…says South actress Sri Reddy, after the Telangana government constituted a high-level committee to look into issues of sexual harassment in the Telugu film & TV industry

Suhas.Yellapantula@timesgroup.com

Over a year after actress Sri Reddy stripped down and sat bare-chested on the streets in front of the Movie Artistes Association in Hyderabad, the Telangana government finally woke up to take concrete steps to deal with the menace of casting couch in Tollywood. The government recently set up a first-of-its-kind panel to look into issues of sexual harassment faced by women artistes in the Telugu film and TV industry.

The actress now feels vindicated that her efforts have not gone in vain. “This is a big slap on the face for all those people who mocked me and belittled me and my movement. People said that I was doing all this for publicity. Nobody took me seriously,” she says, returning to her combative self. “And yet, I have been relentlessly fighting to create a safer environment for women in the film industry and the government has finally relented. I hope women coming into the industry will not have to suffer like I have,” she adds.

Elaborating further on the ordeal that she went through over the last 12 months, Sri Reddy says, “Fans of Tollywood biggies called me a b***h and slut-shamed me for speaking out against a big family. I was subjected to the worst kind of abuse online. How can fans speak with such brazenness? It’s only because these ‘big families’ allow them to do so. I hope this committee will look into this too.”

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While Sri Reddy, who first raised the issue of casting couch in Tollywood in March 2018, six months before the #MeToo gained momentum in India, is happy with a government-appointed committee being in place, she hopes that it will actually bring about necessary change.

“My only concern is that certain ‘big names’ are now a part of this panel and I’m not sure if they will address the problems of artistes hailing from poor backgrounds. You see, most perpetrators of sexual harassment are connected or even related to powerful film families, so if their family members are a part of this committee, then how will they help these women?” she asks, adding, “These people are also not easily accessible. People sometimes have to wait for days just to get their appointment. Even then, there’s no guarantee that you will get to meet them. The victims are already traumatised and not many have the energy and will to wait for days for someone to just hear them out.”

‘SURVIVORS, WHO SPEAK UP, MUST ALSO BE ABLE TO WORK AGAIN IN THE INDUSTRY. OTHERWISE, THIS COMMITTEE IS AN EYEWASH’

While reporting an assault or harassment is one thing, surviving in the industry after coming out, is quite another task. Those who dare to speak up against their harassers are shunned by the industry and are left without any work, Sri Reddy points out.

“Today, I’m non-existent in the Telugu film industry. Opportunities stopped coming my way the moment I opened my mouth. The committee must ensure that women, who speak up won’t have to worry about losing opportunities and their livelihood. Only then will they be able to bring about a change. Otherwise, this is nothing but an eyewash,” she says, firmly.

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Twelve months after her nude protest shook the nation, Sri Reddy is a lot more calm, composed and even polished. For someone who rose to the limelight for using expletives publicly against big stars from the industry, Sri Reddy now chooses her words a lot more carefully. This marked difference is perhaps because she now feels the additional responsibility of taking forward the #MeToo movement and is the voice for women who feel powerless.

“My career is anyway finished and I’ve lost hope for myself. But at least I can speak up for these women and ensure what happened to me, does not happen to anybody else,” she quips, philosophically.

The high-level committee includes prominent faces from the industry, including producer Supriya Yarlagadda, film artistes Preeti Nigam, Sruthi, writer Pauruchuri Gopalakrishna, TV anchor Jhansi and directors N Shankar and Tammareddy Bharadwaja, besides govt officials, activists and SHE Teams members.

While welcoming the initiative, Sri Reddy takes a parting shot at all those who didn’t stand by her when she protested.

“Samantha decided to speak up when her friend Chinmayee was harassed. Rakul Preet only spoke up after Tanushree Dutta caused a stir in Bollywood. But not one person spoke in support of me. The hypocrisy is damning. The saddest part about the Telugu film industry is the selective outrage of the bigwigs. They must be called out for it,” she says, signing off.

Screenshot from the article published in Hyderabad Times after Sri Reddy’s shocking nude protest on April 7, 2018

SRI REDDY