sensitive and rarely uses brutal force while putting criminals behind bars.
“She’s not your over-the-top cop that you see in films generally. She doesn’t go around with the attitude that ‘I can kill everybody with my muscles flexed’. There was this necessity to be more than just physical and it was interesting to me as an actor to explore who I was going to investigate and why,” said Gopinath. Joining her in her mission is actress Anusree who plays an idealistic activist who is fighting for an app called ‘SAFE’ to be developed to ensure the safety of women. It’s like an Uber for women safety, explains partner in crime Anusree, alluding to the popular ride-hailing app.
“We are trying to show how a technology can be utilised positively to make it a safe haven for women… This movie will make you think about such a possibility where women can step out at night without being worried about their safety,” said Anusree in Malayalam.
According to reports, more than 16,755 cases of rape were reported in the last 12 years in Kerala, a state which boasts of 100 per cent literacy and a high socio-development index.
‘Safe’, produced by writer Shaji Pallarimangalam and Dubai-based former media executive Sarju Mathew, has been made on a modest budget and was shot in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
It was the richness of the idea that attracted Anusree and Gopinth to throw their weight behind this film that doesn’t boast massive budgets or A-lister actors from the Malayalam film industry.
“In other parts of the world, perpetrators of sexual violence and predators have this fear that if they commit a crime, they will be punished. They are somehow scared of the consequences. But in Kerala, there’s no such fear in a perpetrator’s minds. They walk with the confidence that they can walk scot-free because there are aware of the loop holes in the law,” said Anusree, who believes that women are vulnerable in her country and many cases of violence against them go unreported.
Were they ever subjected to sexual misconduct by their own peers from the entertainment industry that’s plagued by #MeToo accusations? Ironically, both artists claim that they have never faced any such discrimination in their line of work.
“It’s never been from my industry… Perhaps, train stations or bus stops is where I felt I had to show my knuckles at someone. When I go cycling outside, they pass off weird remarks. Of course, you want to punch them and hit them in their wrong place, but you are one against four men and you know that they can overpower you in seconds… The only solution is to be constantly aware of your surrounding and to watch our backs,” said Gopinath.
Eve teasing and passing lewd remarks at women on the street is common place and people are discussing it after the arrival of social media sharing.
“Because of social media, we are able to know these things. It is not that they didn’t exist before… Train incidents happened to me way before social media. It has always been there, but it’s social media that triggered a conversation about it.”
Anusree, who was acclaimed director Lal Jose’s discovery in his Dubai-set blockbuster ‘Diamond Necklace’ starring Fahadh Faasil, has never faced sexual predators in her short-but-eventful career.
“I have never had a #MeToo experience … But in any industry, if you are starting out you may have to face unpleasant experiences. Due to blessings of God or perhaps Lal Jose my mentor, I have never had such experiences,” said Anusree, adding that empathised with those women who had spoken out.
Gopinath and Anusree’s motives are painfully simple. They want their film — that’s a departure from the usual star-driven vehicles — to trigger a meaningful conversation about how technology could be used for greater good of women.
“Imagine creating an app where we can keep track of each other, help family, friends or neighbours in trouble… I want ‘Safe’ to trigger the social community consciousness in us. This movie is for all those abused women, children and older women who didn’t have the possibility of being safe. We want to spark a curiosity among our people,” said Gopinath.
The movie has been met with mixed reviews since its release in India. But both actors are happy with the reception that their women-led project received.
“Even ‘Munnariyuppu’ [award-winning film] had mixed reviews. They somehow didn’t want to accept Mammukka [Mammootty] in that chair [of a serial killer]. I remember going to Angamally and where a fan said: ‘I loved the film, but I didn’t understand anything… My mamukka was great’,” said Gopinath. Her 2014 breakthrough role as Anjali Arakkal, a journalist who enlists a CK Raghavan [Mammootty] to write his own biography about his jail term after killing two women, was a cerebral thriller that had a visceral violent ending.
“But it did well… So you somehow learn to take the roses and the brickbats that are thrown at you… Here’s hoping ‘Safe’ triggers a conversation about the safety of women and the need for a app that ensures their safety,” said Gopinath.
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Safe is out in the UAE on November 14.