Parvathy Image Credit: Supplied

“My conscience is a [expletive],” declares Parvathy, the Indian National Award-winning Malayalam actress over the phone from Canada as she makes us understand that having a clean conscience is what makes her sleep better at night.

Though Parvathy is nursing a nasty bout of jet lag, her thoughts are crystal clear as she speaks about her latest romance My Story, out in UAE cinemas now, and her fearless stand on addressing misogyny and sexism in Malayalam cinema.

Make changes in their personal life. Stop laughing at a sexist joke. Stop laughing at a racist joke. Stop being a part of the locker room talk. Stay away from those. Make small changes in your own life.” — Parvathy on creating a gender-neutral society.

For all those in the dark, Parvathy spoke openly at the International Film Festival of Kerala in December last year about how it was cringe-worthy to witness a Malayalam superstar mouth misogynistic lines in one of his films. She was alluding to Mammootty’s action drama, Kasaba, in which he played a brash police officer who threatened his female colleague that he would forcibly make her lose her monthly period. Ever since that episode, Parvathy has been receiving rape and death threats online.

“I am not asking them to change and agree with me, I am just asking them to listen... You have people who have the money and the power to engage in cyber attacks and trolling. You don’t run away from it, you just sit and watch. The truth is going to come out anyway,” said Parvathy in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!.

Excerpts from our interview with the feisty actress...

Very little is known about Taara from My Story. What should we know about your character?

My Story came to me when I was shooting for the film Take Off. Sameera, my character in Take Off, was extremely intense. I needed a departure from that space. I wasn’t sure how, but I remember thinking that once Take Off is done, I would take a break for a few months. Usually, that never plays out. So while I was shooting for Take Off, I got a call from Roshni [Dinaker director]. I knew her from my times in Ennum Ninte Moideen when she came to meet Prithvi [actor Prithviraj and her co-star in My Story] on location for the same film. We got to chatting and she gave me this brief one liner. To be honest, I wasn’t too sure because I was so immersed in the space of playing Sameera in Take Off and I was not able to see it objectively. I told her that I wanted to hear the full narration. Shanker Ramakrishnan, who had written the script, gave me a three-hour-long narration and I was drawn to it immediately.

Parvathy and Prithviraj in 'My Story'.

Does it upset you as an actor when you read mixed reviews of My Story?

I do read reviews. As an artist, my only relationship to my audience is through my work. That relationship is sacred to me. Reviews help me study. There are reviews in which where they unanimously speak about a particular point and I take it objectively. I am not a super female in this industry. I have been here for 13 years now and I have just been in 20 movies. Until Bangalore Days happened, a huge commercial success had not happened to me. I will be eternally grateful to this writer Elizabeth Gilbert who said that success and failure is equally disorienting. So, I believe that you cannot survive in your past glory nor can you survive in your past failures. You’ve got to just come back home, create more work and move on. Reviews are extremely subjective, but I have respect for them. I can’t take it personally.

So, is it disillusioning when director Roshni calls a press conference and says the actors haven’t done the requisite work to promote My Story?

At this point, I would like to not comment on that. I would like the focus to remain on the film itself... I am speaking to her about it privately. It is a private journey for me between me, the producers and the director. I understand where she is coming from. But there are so many things that have not been spoken about there. I think, the focus needs to remain on the work of art. But at no point have any of her teammates left her. We are going to be always there for her. It’s our film too.

Parvathy and Irrfan Khan in Hindi film ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’ (2017).

Did My Story suffer due to the backlash you received after your comments on misogyny? Is it fair if people fail to separate art from the artist?

It is unfair, but these are the times we are living in. It’s both fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunately, this is happening in Malayalam cinema which has always had this streak of progressiveness in its art forms. If you look at our cinema, we were always ahead of our time. Coming from that legacy, I am not surprised that in Malayalam cinema, there is such a revolution is happening. Everyone is sitting up and discussing what exactly is going wrong here. So from the outside, it may seem like chaos. But what is happening here is progress. There’s no deafening silence in our Malayalam industry. I see it as an extremely positive thing... Like I said, time’s up.

But you seem to be paying a personal price for it...

It’s not even personal... Yes, there are moments where you feel enraged and disappointed at my society. But I don’t distance myself from the society either. Trust me, there are many like me who want to speak the same things. But I have a stage and a space to speak about it. There are many who have been writing to me and supporting me saying: ‘Please don’t stop because your voice is helping them bring their own voices forward.’ It may take time for them to surface... Just because something wrong has been done for a gazillion years, it doesn’t make it right. For us to shift the mantle, it will take a long time. We have to pay a hefty price to it. But it’s worth it. It’s for my progeny, it’s for my niece, for my friend’s daughters. And, because I have gone through things that I don’t ever want them to go through.

I am objective about what is happening. My job as an artist is anthropological in nature. People think acting is all about glamour. But acting reflects real life. There is no oil-in-water situation when it comes to men and women liking me. There are so many men who have come forward and loved the fact that I have spoken up. They say that I have started a conversation. And, there are so many women who cannot stand me. There are women who are conditioned to be patriarchal who are uncomfortable with what’s happening. That’s more disturbing... I am not asking them to change and agree with me, I am just asking them to listen.

But do your loved ones fear for your safety?

Of course they do. But they know me way too well and they know that the minute the truth is stuck in my throat, I cannot hold it in. It’s almost like a chemical reaction. I really don’t know how else to be. I would jump off a cliff rather than lie to my own conscience. My conscience is a [expletive]. Telling the truth is as important to me as sleeping and eating... I choose whatever helps me sleep at night. I owe all my decisions to it.

But you are a minority in the Malayalam industry...

I am an optimist and I feel that the majority haven’t found their voice. The reason I am the way I am is because I am a person first and then my gender. When you make the right decision to speak, then you appeal to your humanity as a person and not as a woman or a man.

2018 saw your life touching a major high with your multiple wins for Take Off and also plummet to new lows when you were trolled and threatened for speaking your mind.

I am living the highest of highs at this point. But I am not saying that the highest of highs are easy to live with. I don’t believe that the highest of highs should be all happy and dandy. The highest of highs is attained when you lead your life with a clean conscience and be a good citizen. It’s not an easy space to be in. I want all of us to co-exist. So, when women or transgenders ask for their rights, it is not mutually exclusive to men losing their rights.

Parvathy and Prithviraj in 'My Story'.

So you are not a man-hating feminist, as the stereotype goes.

Men have been my role models all my life. Sometimes, it’s harder to find your own tribe in women because women have been conditioned to believe that they are alone in their struggles. I got lucky that my father, my brother and my closest friends — all men — have treated me as a person first, then a woman. They made sure that I wasn’t encapsulated into just my gender. I am definitely not man-hating. My very first feminist that I encountered in my life was my father and he doesn’t even know he is feminist. He is just a person who respects men and women alike. My problem is not with men but with their societal conditioning. I want people to know that while it is difficult now, I wouldn’t go back and do anything differently in my life. There is a reason why these things happen. I am not paying the price for anything. I am paying the rightful price for the right result that you are going to get. Nobody can be comfortable during change and as an artist it is up to me to disturb the comfortable. You got to wake them up and ask them questions...I want everyone to know that we are not alone in this. We just seek your support.

Don’t miss it!

My Story is currently showing across the UAE.