What About Sri Reddy’s Nude Protest Outrages Us?


What About Sri Reddy’s Nude Protest Outrages Us?

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

Men have strange reactions when confronted with a woman asserting her gender. When I was young, we always knew that the only way to put otherwise stern male professors in a spot was by referring to “female problems” and slipping out of class. This confrontation of gender flummoxes most men and their attitudes range from shock to horror to dismissal. Please, they seem to say, please don’t put your girl things in my face.

It is the same reaction that the Malayalam magazine Grihalaxmi got when they put a breastfeeding mother on their cover last month. It is the same reaction that a professor at Farook Training College in Kerala had, when he allegedly made outlandish remarks about girl students’ breasts being on display “like watermelons”. It is the outrageous display of female-ness that these men are denying. And now Sri Reddy hasn’t merely gone and put her “female-ness in the face of the Bahubalis” of Tollywood – she has gone and put her entire female form. Naked.

To give you some background, Sri Reddy has been posting screenshots on her social media accounts for over a month, revealing the sexual exploitation embedded in the industry. She went on to even name a number of people. These public rants only provoked the Movie Artistes Association into denying her membership.

Incensed by their behaviour, she stood in a public parking lot and went topless.  

The reaction to Sri Reddy stripping has naturally surpassed any known and unknown benchmarks of this phenomenon. You could argue over the rightness or wrongness of Reddy’s methods, but save that for your dinner session. Think for a second about why exactly her chosen way has really pissed people off.

Men have strange reactions when confronted with a woman asserting her gender.

Reddy is simply saying: “Yes, I have been stripped several times over by men who have promised me work. Yes, I have even complied with the ‘deal’. But the work never came my way. I have bared for nothing. And there are many like me, who go through the same grind, who either shut up or are not paid heed to. So please stop this menace and give us justice.”

It is an outrageous thing to bare your own compromising position in the industry by admitting to having used the casting couch. Bollywood declines to even admit that the casting couch exists but when #MeToo happened in Hollywood, a lot of women came forward to confess that they’ve used the casting couch, given men blow jobs in hotel rooms, and submitted to sex. Their confessions in a more mature society only shine a light on the fact that these things happen, instead of victimising the woman who took part in it.

Forget the unlettered masses, or the men who’ve gone after her, even female social activists like Sunitha Krishnan have lashed out at Sri Reddy’s act by saying that she doesn’t deserve any sympathy and “Just because she’s a woman, it doesn’t mean she is holier than thou. Of course, casting couch exists in all film industries, but I have serious doubts about her allegations. What this lady is speaking is not as noble as it sounds.”

Deserve. Sympathy. Holy. Noble.

Many “moral” words there. So, who exactly are these women who are “more deserving” of our universal sympathy and probably the “justice” that follows? I’m guessing they come clad in six-yard saris, modest salwar suits, and fully masked burqas. Women who do not generally sleep around with things in pants, who don’t do late nights, or hang around with the wrong kind, who don’t “invite” propositions by being in a perpetual state of undress. Those kind right? And most definitely not the ones that relent to the casting couch in the hope of garnering some kind of work in the movies!

In the movie PINK, the protagonist goes out of her way and puts herself in judicial danger when she falsely states that she took money from her harassers. Even so, she argues, even if I am a woman who sells her body for an income, I am entitled to a redressal for abuse, just like all sex workers out there. It is, after all, my body. Only I have the right to decide who uses it, or in this case “misuses” it.

The idea of a woman using the casting couch and then protesting about not benefiting from it is a little like this. Just because I have used the casting couch, doesn’t mean I cannot ask for a fair chance from the system. It is – after all – a system run entirely by big, powerful men who belong to an industry that churns out the country’s biggest and most expensive movies. When all the men who are playing this game are BIG – big producers, big directors, big stars, big financers – it is obvious that power runs through the very veins of this industry like lifeblood.

Sri Reddy is neither “regular” nor does she have any support.

What then, are the least powerful to do? Put the only weapon they have at their disposal to make their statement and if you’re an Indian woman, your female-ness is your most dangerous weapon and women can use it.  

That’s exactly what the women did in the aftermath of the “watermelon” incident. A furore followed on social media, where women posted semi-nude pictures and also posed with sliced watermelons. Twenty-five-year-old Arathy SA was among those who posted her own bare-chested nude picture in protest. Her husband joined her in her protest and posted her picture too. Arathy said, “I am upset with the hypersexualisation of breasts by people. Whether it be professors in college or social media users seeing a model breastfeeding and pose for a magazine…”

Here, see it, is the sentiment. Shove your face in it, for all I care.

And that is the sentiment of Sri Reddy. Here, she’s saying. Isn’t this all you wanted to see anyway? Women like Arthy SA had her husband for support and there were many like her on social media platforms who were part of the protest in their own capacity. These were everyday people, who were enraged by an issue.

Sri Reddy is neither “regular” nor does she have any support. Not from her own fraternity, not from her own people, and not even on social media platforms. In fact, the internet has surfaced in a ghoulish form, out to crush her. There’s blaming, shaming, judging and jokes made on the Sri Reddy “striptease”. A Twitter commenter stated: “For the first time I have lost respect for women and feel disgust. For God’s sake please leave this industry #SriReddy (sic).” Another said, “There are so many ways to protest and sort these things out but the manner in which Sri Reddy has protested is disgusting.”

The MAA, after refusing her membership, has also asked other actors and directors not to collaborate with her. Office-bearer Sivaji Raja has just gone on record saying, “Action will be taken against any artiste who decides to share screen space with her! As per our by-laws, we have the right to tell our artistes not to work with her. We’ve already filed a police complaint against her. The way she’s behaving is embarrassing.”

If Sivaji Raja and the rest of the world were less embarrassed by women putting their gender out there, we would perhaps begin to focus on the real issue here. MAA would make a cursory effort to look into the issue. They might even have a redressal bench like CASH (Committee Against Sexual Harassment) in place. They might take umbrage at the predators Reddy has named and shamed.

Because really, those are the people Raja – and the rest of us – should be embarrassed about. A little nudity we can tolerate; sexual harassment, we cannot.