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Sri Reddy and sexual harassment in Tollywood

Venkatram Reddy Sureddy

Ten days ago Sri Reddy, a Telugu actor stripped in front of Telugu Film Chambers of Commerce causing much public furore. Her contention was that opportunities for Telugu girls are very few in the Telugu film industry and that there was sexual harassment in Tollywood. Her public protest also seems to stem from the fact that MAA (Movie Artistes’ Association) denied her membership even after acting in three movies.

What is intriguing in this entire episode is how the film industry responded to this outburst. After initially dismissing it as a ‘publicity-stunt’, MAA refused to give her membership. MAA President Shivaji Raja even went on to say that “no artist who is member of MAA will act with her. If they do, they will be suspended.” Also, Telugu film industry stars and seniors maintained their silence. The only person to respond was Pawan Kalyan who suggested Sri Reddy should approach police stations and courts instead of media.

It was only after NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) took up the issue on its own serving notices to Telangana government and Union ministry of information and broadcasting questioning why there was no committee to address sexual harassment for film industry that Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce decided to form CASH – Committee against sexual harassment. Very soon, MAA too lifted the ban imposed on Sri Reddy which didn’t allow any member of MAA to act with her.

This entire sequence of events only make evident a strong coterie culture in Telugu film industry which differentiates insiders from outsiders where few people in powerful positions call shots and others are not allowed to break-in. There appears to be a hesitation to open up lest the artistes/technicians maybe denied opportunities in future. While few other junior artistes have started opening up to share their tales of horror and sexual harassment in the film industry, it is important for film stars and technicians at the senior level to initiate a healthy debate on the darker side of film industry. It is high time one takes a stance and steer this debate towards a meaningful conclusion.