Rohini and Nithya Menen Speak in Indian Cinema as Actresses See It

"From the Mother India to an Urban Love Romance Heroin, Feminist Representation in Indian Films"


The dialogue below is literally transcribed from what we discussed in the symposium. In cosideration of copyright and privacy protection, the questions issued by the audience alone are summerized.

Professor
Toshio Akai
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Good Afternoon. It’s my great pleasure to welcome all of you to our symposium entitled Indian Cinema as Actresses See It. This symposium is to make public the interim outcome of my own research that is subsidized by Japanese Society for the Promotion of the Science – Kakenhi in Japanese. And its purpose is to probe the development of feminine images represented in male-icons-dominant Indian films and to elucidate how the embodiment of the visual manifestation is accorded with the modernization of Indian society.

To make this symposium productive, I’ve invited two eminent guest speakers here – one is Mrs. Rohini and the other is Ms. Nithya Menen. So Rohini and Nithya, would you give some short greetings to my audience.
Rohini
Hello! Good afternoon! I’m really happy to be here. I thank Kobe Gakuin University – did I get the name right, Akai san?
Professor Akai
Yes, Kobe Gakuin!
Rohini
And Akai san for inviting me here, so I’m here in front of you. When I stepped in Osaka airport out from the aircraft, it was very cold. It was so cool, but I realized that after meeting Japanese here, you’re also very cool. See, the cultural ties between two countries are very important. Only through such endeavors, we will be able to know each other’s cultures. Because countries are not just borders and things on map, it is people and emotions. What is the best way other than connecting art – through art alone, we can connect. So, we are here to connect through art. Thank you so much for having us!
Professor Akai
And Nithya, please.
Nithya
Konichiwa! I just want to start off by saying, if I’m coughing incessantly throughout the program, please excuse me because I’m just recovering from a really bad cold, and my cough has not yet left, so excuse that please. Me and Akai san have been planning this for about two years now. He wanted me to come and speak here, and I definitely wanted to come and visit Japan. And finally, after a bit of – a lot of back and forth, I’m finally here and we are finally doing this symposium and I’m very, very happy. I’m very surprised that so many Japanese would be so interested in these small intricate details that happen in our film industry. I’m surprised that the government would subsidize this – would pay for this. I’m so thrilled that the Japanese government can be like that, that they can allow something like this to happen. So, thank you all for being here. And hopefully, you will get to take something out of this symposium. Lastly, this is an academic meeting, so if you are pictures and stuff, I would request you to put your phone silent – let’s not make this a paparazzi thing, it’s purely an academic thing. Thank you.
Professor Akai
Thank you very much! Okay. I think all of you have a copy of the flier of the symposium in your hand. And on the reverse side of it, I wrote Rohini and Nithya’s brief biographical data and select filmography. As you can understand well in reading it, Rohini and Nithya’s careers include not only being distinguished actors, but also other diverse activities such as dubbing artist, lyricist, playback singer, and director. This means Rohini and Nithya’s capacity is very multi-talented, quite versatile. And the rich experience in diverse departments of filmmaking is most adequate to the purpose of this symposium – that is to make clearer feminine images expressed in Indian cinema. What Rohini and Nithya have been watching there and more importantly what they have tried to express there assure to help us to understand it.

The title of this symposium is Indian Cinema as Actresses See It. You know that there are some matters about the film world which are only known to the world where the film is being made. There are a lot of things that conceal as long as we are watching a film in movie theater or on TV or DVD. Hopefully, Rohini and Nithya’s speech will enable us to touch with what we call insider information, and it must inspire us great. Today, we might be able to take a glimpse of the world behind the silver screen – it’s extremely exciting!

But before entering the detailed matters, I would like to explain another reason why I chose them as an informant. And to make it clear, we have to enter the problem of languages. As it’s well known, India has the biggest film industry in the world. Watch that graph on the screen, and you can understand that the number of films produced there exceed ten-hundreds every year. But this does not mean that the population of more than 12,000 million are watching the same, or more correctly saying, homogeneous films. The industry is divided by languages like Hindi-, Tamil-, or Telugu-speaking industry. And the Indian people prefer to watch films where their mother tongue is used and pay little attention to other language ones. Is it correct?

Let’s see the map on the screen. This shows linguistic distribution in India and… Hindi and its sister languages cover North India. And in South India (this is the area I’m specializing, and where Rohini and Nithya were born and raised) the languages are entirely different from the area where Hindi is dominant. They are (from North to South) Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, and Malayalam. Another important point is that this map also shows the distinction of Indian states – this black line means the state border. In other words, Indian states are established upon speakers of each native language. Theoretically speaking, Tamil Nadu is a state where Tamil-speaking people are living and Karnataka is a world chiefly for Kannada speakers.

More importantly, this map also shows the distinction of Indian film industries. Tamil films are made only for Tamil-speaking people who are the people living in Tamil Nadu. And the area where Telugu film is available is within the state border of Andhra Pradesh. More correctly saying, now Andhra Pradesh is divided into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. But the people living in Telangana are also Telugu speakers. So, Telugu film still is for Telugu-speaking people. It is not easy for a certain language film to be exported to another state – so, a Telugu film exported to Tamil Nadu or a Telugu film exported to Karnataka.

Each industry has its own way of filmmaking and esthetic inclination. If you are knowledgeable enough of all four kinds of films, it is not hard to distinguish them. You know in intuition like, “Oh this way of narration is very Telugu-like,” or, “This is a typical Malayalam film,” it’s very easy to discern.

Nithya, you experienced the four-language industries. Would you give us some examples, a definite difference between them?
Nithya
I speak all the four languages. I speak Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil. Malayalam is my mother tongue, ancestrally; but I was born in Karnataka, which speaks Kannada. So, I can read and write Kannada. Tamil and Telugu, I just – Tamil I know, Telugu I learnt from the influence.

You want to talk about the dubbing of different…
Professor Akai
For example, which language you love most because – to show your strong emotion, which language is best for you or…
Nithya
For me, because of this diverse thing that I have with South India, most languages, I find it very easy to talk all the languages. I find Telugu to be extremely beautiful language, and so I learnt it very soon. So, now I can speak Telugu quite fluently because I love the language. Malayalam, of course being my mother tongue I know it. And Kannada is a language, which is the most closest to my heart because that’s where I was born. I can read and write, and since I was a kid that’s the language I have heard. Like that, I find that all languages are comfortable with, and so I work in all industries and I dub for my – should we get into dubbing now?
Professor Akai
Yes, you can go on.
Nithya
I dub for all the languages on my own, as in I give my own voice in all the four languages.
Professor Akai
So, how she gave her language to each language, I will show one example for you later. Okay, thank you so much for your comment. And what I would like to say is that a clearest distinction is seen between North and South. North India is a market for Hindi films, otherwise called Bollywood, and the industry is the largest and most authentic. However, at the graph on this screen shows…
Rohini
Excuse me? I would like to make a little correction. Hindi films are released all over India. They have a national appeal. Unlike, a Tamil film may not have the same kind of appeal in North India or a Bengali film will not have an appeal in Tamil Nadu. But Hindi film has a Pan-India appeal. It releases everywhere. They have a market.
Professor Akai
Thank you so much. What I wanted to say is – and this is the percentage of the Indian films by languages – Hindi 17%, Tamil 16%, Telugu 14%, Kannada 11%, Malayalam 8%, and other languages 34%. If seen only in the quantity, the four industries of South, if combined, produce films, which exceed Bollywood in number. So, we can comprehend these four industries consisting as a single large film market, South Indian films collectively.

Just before I said, a film spoken in one language is hard to export to another language market. This sounds strange to Japanese ears. For example, a huge amount of American films are imported to Japanese market and Japanese audience enjoy watching them even if unable to understand English. Why? This is due to Japanese subtitles and Japanese dubbing of dialogues in the film. How about the situation in India? Firstly, the subtitles do not work in Indian market well. Not so high rate of literacy is one reason, I think. And strangely enough, the dubbing also does not work so well. This is quite strange, and I’ve never come across a theory to explain this satisfactorily. But Indian people extraordinarily mind “lips synchronization.” This means they love to watch the actor’s lip moving exactly at the voice they are hearing is pronounced. Let’s think about the case when we are watching a dubbed version of American movies or anime. Japanese words start when an American actor begins to speak and it ends when the dialogue is finished. But between that, moving of the lips is entirely different from the dubbed Japanese uttering. We aren’t much care of it, but Indian people are. Howsoever an actor acting well and howsoever he speaks emotionally, Indian audiences turn away from it if his lips don’t synchronize with uttering of his dialogue.

This makes us understand what an Indian actor should do. He or she must move his or her lips as if understanding the language the audience uses every day, and this should be done even if the actor does not know the language. And another important point is that a skilled performance of a dubbing artist is necessary to generate natural frequency in the dialogue. The example I’m going to show you from now is taken from a Tamil film entitled Iruvar. This is a work created by a famous director, Mani Ratnam. And this is also known as a debut work of Aishwarya Rai, the winner of Miss World 1994 and now the most well-known actress in Bollywood. You should know that Aishwarya is not a Tamil speaker, so she spoke the dialogue as prompter (standing somewhere behind) instructed and her voice was later dubbed by a dubbing artist who of course knew well Tamil language.

I will show you the clips.
Rohini
Not always there is a prompter, but they learn the dialogues. Lots of actors, they learn the dialogue. And not because of illiteracy, the films have this kind of lips synchronization, it is because…

(Video)
Professor Akai
So, now you understand that Aishwarya on the screen speaks quite naturally and emotionally and moving her lips is well synchronized with the voice uttered.

Can you guess who dubbed Aishwarya Rai?
A voice from the flloor
Rohini.
Professor Akai
Yes, you are correct!
Rohini
There are so many Indians there!
Professor Akai
She is no other than Rohini who is sitting here.

Rohini, you remember this dialogue?!
Rohini
I don’t remember the dialogue – sorry! But I would like to share some experience, which I had in Iruvar. I would like to say it is not because of illiteracy that we have this lips synchronization. We Indians really want the film-viewing experience, totally. So, we do not want to shift our eyes from the face to the subtitles and again back to the face, or when there is no lips synchronization, you are reminded that it is not the same language the voice is talking. It is a wholesome experience we are used to and we love it, and as filmmakers we try to give that kind of wholesome experience to the viewer. That’s why we take this very, very careful lips synchronization when we are dubbing – even English films.

This particular Iruvar film, I had worked with Mani sir earlier in two films that were Idhayathai Thirudathe (Geethanjali) and Bombay. When he wanted me for Iruvar, he was very apprehensive because he thought he does not want the same voice, like – or his heroine should not sound the same. He said in the beginning itself, “I’m just going to try your voice. You are not going to dub. I’m not saying you are dubbing.” I said, “Okay, sir,” because I know him. For Roja also I tried, and he was not happy with my voice on Madhubala’s face. And when I saw her voice, I said, “Her voice is sounding very nice. Why are you asking me to dub?” He thought she had a very Brahmanical sound, but then he went with Madhubala’s voice for Roja. So, I knew that he would try – if he is not happy, he is not going to take me, even though I’m a very good friend of Mani sir.

So, when we tried – there are two characters in Iruvar for Aishwarya. He tried for the first character – I tried to imitate, I tried to get the essence of Aishwarya’s voice as she was talking. She is a convent going girl, and she had this [diva?] and her style and it came through the character, because that actress was like that. She didn’t want to act in films – I’m going to study and all that. And it was there when she spoke as an actor, she could bring it. So, I just copied her modulation, her arrogance, her base voice. But after we did that, he was happy for this character, Kalpana – this is Kalpana.

And as I was going, he asked me, “I want you to come another day” – because Mani sir is a very, very meticulous filmmaker – “and I want you to try for the other character.” I said, “Why you want me to come another day?” “Maybe your voice would sound different.” And that was true. When I went another day, he said, “When will your voice sound very soft?” And I said, “Around 3 o’clock, 3 PM.” “Okay, you come at 3 PM next time.” And then I went and he told me that, “You know, a village girl, very timid, very thin, so scared,” and he said, “I want you to get that.” And then I did whatever he told me, and he was okay with that voice also. I was so happy when he actually selected me for the second character rather than the first character because that was more difficult.

There was a scene in this film where Kalpana says, “If you don’t call me by her name” – I don’t remember the first character’s name – “I’m going to jump off from the jeep,” and she jumps off. Mohanlal says, “No, I’m not going to call you,” and she jumps off. And there is this rolling shot where Mani sir said, “I want you to roll and see.” And he does that. When I was dubbing for Geethanjali, there was this climax – I think a lot of Telugu people are here, they remember the climax of Geethanjali where there is a lot of rain and she speaks, she says “adi veray edi verey. Nakey amaina paravaleydu, Neky amaina avakudadhu” But it is in the rain, so he said, “Go home, stand under the shower, and practice.” So when I was standing under the shower, it was sounding okay to me, and I came back to the theater – how do I act as if I’m soaking up in the rain? So, what I did was like, I was doing this in front of the [words not comprehensible] and it worked.

There is one place where I run, run, run, run and go in front of Nagarjuna and say, “I love you.” And then it should sound as if I’m like out of breath and it should not come as if like I really mean it because she doesn’t mean it, she is actually trying to be mischievous. He said, “Go, run and come.” And I went and ran and came and I said, “I love you!” It didn’t mean anything, but at the end of the film where she is on the bed and she has gone to the railway station in Geethanjali, she is actually on the deathbed and she is out of a very, very serious surgery and she has to say, “Shall we elope?” in Telugu, “Lechipodama!” So he said, “I don’t want that wetness of the word, like your mouth is wet when you are talking, it should not come like that, it should be so dry.” So I had to, “Lechipodama,” you know, that dryness.

These are the kind of techniques, which some directors let us try. As a dubbing artist, as a voice actor, I would feel like – I was fortunate to work with great directors like Mani sir. And Ram Gopal Varma’s first movie Shiva also, he came and he asked me. I was not interested in dubbing, but then I said, “Show me your film. If it is your film…” because he was a newcomer, I couldn’t throw my weight. “If you show the film and if I like the character, I will dub.” I saw the first two reels of Shiva, I was floored. I said, “I’m dubbing this film!” So, that is how as a voice actor – till now till Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, I really enjoyed this part of dubbing art. Thank you.
Professor Akai
Okay, thank you so much. Rohini’s explanation must incite your curiosity of her own voice in her own movie. I’m going to show an excerpt from the Virumandi. But before that, I would like to emphasize that a good dubbing artist should emulate passion and sentiment of the actress as if she is acting the role itself – is it correct?
Rohini
Yes. It should match the frame of the body of that actor and also there will be some intonations of that person when they are talking – you should try to match that – and also the body language of that person and also the character. It is a very interesting combination, if you look at – like, a writer is creating a character, particularly if you take Kalpana – the writer wrote the character; the director saw it in a different way; but the actress, when she does it, she adds her own part of it; and then when I do it, I take in everything, and also there is unmistakably my part also in that. But when the culmination of all these things comes out, it is the totality of the character which needs to stand out. If somebody says that, “I saw this film and you dubbed very well,” I take it as an insult to me as a dubbing actor, because I want the performance in totality. Some people, when they watched Bombay, they did not know who dubbed for her, Manisha Koirala. That was a compliment to me – though I’m invisible, nobody actually praises the dubbing artist’s work, I’m okay with that. Like in art direction, I would like to take two minutes in that because it is like that. In Verumandi, first they went to shoot the filming in Madurai, actual location, but they had some problem – Mr. Kamal Hassan had some problem. So, they created Madurai locations in Chennai, in an open ground, and the art director made it look so real, he didn’t get an award for the film because it was looking so real!
Professor Akai
Okay, so I will show one excerpt from Verumandi, a 2004 Tamil movie. The director was Kamal Hassan. And this is the very first part of the movie.

(Video)

So Rohini, you have something to add to the – you need to explain the situation, this situation different from your…
Rohini
Dubbing experience?
Professor Akai
Yes.
Rohini
Yes. Definitely, because I’m in front of the camera, so I can be very free. The only thing I have to have in mind is that I have to suit the character the writer has written. It is a documentary filmmaker and she is a lawyer and she is making a documentary on capital punishment, that is hanging by death, and she has a back story. This is very important because earlier, before the Indian cinema was brought out of those, we had only sync sound, that is live sound. Actors were saying the dialogues in their language. Only actors were selected who knew the language, and they could also sing sometimes. It is called live sound. That is the way Hollywood films are all – everywhere films are made. There is no dubbing as such. Only when the films started making outdoor films like, you know too much of outdoor and all that, so much of disturbance, they started dubbing the films for the characters. Sometimes when they started bringing Bombay heroines, like if you – all the Japanese will be very, very familiar with Murattu Kaalai of Rajinikanth – Rajinikanth film Murattu Kaalai, there is this actress called Rati, she is from Bombay, so her voice had to be dubbed – even Manisha Koirala. So when actors or actresses, when they were being brought from the other regional language, this dubbing came in hand. But now, again, the trend in Indian cinema is coming back to sync sound, that is live sound. Verumandi is done in live sound. And the film I directed, it’s going to be released, that is also done in live sound and OK, O Kadhal Kanmani.
Nithya
Ok Kanmani is also directed by Mani Ratnam sir and I have acted in it and we did sync sound for the entire film.
Rohini
Yes. Now, in Hindi films, eight out of ten films are live sound, there is no dubbing. Even if there is an actor who cannot speak, only that character alone will be dubbed.
Professor Akai
Thank you so much. So, now you can understand that simple dubbing as we have in Japan, the dubbing with lips synchronization I mean, is not welcomed in India. Another way of making a film to be received well in a different language market is to make two language versions simultaneously – Tamil and Telugu, for example – although the setting, story and actors are almost entirely the same. This is called “bilingual.”
Rohini
Bilingual.
Professor Akai
Yes. So, let us see the example. In 2011, a romantic comedy entitled 180 was released in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It featured as Siddharth as the hero and Nithya Menen as the heroine. This means that two versions of the same film, that is Telugu language and Tamil language versions, were made at the same time, but no dubbing artist was used. Siddharth and Nithya spoke Tamil and Telugu, in both versions using their own voices. I’ve excerpted exactly the same scene from Tamil version and Telugu version, and I will show you now.

(Video)

This means that the same shot was taken twice for different languages. How tiresome it is! Nithya, you once told me that shooting 180 exhausted you. Would you let us know more about that? What had taken place in the shooting site?
Nithya
Akai san, I have seen this after many years – so many years, and my voice is so different, I sound like a baby! It was so many years ago, I’m so surprised! Yes, so I have done a lot of bilingual films, which is Tamil-Telugu. Usually it’s Tamil-Telugu because they are the biggest industries. Everyone wants to do a bilingual in Telugu because Telugu is the largest commercial industry. Telugu people watch films all the time – they watch all the films. So, it makes sense commercially – I’m saying business-wise – to do a film in Telugu. I have done a couple of films. How we do it is that we shoot the same exact scene parallelly. For example, this scene on the road, we go on the road – first they ask, “Which one do you want to do first?” “Okay, we will do the Tamil first.” So, we do the whole scene in Tamil, we finish the scene, see the take – okay, cut, shot okay, next, Telugu. We look at our Telugu scripts, we learn the Telugu line, and then we do the scene again in Telugu. So, I have to do every scene twice. As an actor, it becomes extremely exhausting, especially if the scene is emotional or if it takes a lot out of you. You finish a scene and you feel calm, you feel okay – closure. But if it’s a bilingual, you have to do it again, and you have to do it in a different language, you have to learn those lines and do it again. So, it can be very very tiresome, and I find it very tiring.

One interesting thing I want to add about dubbing in two different languages is unlike – like Akai san was just saying, if an American film comes to Japan, you just dub it simply in Japanese, you just translate it, say the same thing – nothing else matters. But when you are doing Indian film, because of the proximity, say a Telugu person is not really very interested in a Tamil film, he wants to watch a Telugu film, so what we do is we change everything, we change the setting. Like, if the lead actor in a Tamil film, the lead actor is from Madurai and the lead actress is from Coimbatore, the name leads; in Telugu, they will make it, lead actor is from Vizag and actress is from Vijayawada. They change the setting, they change completely to make it look like this is a Telugu setting. We even change the number plates. If you notice very carefully, we have the auto or my bike, which I’m sitting on, we change the number plates. So, we do the first shot in Tamil with TN Tamil Nadu number plate, we do the whole shot and see the shot – okay, shot okay, next, Telugu – and everybody runs with the Andhra Pradesh number plate, AP number plate, and we go on stick it on that. So, we change the whole setting. It’s not just a simple dubbing. It is making it look like this is a Tamil film and this is a Telugu film. That kind of proximity we need to create in Indian setting; otherwise, they don’t want to see it. They want to know that my actors are from Andhra Pradesh or my actors are from Tamil Nadu, this whole thing is happening in Tamil Nadu – they need to know that.
Professor Akai
Okay, thank you. Well, the reason I have been discussing about the linguistic difference and its relationship with film industry so long in this way is try to emphasize the female actress, if talented enough, can pass over the boundary of language and that is also a boundary dividing film industries. This is very contrary to the case of male actors, especially the heroes. Each industry has its own hierarchy of heroes group, and it forms a pyramid with a superstar on the top of it. Rajinikanth is on the top of it of the Tamil pyramid and lots of newcomers at the bottom. And fierce competition is taking place in order to ascend the ladders within that pyramid. But once reached to a certain standard, the life of a hero is longer than a heroine. This is because Indian film is quite hero-centered, in other words the film is basically made to narrate the hero’s actions. And in that sense, the heroine is only attached with it, like an ornament I should say, to emphasize the lead male actor’s heroism. She is not treated equally with the hero, no matter how she is favored by filmgoers. She can be easily substituted with another actress, especially when grown older. Her life is shorter than heroes. Such is the format of Indian films, and this format is very robust.

However, a heroine has an advantage that a hero is unable to have. If talented well, like Rohini and Nithya, she can transgress the linguistic border of industries and ascend to reach a higher position of wider budget. On the contrary, a hero is bound within his own linguistic world. A hero once working in a lesser industry has grown up and consequently jumps into the bigger industry. No such cases are ever heard – no such cases. That’s because a hero must speak the language to which he himself and his industry belongs and no dubbing of his voice is allowed. In a sense, the hero’s voice symbolizes the local linguistic community, a group of race, itself called like Tamilans, Andrawaras, Malayalees, and Kannadigas, and therefore it must not be replaced. This is the reason why a cinema hero is necessary for each industry. He looks glorious and always stays in the center of the film, but he is a prisoner in the cage of his own industry. But heroines are free from such restriction. Transgressing of linguistic borders is the shrewd tactics female actors can employ, and such a pattern of behavior is interpreted as embodiment of their femininity.

This is the end of my long, long introduction. Next, we will enter into the discussion with my guests and try to reveal what is happening behind the silver screen. But now we have a five minutes' intermission. We will start from 4 past 2.

(Intermission)

So, first I will show you the pictures taken at the shooting places; I made this slide of the pictures Nithya gave me, all are taken with the films in which she has recently acted.
Nithya
This is me dubbing for my own film.
Professor Akai
And this is a film…
Nithya
Ok Kanmani.
Professor Akai
Malli Malli Idi Rani Roju?
Nithya
Malli Malli Idi Rani Rojui.
Professor Akai
These are the titles of the movies she recently acted. This is already released this year, and these are all the forthcoming.
Nithya
You missed Muni 3.
Professor Akai
It’s ready to come this year?!
Nithya
Yes, 2nd April. That’s a Tamil film. So if you can see, I have done three Telugu films, two Tamil films, and one Malayalam film this year. Three different languages I have worked in.
Audience:
Which one you like most?
Nithya
It’s time for questions and answers or later?
Professor Akai
No, later. And the slide makes – so, I will show you the slide.
Nithya
This is the cameraman of my film Malli Malli Idi Rani Roju, which is a Telugu film. He is the cinematographer.

This is Anushka Shetty and me in Rudhramadevi. She is dressed as a male, but that’s Anushka.

This is Prakash Raj, you must know him – I worked with him in this film OK Kanmani, which is Mani sir’s film.

This is Trivikram who is the director of my Telugu film Son of Satyamurthy.

This is, again, the cinematographer, Baba. We were shooting in Vizag, and what you see in front is a track and trolley for the camera. We were shooting a song and the jimmy jib, the huge camera on a crane, it was right above me, so I said, “Give it to me, give it to me,” and I wanted it, so they kind of pulled the camera down so that I could touch it, I was just playing.

This is my birthday on the set. This is in Vizag. This is for my film Malli Malli Idi Rani Roju, Telugu film. This is the entire team. You can see the lead actor Sarwanand. He is trying to put cake on my face. That is the director, bottom right, and that is the entire team on top.
Professor Akai
She said this is her team ...
Nithya
This is my team of my film 100 Days of Love. Very very close friends of mine – Januse Mohammed the director. By the way, my film released yesterday, this film, 100 days of Love, it’s a Malayalam film, it’s doing pretty well. Next him is Dulquer Salmaan, the lead actor. And next to him is the cinematographer, Pradeesh Varma.
Professor Akai
This director is the son of the famous…
Nithya
Yes, son of the very famous director Kamal sir.

This is, again, shot from the shooting – we were shooting a song in Pondicherry, and I’m just looking at the monitor where I’m just seeing the shot. You see, next to me, the song choreographer, Swarna and the director, cameraman – the whole team is there in the back.
Professor Akai
Thank you. So, this slide makes you notice how the male members dominate shooting staffs. The only woman seen here is the choreographer. There are a great variety of departments for film shooting; for example, department for set construction, department for lighting, camera operating, and – this is very important – catering. Some of you know that there is a team called 'fighting', and fighting master is leading that team to make fighting sequence in the film. This is, as you can easily guess, a male-dominated department. And the departments where women can work are hair dressing and costume designing. One example is this lady, Eka Lakhani, a famous costume designer, and she worked with Nithya in…
Nithya
OK Kanmani, Mani sir’s film.
Professor Akai
The hero was…
Nithya
That is Dulquer Salmaan and me, we are the lead actors of OK Kanmani, and that’s Eka in the middle – we are all very close friends.
Professor Akai
So, choreographing is okay for women. Her name is…
Nithya
Her name is Swarna.
Professor Akai
But the problem is makeup artists are not included into a department of filmmaking. Let’s see this record. This is a BBC News recording that the Supreme Court in India ordered to lift the ban on female makeup artists. There is one lady, a Mumbai-based lady and her profession is makeup artist, and her name is Charu Khurana. In 1902 she petitioned the court against ban CCMAA imposed 60 years before on including female makeup artists in the union members. CCMAA is the acronym of Cine Costume Make-up Artists and Hairdressers Association. One section of that union, that is, association, prohibited to include female members into that union. Some females petitioned the Supreme Court of India that this rule is illegal – it’s not adjusted to the principle of equality between men and women. If there is one lady, whosoever she is, talented in makeup skills, if she is not privileged with the license from the union, she cannot work and in the industry. The license is called “card.”
Nithya
Every department in our industry has a card, union card. We have a union for everything. We have a lightmen union. We have a makeup artist union, a hairdressers union. We have an artists' union. We have a directors' union, a technicians' union, which is camera work, whatever. So, every department needs to have a card from their own union to be able to work in the film industry – without a card, you can’t work. So, they didn’t give out this card to women for makeup artists. What happened is even a makeup artist who is a lady, even if she wants to come and work, without that card, she is unable to do films.
Professor Akai
Thank you. And there is one very, very famous makeup artist, Banu. Well, I will get an explanation from Rohini later, but I will show you how she works in a film.

(Video)

I heard that this change of the skin color was an achievement of that female makeup artist, Banu?
Nithya
Banu also did my makeup for 180, the clipping you just saw, the Tamil and Telugu, two clippings you saw myself riding on a bike, and she did my makeup for that film as well, I’ve worked with her.
Professor Akai
And basically, she was not allowed to work in the film industry before?
Rohini
Yes. Actually, Sivaji whatever clippings we saw, part of it is makeup, part of it is graphics actually. But Banu is a very, very good makeup artist. Her talent comes out in the film Robot where there are two Rajnikants, one Rajnikant should look plastic, and she really did that mask so well. She has done a lot of other films, like Mohanlal’s films where he had to wear long hair, which had to look very, very natural.

Earlier, she was not allowed to work in films because they refused to give her the makeup artist card. And because they refused, she was only doing portfolios and ad films. She was very well sought after. But Rajnikant and director Shankar, they said, “We don’t care if you don’t have a card also. We want you to come and work in our film.” That is how Sivaji also was made. A lot of actors who were big and directors who were big, they just ignored this card or the problem with the card and they took her. But after the case went to the Supreme Court and they lifted the ban on that, she was allowed to work. That was very recently, and it had to be fought. In fact, when the Human Rights Commission officer had come to Chennai, they called us and I went and I said, “She is a very good makeup artist, and she needs to be given. And this will be just the beginning for all the other makeup artists, to girls, to women to get into this profession.” So, when the Human Rights commissioner heard us all, they lifted the ban.
Professor Akai
Thank you. Now, you know also very well that even behind the silver screen the principle of male dominance is consistent. How about the department of direction? How are the female directors? Unfortunately, we have little time to discuss about famous female directors in Bollywood like Aparna Sen, Mira Nair, and Gauri Shinde. Gauri Shinde is now well-known in Japan because her English Vinglish, that is Madam in New York in Japanese, is very famous.

The number of professional female directors is few and some of them are actress-turned director. This means once active as actress and later turned to a director. Rohini is an actor-turned director. So, we should discuss about the film directed by Rohini. First, should we show…
Rohini
Talk about Appavin Meesai and then come to…
Professor Akai
Yes.
Rohini
Yes. Actually, I feel that behind the screen when a female is directing, a very few female directors get the chance to get a producer based on [words not comprehensible] because they think that female directors cannot make action-packed films, which are the sought-after films in India. That is the reason they feel that we make very soft stories, stories with only love and maybe arty films, like Mrs. and Mr. Iyer type of films Aparna Sen had directed.

There are only two female directors or three female directors, I would say, recently have broken that myth. One is Farah Khan in Hindi films where she has also turned as a commercial director who does not only make parallel cinema. The other filmmaker I could say that has broken that myth is my friend Nandini Reddy with the Telugu film Ala Modalaindi.

But a very, very prominent filmmaker in Malayalam called Anjali Menon is able to do much more than what the other two have done. She has written very successful stories, like Ustad Hotel was written by her, and she directed Manjadikuru, which was a beautiful story and it was a hit, and she made this film Bangalore Days, which is being remade in all the other languages. That is the compliment a director can get. If a film is picked up for remaking, that means it is really appealing to everybody. So that way, I hail Anjali Menon as a person who broke all the barriers for filmmakers like me.

If you take Mrs. Suhasini Maniratnam, she made a film Indira; and my friend Revathi made Mitr, My Friend; and now I’m making this film; but we are like, you know…

I personally believe in a film with lot of realism in it. I of course enjoy Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge types – probably I will make a film like that. But then I think as a filmmaker, as an actress, as a socially aware person, as a public figure, I have a social responsibility. That is evident in my life, in my work, and so on. The film I’m making is also falling in the sensibilities with who I’m as a person, and that is the most important thing. As an actress also, I chose certain kinds of films. And as a character artist also, I choose certain kinds of films, even as a lyricist or anything.

I’m making this film called Appavin Meesai, which means "my father’s mustache". It is based on two incidents, and my dear friend Nithya Menen is also starring in that film. I’m very fortunate to have actors like her in my film because it’s a blessing for a director to have actors give that kind of involvement. It is directed by me and produced by director Cheran. We have Salim Kumar who is a very, very famous actor in Malayalam – his movie was nominated for Oscars. Technical team is also very strong, like I have Resul Pookutty doing the sound designing who got an Oscar for the film and then Alphonse Roy who is a National Geographic cinematographer.

Here is Appavin Meesai’s trailer for you. And Nithya is also seeing it for the first time!

(Video, with the Professor Akai’s explanation that this is the world’s first screening of the trailer)
Professor Akai
Thank you. So Rohini, this film will be screened first in France?
Rohini
Yes. The film is being distributed in France. We will be releasing the film in France first. And of course the other countries also will be interested in picking up the film and then also DVD and all. Actually, my journey as a filmmaker started with me making some short films and documentaries. Documentary basically I made on child actors, because I entered this film world as a child actor at the age of five. I made this documentary called Silent Hues, which is an insider story. The film spoke about – it had a realistic take on it – the long hours a child has to go through, as long as they will be picked up at 3 o’clock in the morning and they will be dropped back only by 8 in the night. They will be paid something like 300 rupees per day, and 20 rupees will be taken as agent’s commission from that 300 rupees. From there to a very well-paid child actors too, but the child does not know what is happening to the child. So, that was my take on the documentary.

I wanted people to know how it is for a child to be a child actor in this film industry. Also it was a sort of a rehearsal for me as a filmmaker, whether I could convey the emotions I would like to convey to the audience. It was screened in a lot of festivals, the Los Angeles Film Festival and in France and all the other festivals. And here I’m making my first feature film, ready to release the film in two-three months.

Interestingly, a lot of actors and actress have been instigated a lot of things to do something else. Like, Nithya is not just an actor, she is also a singer – I think a lot of people here know that she sings very well, and she sang a song in my film. Actually, in the beginning, she told me I would love to sing more than act. And interestingly, she wants to make a short film. Would you like to share about that?
Nithya
Actually, I just happened to – I talked to Akai san a lot about a lot of things – I talk a lot generally. But I was telling him that I had this idea, when I was shooting for my first Telugu film Ala Modalaindi, which Rohini just mentioned, it was directed by Nandini Reddy, a woman director. Incidentally, I have worked with a lot of women directors. I have worked with Anjali Menon. I have worked in Ustad Hotel. I have worked in Bangalore Days. Anjali wants me in every one of her films. I have worked with Rohini, I have worked with Nandini, Sripriya, a lot of women directors, Anjana Ali Khan – Veppam.

When I was shooting for Ala Modalaindi, I was staying at Nandini’s house, and from her balcony I could see this big slum – this Muslim slum, and I found it so interesting standing at that balcony and watching it because it was right here, it was where I could see it, they could not see me because I was on the top floor. So, I used to watch them a lot, what is happening in the slum. I used to watch the fights happening. I could hear what they are fighting about. And as I was standing there, I suddenly had this idea of doing a film about a young man in that slum who sees this girl in the window of an apartment, just like mine where I was staying in, and how he sees her through the window and he actually is very attracted to her and he is very amazed by her. And she is a dancer, so she is practicing dance, he can see her through the curtains.

It was just an idea I had. I don’t know if I will ever make a film – I don’t know, but I write a lot and I come up with these ideas. If I ever maybe do it, then you know that I shared my idea with you first. It’s patented, please keep it in this room! But Akai san wanted me to speak about it because…
Professor Akai
That’s because you can find a promoter for you!
Rohini
That is how a film is made. It is instigated by some experience. And also I have produced a documentary film against Bt technology, which is called Kathireekaaa, which is brinjal – I do not know what it is…
Nithya
Bt aubergine, it’s genetically modified aubergines, which are not very good for our health. She did a documentary trying to ban that.
Rohini
There was this movement in 2010. They wanted to introduce Bt technology into India and all like-minded people – social activists, doctors, lawyers, actors, singers; every one of us got together and we said we do not want this Bt technology. As consumers we are saying this, and as publicly famous figures we have to create awareness. So, I took it one step forward saying that I want to make a film on this and I produced this film called Kathireekaaa, and we screened it in various places. The farmers also came in large numbers. On 2010 January, we met the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Kalaignar Karunanidhi. We met him in the morning at 10 o’clock and we told him and ironically, very comically we took a very, very nice brinjal with us, because he loved that variety of brinjal. We presented it to him and said that, “Sir, if you let Bt technology come into our state, you will not be able to eat this anymore, please eat it now.” But, it drove the point. We met him at 10 o’clock. We made him understand all that. Of course he took all the papers pertaining to that BT technology. By 4 o’clock, he said, “Unless the center allows it, no BT technology can be entertained in Tamil Nadu state.” That was the success of all our people coming together successfully. So, I owe this to director Vasanth who is also part of this and singer T. M. Krishna, Chitra Visweswaran, dancer, and a lot of other people. So, if you believe in something and you do not want a certain technology taking over, you have to stand up against it and say it, that’s all – no matter what, it will be heard. I’m very glad that I made that happen, and I will never let it enter into India. I tell this now because I told then also.

Coming from there, why are we talking about documentaries is that documentaries are a very, very important part of filmmaking also. In India, we have a very, very famous type of filmmaking, commercial films. They are only talking about only heroes and people who are winners – they are only watched. They do not talk about real true stories where the struggle is still going on. But pre-independence, we had documentaries by the British government to propaganda their ideology, their working in India. But after independence, there was a lot of freedom for filmmakers to make a lot of documentaries so that they could document the realistic situation. Even after the independence, lots of them were not able to make it because then the Indian government was trying to say that we are doing our best and all that, then the emergency happened. And so many documentaries were banned in those days – most of them were made by left-wing people. Nevertheless, the documentaries have a very, very important place in creating awareness amongst Indian citizens. We all watch documentary film festivals. Some of them can be screened like this even if they are banned because it is already on YouTube. So, there is a movement this side happening which is very realistic which is very serious which is only looking at the reality of everything. That is also one way of using the capability of a filmmaker. So, that is one area we would like to go into that later.

Would you like to add something for that Akai san?
Professor Akai
Our story is getting into the point that – there must be one idea that film is only for entertainment, that’s not entirely correct. Seeing from another prospective, a film is a very, very useful media to make people aware of the social problems.

Next, I will show you this picture. This is a picture showing Rohini’s actions as a social activist. Can you read what is written on the placards she is holding? It says, "Hang the Rapist." This reflects one very tragic murder case, which happened on 16th December 2012. This day, a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern in Delhi was gang-raped in the public bus and brutally killed with her boyfriend. This incited a nationwide protest against the rapist’s crimes, frequently committed by, but not taken seriously in public till then. And rallies of protests calling for "Hang the Rapist" were held in major cities, and that includes Chennai. This is in Chennai?
Rohini
Yes.
Professor Akai
Would you explain the contextual meaning of this incident?
Rohini
Nithya would you like to add about how important – what it brought?
Nithya
The thing about this particular incident in India was that, as I was telling them, it’s not that rapes didn’t happen in India before. It does happen a lot and especially in rural places and all that – it’s very prevalent. But this particular incident suddenly created a revolution in the country, something that we hadn’t seen till today. People were so angry. Women were so angry. Everybody came out on public platforms. They all asked for exactly this, "Hang the Rapist." And a lot of men came in support of the women. A lot of men came to say, “This is not okay. We want equality for women and protection for women.” Something that has been happening for a long time, but this particular incident is extremely important in India because it suddenly made everyone sit up and take notice and pay attention and say, “What is happening here?! This is not okay.” A lot of people came together, and it created a huge political sort of revolution in the country.
Rohini
I would say that it’s a very unfortunate event happened on the 16th of December in 2012. But two major things happened after that. Everybody started fighting. Earlier, it used to be a feminist fight. After this, 16th December, it became the humankind fight. Every man I knew said, “No, we will not let this happen.” And that was instigated by that incident. And recently when the BBC documentary was screened and banned about this particular case, the mindset, that is what we were trying to tell everybody, you are only looking at the symptom, you are not looking at the root cause of the behaviour of certain people who think that they can rape a 3-year-old child to a 70-year-old nun. So, there has to be something wrong with the mindset of these men. Not all men are like that – I have four brothers, and I’m grown in a male-dominated household, but not all men are like that. But we hear these cases. What is breeding this mindset where a man is able to overpower some powerless and do this heinous crime? So, we have to look at the kind of social and economical area where they are growing up and the kind of sexual energy they are suppressing and what is instigating them to take this kind of an action – we have to look at it as a clinical understanding.

This Nirbhaya BBC, when it was aired, it was banned. But before banning, I think all of you must have watched it. How many of you have watched it? Can you – yes. I think all of you who have watched it well understand that even educated lawyers' mindset also was very different from our mindset. That is the mindset we have to address right now. So, this incident of Nirbhaya, not only brought everybody together to fight against sexual violence. The BBC documentary brought us to think about what is the mindset we are dealing with in day-to-day life. And why is this important in our discussion of this afternoon is that we are dealing with the same kind of mindset in a different level in the film industry where a hero and heroine may have – definitely the heroine if they had a stronger role to play also, the hero is paid more as a remuneration. For the same kind of work, hairdressers, if you take for example I’m saying, man is paid more where the female is paid less. As always in any other workforce, I feel, even a construction area, eight hours of man work is paid more, but woman work is paid less. I’m sure in every other area also, even in software, IT industry also, a female is paid less than a man.

What is this mindset, which is looking at a female as less than man? Don’t we have to look at it as equality in every sense, not only in film world, in every other area? In film world, yes, we are coming out and saying it, remuneration it is there, and you do not take them for certain work and you do not give them the importance, screen space as a hero gets. Now, writer is ready to write women-centric films these days – in India at least. And even in Hollywood if you take, it is always man-centric story. So, what is this mindset of a collective consciousness that places more importance to man than a woman is what we want to bring your notice at the end of this whole discussion. If we think about it and take some kind of action, I think we are successful in coming here and spending so much time and taking so much of your time. I think we have scientifically looked at everything here, right from the film world or the social arena.

So if there are any questions, I think, can we – oh, he wants to finish and then – sorry!
Professor Akai
I’m thinking to express my thanks because you will do all what I should do now!
Rohini
Sorry! I just went on.
Professor Akai
My audience, you can find that both of our guest speakers are very knowledgeable about the critical situation of the male-dominant world, but you still appreciate the Indian film format, that means the hero-centered format? Would you not negate or break such format?
Nithya
Personally, I’m not very fond of that format – I just have no choice. I don’t like songs and all that in a movie. Akai san will not like me saying that because he loves songs – you like songs, don’t you?! He loves songs. So, he will not like that, but yes!
Rohini
But I think outside India, the people who are not Indian love that part of our films, song and dance and that colorful exuberance of the Indian cinema. That is fine, I feel. It is just a celebration of the art. The art only originated from oral singing tradition.
Nithya
But I must add that in Rohini’s film, for example, the songs that you heard, it just gave me goose bumps, brilliant songs. I don’t have a problem with songs per se. I just have a problem with the commercial format of introducing songs randomly and just dancing randomly without a connection. That is the one I have a problem with, not with song and dance, which is… For example, in Appavin Meesai – Rohini’s film, the whole song was incorporated, she wanted song in her film, so she incorporated in her film by making the lead actors – if you see, they are Koothu performance, they are theater – they are like folk artists, they sing and they dance. So, the music in the movie has that very folk tone to it. That is beautiful. I like that.
Rohini
Yes. That’s exactly what I’m also trying to say here. And also, like Akai san said, in this male-dominated film industry, we have made our mark. I think I’m making…
Professor Akai
Make conclusion for me!
Rohini
No, please continue.
Professor Akai
No, it’s okay.
Rohini
Yes, want the choice – okay, fine.
Professor Akai
Yes. I’m thinking to ask you that if you do not negate entirely this robust format of the film, I think your own a smart strategy to express your own femininity. So, I would like to ask what is that.
Nithya
Go with it!
Rohini
Yes. Like I said, from the beginning, my choice of films as an actor and my choice of films as a voice artist also speak for who I’m. And when I became a filmmaker and what issues I gave my voice and what issues touched me and need to be spoken about, I have only stood for that. If I will continue making films, and the films will definitely be very close to my heart. That way, I think everybody is unique, and if they stand firm on their uniqueness, they will stand out. So, there is place for everybody, that kind [words not comprehensible]. I’m happy watching the Dilwale Dulhania types also, but at the same time, as a socially responsible person, I’m taking this path – that’s it!
Professor Akai
Thank you.
Rohini
Thank you!
Professor Akai
And Nithya, you have something to say?
Nithya
You just heard this entire thing Akai san told you about how it is a male-dominated place and how a heroine is almost ornamental a lot of times in the films and all that which is true. It is the main prevailing sort of situation. I came into acting not at all wanting to be an actress. I did not plan to be an actress. I didn’t want to be famous. I didn’t want any money. For me, I believe that it happened as a fate – destiny. I was in a place where I was able to choose because I was not so desperate and so interested in being an actress – I was not interested. So, I chose whatever made sense to me. I had that privilege because I’m not so interested that I’m able to choose good films. Tomorrow if I don’t have films, I’m okay. So, I don’t panic – I don’t operate from that space. I always chose films, which made sense to me. My character has to have some meaning. The film has to deserve my performance and my energy.

So, I chose films right from the start, even in the beginning from my first one, two, three films, I have said no to a lot of very big filmmakers which created a lot of controversy because nobody had seen something like this. Nobody had seen an actress saying no to all these huge Telugu actors, for example. They are big, big actors – I’m very fond of them. I love watching their films. But I didn’t want to be a part of something like that. That character didn’t make sense to me. I said no – I said no to a lot of very big filmmakers. And people started wondering, what is it – they can’t understand why I’m being like that. This is why, because I have never really been so passionate saying, “Okay. I want to be an actress.”

I’m okay, I’m calm, I’m chill – so, I choose whatever I feel like, I do have whichever film I feel like doing. That is my space. And when I first started doing Telugu films, Telugu has a reputation of being purely commercial. Malayalam of course has a reputation of making more arty films and slightly more content-oriented. Telugu is very – because Telugu people, everybody watches films, everyone, every house. As a family, they go and watch films. So, the films are made for mass, for huge number of mass, different social economic backgrounds. Malayalam is not like that, not every Malayalee will go and watch a film in a theater, there will be a niche audience, so it’s made for that audience. That’s why the basic difference.

But when I started doing Telugu films, I wanted to say this thing that it is possible for an actress to be something more than just an ornament. It is possible for you to look at an actress and say, “She is a fantastic actress,” not that, “Oh, she is hot!” “Ooh, did you see her midriff?” – whatever. I wanted to prove that I’m an intelligent human being. I’m not an ornament. I’m a good actor, which is why I’m doing this job. I would never do this if I was not a good actor. And I can contribute to your film just as much as anyone else can contribute to the film. Take me seriously. I wanted to say this very strongly.

The fantastic thing is that I have succeeded because today people go and watch a film because I’m in it, and I’m talking about Telugu films. This has never happened before. People only go to watch their heroes. Today, I’m known as the actress who people will say, “Oh, Nithya Menen’s film! We will go watch it.” It’s not about me per se. I love the fact that a woman, a girl, that people would take her seriously and say, “We like her!” I like that idea. And today I have, even if you are talking business-wise, market-wise, there are distributors and buyers in different districts in Andhra Pradesh – Nizam, Vizag, a lot of different districts – there are about six or seven distributors who will buy my film without question, “If it’s Nithya’s film, we will buy it.” It’s the trust they put on me that I will do something worthwhile and that they will make money out of it.

All of my films have done commercially very well. My first three films were massive hits – Ala Modalaindi, Ishq, and Gunde Jaari Gallanthayyinde. They were all very, very good films not exactly in that random commercial space, but still did well commercially. And I have managed to express myself that way, that when you are good at what you do, you do it well. Even if you are a girl, you are an actress, whatever, you can be respected that way, your film can do really well and have distributors saying, “Okay, we will put our money on this,” because the films are doing well. I came into this Telugu industry wanting to prove that, and today I’m in that space, but I have proved it. That for me is my expression of myself as a woman in this male-dominated industry.

There is space if you create that space. If you go around and say, “Oh, I’m so desperate to be an actress. I will do anything. I will do like this,’ that’s fine, that’s a different space. But if you want to create this space, you can. It’s not that it’s inevitably male-dominated that you can’t do anything about it. As women, we can take that stand and they will give you space. They all love me. Even whether it’s people in the industry or the audience, they all love me. They want to work with you, and they appreciate you, they really respect you a lot. So, even though it is this male-dominated place, if you do things in a way that deserves respect, they will give you that respect and they will give you that space. And that is my space in this film industry.
Professor Akai
Thank you so much.
Rohini
I would like to add something to that. We had Savithri Amma and Jayasudha and actors like that in Telugu, till Soundarya I think. But after that, it was lost. And with Nithya, I think, it is again created. That’s just that, like you take a stance in every sphere. It’s not just film world. In every sphere, you take a stance, and you respect yourself first and the world will respect you.
Professor Akai
Thank you. From the outset, I have not intended to make any concrete conclusion.
Rohini
It’s not a concrete conclusion. It starts a dialogue.
Professor Akai
Yes. I think this should be a starting point for every people, especially for male people to think about what is femininity in India, of course. That’s what I wanted. This is the end of our discussion. But we have still a bit time, so if you have some questions or comments…
Rohini
Please, comments we can have later, but only questions we will take. First, questions we take. And I would like to hear some Japanese friends.
Nithya
Have you seen any of our films? Which ones?
Rohini
Norico definitely had seen a lot of Tamil films. Norico used to frequent Chennai, and she came to our house. She is a very close friend to Raghuvaran, my husband. She has seen my son as three-year-old, four-year-old, five-year-old. Now I’m seeing her after such a long time. So, do you have – yes, I think a gentleman…

(Comment in Japanese)
Professor Akai
What do you think about that, Rohini? He is saying that a new wave which pushed the womanhood in front, in future it should also be included in the huge stream of commercialism. So if one film had a great hit in which the director makes a heroine play instead of hero and it’s a great blockbuster, they must be – next one and next one, next one in a similar manner. This is a problem of entertainment film and commercialism. What do you think about it?
Rohini
We are hoping that that happens too. Unfortunately, it is not happening now.
Nithya
A lot of times, it’s like the filmmakers say, directors say they don’t have actors to play something, they don’t have actresses. They are always in a mainstream space. There is always one certain kind of actors, they can do only so much. There is nobody who can give that. So, they don’t write. So what happens, actresses like us, we don’t have anything to – we don’t have good enough films to do. That’s what I was saying when I said I wanted to make that clear, to open that channel, to say this is me. Now, people are starting to write for me, keeping you in mind they start writing a story. So, you are starting a dialogue, I say, “Okay, start writing stories,” then you start doing it. Hopefully, that will start a cycle. There should be more actresses who are focused on acting, should be able to act if you are an actress, should be able to write if you are a writer. Somebody has to start from somewhere, and then it will happen. But I’m seeing a lot of change recently, like all these filmmakers – Rohini, Nandini, Anjali – all of them have come in the past very, very recently I would say, few years, maybe two or three years. So, it is starting this trend of like females increasing. In fact, in OK Kanmani, which is Mani sir’s film, a huge part of the crew is females – the costume designer Eka, you saw, her three assistants; the art direction, Sharmishta Roy; the production, I have never seen a production side have a production executive who is a woman, Mala Manyan, she is a woman; the associate director is a girl, Shalini. So, Mani sir’s movie was filled with girls. So, it is happening – it will start happening, I think, very soon.
Professor Akai
Thank you so much. Are there other questions?
Female Speaker
(The question concerning gender discrimination and wage gape in Indian film industry.)
Nithya
I think the inevitable thing about this is it is so global. We can’t talk about it with respect to India or Indian film industry because I have heard this from Hollywood actresses saying that there is a huge difference in payment from a male actor and a female actor – a huge difference, even the topmost Hollywood heroines. I think it’s a global thing. It is a global thing, the attitude where you say, “Okay, these occupations can be girl’s occupations.” Like in India, I have never seen a male nurse – never and ever. It’s not considered an occupation for a guy, so they just don’t do it. So, it is a mindset and it’s so global, I think. In a way, it’s inevitable. I think the best you can do is to find your space through this and in small ways try to say something in your way. That’s all you can do. You can’t change anything.
Rohini
The occupation for a girl should be ideally [chair-bearing?] Other than that, everything is open to everybody.
Professor Akai
Next, Sunny san please.
Male Speaker
I have a very simple question actually for both of you. Have you seen any Japanese movies?
Rohini
Of course! What are you saying! I’m in the land of Akira Kurosawa!
Nithya
She is very excited. She loves – she watches all kinds of films.
Rohini
I touched this same ground [words not comprehensible] oh my God, Akira Kurosawa was here! He breathed this air! It’s like that. What are you saying! It’s our manual – filmmakers' manual, the way he prepares for a film is our manual. In fact, before I started making – how I approach a film, I read his autobiography and I read how he prepares for a film and how he involves the actors in a story-reading session, I did that.
Nithya
Yes, she did the same thing for Appavin Meesai.
Rohini
I did that. And then I went to the location, I shot a lot of angles. I went in the same season, and I decided this is the season I want to shoot. All that is – he is my guru! How can you ask me, have I ever watched…
Male Speaker
Any memorable films you remember about Kurosawa?
Rohini
All his films! Rashomon to – all his earlier films where he made only with three actors actually – Mifune, yes, his favorite actor and the older actor is Professor – he comes in all his films where two friends coming back from navy and one becomes a police sub-inspector and the other becomes a thief, and they get – I don’t remember the name of the film. And there is this professor who has cancer and he wants to retire, but then he meets this young girl and the son and daughter-in-law think that he is having an affair with this girl. I don’t think you have seen those Akira’s earlier films. And then, of course Seven Samurai is our manual for direction, and Rashomon of course. Those are the famous films, I would say Blood Throne and all those. But the not famous films also I have watched. One movie where they have just ¥10 or ¥12 and they are trying to spend that evening – boyfriend and girlfriend, they are trying to spend that evening, it’s beautifully portrayed.

My God, the way he used to prepare for his films is like – I believe that’s how he met his wife. He made all the actors go through a rigorous training for his film. As a representation of the female actors, this one female actor used to come and stand in front of Akira Kurosawa and say that what you are doing is inhuman, you can’t do this and you can’t do it. And he would say, “My film is more important.” And at the end of the film, they got married. That’s how they got married. So, I know all his events, very personal experiences, how his brother was a storyteller. Those days we used to get only silent movies, and his brother used to say the story as the film was running. And then when talkies came in, he lost job and he was very depressed and he committed suicide. He was the one who took him around to see all the – when earthquake had happened.

That is why he says, I think, “My films are so bloody. I have seen death when I was a child in such close quarters,” and how he was waiting for the climax where he had to shoot for the rain and the cyclone to happen at one point of time which the producer was [words not comprehensible] because he waited for 20 days and nothing was happening – I can go on and on and on!
Male Speaker
Thank you very much.
Professor Akai
Kurosawa then is very, very well known among the film persons in south industry. For example, I heard that Pawan Kalyan, the younger brother of Chiranjeevi, named his son Akira after Kurosawa.
Rohini
Yes. All of us really admire him.
Professor Akai
Any other questions?

Shall we give the Indian people…
Rohini/Nithya
Yes, please!
Male Speaker
I’m really sorry, like you can get it later, but my comment was it was really fascinating to hear like you are in touch with Japanese movies. This is my first encounter to someone related to movie field because [words not comprehensible] from India just starting here, but it was a really fascinating talk about feminism and how Indian actresses are perceived. My question is to both of you, as you were saying that claiming this [words not comprehensible] face in an established commercial Telugu industry, you had to create your own space. Comment on what were the troubles you had to face and [words not comprehensible] what exactly is a male-dominant part of it and what was the first step you took to create the space?
Nithya
Like I said, I was always, like right from the start, not someone who was too desperate to be in the film industry, so I didn’t care. I just…
Rohini
That is the first step, to say no even to a very famous hero…
Nithya
I didn’t really…
Rohini
I do not want to take names here.
Nithya
Yes, so I didn’t really care. I just did what felt right for my soul. That is how I worked. The problems I may have faced are that there was definitely a bit of talk about my attitude because they didn’t really – because they have never seen anyone make these kind of decisions before. They have never seen a heroine say no to a certain actor – never. When I’m doing it for the first time, they are shocked. So, there was talk about she is a bit like the, she is apparently like that…
Male Speaker
If you are a famous actor, then if you say something, it is countable, but when you are growing, nobody actually cares.
Nithya
No, there is nothing called growing, like right from the beginning, my first film itself was a huge hit. It’s not about – I have never been in that space where I have been asking for work or I have been in a growing space. But there was this little bit of a thing that apparently she is very difficult, she is very… But once people understand you, when you start working with more people, then they think, “Actually, she is not like that. She is actually really cool to work with. And she is a nice – like, it’s fun working with.” So, that starts spreading. And today it has reached a point where they acknowledge, “Yes. Nithya Menen, if she does it, it will be a different film.” It will be different – that acknowledgment I have got. And I must say that I have got from Telugu people – from Telugu industry.
Male Speaker
I shall comment your recent film Malli Malli Idi Rani Roju, it was very nice sweet love story and the dialogues were really nice.
Nithya
Thank you – that film is very close to my heart.
Male Speaker
It was a really cool film!
Nithya
Oh, I’m glad you watched it!
Male Speaker
We have been sitting in Japan waiting for your movies, come on! One more, single request, even though you mentioned you have a sore throat or something – you are a good singer. I know – I want all people to ask Nithya Menen to sing two lines of a song.
Rohini
I do ask, I do ask!
Male Speaker
Either from Ishq or Gunde Jaari GallanthayindheOh Priya Priya.
Nithya
Which song should I sing? Priya Priya you want?
Male Speaker
Yes.
Nithya
Well, my part starts from the charanam, so I will start from there: Akasam nenai anthata unna – Taralle napai merisi poolevaaa – Nee allari lonee teelipothunteee – Ne chelime cheeruvai cherukolevaa.
Male Speaker
Thank you so much! Very nice!
Male Speaker
Now, please sing that in Malayalam!
Nithya
You want a Malayalm song also?
Professor Akai
Please don’t raise the problems, like the controversy between Prabhas and Nithya, the tallest and the smallest – that story has too delicate in here. Okay, so…
Female Speaker
Malayalam song – one Malayalam song!
Professor Akai
This must be the last question – Mrs. Inagaki, please.
Female Speaker
(Comment in Japanese, including mentions to Kurosawa’s Ikiru and question of Nithya’s meaning of “space.”)
Nithya
You don’t necessarily have to make a quarrel with someone to make your space. Like I said, they are all very fond of me. I have very, very close friends through the industry. They all also respect me a lot. They are very, very fond of me. They treat me very well. They take care of me a lot because they are fond of me. So, you don’t necessarily have to create any issues. The small issue that comes is media-related issues. It’s not that I have issues with people I’m working with – I never have issues with people I’m working with. It’s always a very, very good relationship because I’m very professional. The small issues are small little media-related – oh, this-that – it’s just small gossip. But it’s all dying down now, as they see more films of mine, and I prove…

What I mean by space is that, like he said that this is the industry, it’s male-dominated. Women are used in certain parts of the film as ornament, whatever, blah-blah-blah. That is the situation. In that space, I’m a kind of actor who does very sensible films that do commercially very well, and I don’t do what a regular commercial heroine does – that isn't my space. What I’m saying is there is space for you – if you want to be there like this, there is space. It’s not a really rigid place that you can’t express yourself – you can express yourself. If you express yourself strongly enough, you will be heard. That’s what I meant by 'my space'. Through my choices, in the kind of films I do, in the way I talk what I say, in the way I think. I just go by my soul. I do what feels right to me. And through that, I create my space. And today I have a unique name – they say, “Oh, it’s a Nithya Menen film, must be something interesting, let’s go watch it,” that is my space I’ve created.
Professor Akai
Thank you very much. I’m very afraid to say that we should close this symposium with a very active question and answers. Thanks so much for your attention.
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