Leading actors of the Nepali film industry opine that a space for discussion has opened up now, and no one should let this chance pass. They also urge the media to pull up their socks
A discourse has started after film actor Samragyee RL Shah broke her silence last week on the harassment she claims to have faced in the Nepali movie industry.
While many are supporting her step, the young actor has also faced backlash for the same. Nonetheless, it has opened up the space for discussion on what is wrong in the industry including the unhealthy working environment that exists in the Nepali film industry and how one can address them.
Stand as one voice
Actor Reecha Sharma lauds the “brave” step that Shah took to break her silence on the bad practices prevalent in the Nepali film industry irrespective of ‘when’.
“For me it doesn’t matter when she came out,” the Uma actress shares.
While some are appreciating Shah for coming out bravely, some are questioning her timing to break her silence.
To this Sharma opines, “This is weird to me. We live in a society with lots of social stigma. There is no family environment (as in support from one’s family) to be a part of cinema first of all, and the family (of actors) don’t have trust in the industry.
Against all odds, we enter the cinema industry at our own risk and we handle that risk as we go. When these kinds of thing happen, we can’t even share it with our family because we are scared that they might tell us not to get involved in the industry…”
“We have a very negative, underdeveloped and uneducated mindset here. It will take a lot of time, education and patience to change that,” adds actor Priyanka Karki who is glad a voice has come up.
“Like she (Shah) has said, there is actually fear that: ‘If I speak I might not get any more work or what people are going to say or people will point at me’ — we are the people who have grown up in such a society, mentality and environment. That is the mindset here. It is a patriarchal society, usually where women are blamed.”
Karki also speaks from her own experience of being bullied and trolled online and lots of hate messages.
“I have faced so much of it that I have become thick-skinned so that it doesn’t affect me. But it is still there. It doesn’t mean it is not there. No matter how much you fight, negativity spreads in double and triple the ratio as compared to who lauds you, after you speak — that is how society is. I can say this because I have experienced it myself when I have tried to speak about issues and stuff.”
That is why Karki feels, “Actresses of the Nepali film fraternity — doesn’t matter if you have been through a situation where you have been mentally, socially or emotionally or physically harassed on the set, or not, we have to step up and stand with Shah.”
And raise a voice to the point that “we see the change”.
She adds, “If this happens, it will not only help her (Shah) but all other countless voices who haven’t been able to speak up because of their situations and circumstances, which may differ for everybody — it may be due to fear, or a situation. Or there are many artistes who don’t get work every day, they probably get work once in two-three months — one movie, one project, one video and feel: ‘If I speak, this (work) will too stop coming’.”
Pointing out to female actors speaking up via various medium, Karki explains, “We all are just going to be a collective voice with a platform.
We actresses speaking up on social media or whatever platform we have means we have voice and power to reach out to the people and create the environment, where other powerful forces or people who actually harassed her or pushed her to this point won’t harass her more.”
“But other than that we have to proceed legally in order to actually get the outcome.
Otherwise it will be forgotten if something else (other issues) comes up. This should not happen.”
Faulty system, create healthy working environs
Karki shares she has not been physically and mentally harassed or suffered unhealthy working environment on any film set. She considers herself little lucky or she got good team. And this points to a problem in the Nepali film industry.
“I have to consider myself lucky when I get proper food, proper water, shelter and when health including mental health is taken care of at work, though these things should be your basic needs,” she explains.
Actor Surakshya Panta sees problems in the working system of the film industry which is why such scenarios are being created.
“This is not just the story of Samragyee. Many might be experiencing it,” she shares.
The Aama actress is trying to dig into the system and the people making policy in the film industry rather than just one particular case.
“There is Kalakar Sangh (Film Artistes Association of Nepal – FAAN) — what policies have they brought in for artistes? What security measures have they brought? New females will be part of the industry tomorrow, what kind of initiatives have been taken to make them feel secure? It is necessary to dig into all these things,” Panta questions.
She opines that those who are in positions of power should take accountability and an initiative for the artistes, as one voice is not enough.
Biases is one of the problems she feels and sees it in how film and other industries work. And she believes this system has to be corrected.
“Many have spoken before. But when Samragyee spoke up, it came into the limelight — a person who is popular has spoken about it. Why didn’t it come into the limelight like this when other women spoke up about it before? One can see biases regarding this from the media sector as well. If a normal woman will speak tomorrow, will she be given priority?” she asks.
Panta also feels that the other persons that Shah has spoken against should be given proper coverage by proper media to share his /her side of story.
Having said that what she is clear about is that as a woman, if a woman feels harassed, that means she has felt it.
“She won’t be saying it just like that. We know if we are being harassed. She might have spoken up because she has had enough. I believe what Samragyee is saying and I know by heart that I feel what she has been through to a large extent,” she purports.
However, both sides should be given a chance to speak freely and be heard so that “we create an unbiased system — we solve it sensitively and systematically while setting an example for the future”.
A system has to be created where a woman can come forward to share her experiences.
For that, a healthy discussion should take place.
As per Panta, bringing the two artistes together and listening to their issues and creating a debate is not enough. It has to include moderators with the background of cinema and people from human rights, mental health, women empowerment, law — people from different sectors have to sit together and listen to their stories and note them down.
“We have to discuss on how to create a better working, unbiased or secure environment as well as where we lacked and how the scenario came about — such situations will continue to happen otherwise,” Panta expresses.
And she is ready to be a part of this discussion.
On your guard
Panta shares she has not faced harassment in her career as actors are given facilities and ensured safety at work.
However, “I have seen female make-up artistes and other females working in the team or post-production being harassed — males teasing them and taking them casually,” she reveals. “In those times, I always come forward to reprimand them for their actions. We, women in position of power, can directly help them because they can’t speak for themselves as they can’t risk their job and the money they earn. That is part of our faulty system.”
Actor Barsha Siwakoti feels that one should speak up immediately if something wrong or something you are not comfortable with happens to you.
“Why should you be tolerant? One should raise his/her voice on the spot so that the person will not repeat it to you,” she cites.
Also, people will judge you for not speaking at the precise moment, and not everyone is convinced by you 100 per cent when you come out even though you are speaking the truth, which somehow impacts you and the other person you are talking about, as per Siwakoti.
In her journey so far, she has not experienced either an insecure or uncomfortable working environment on set or from production team. But she asserts you can’t expect perfect management as you are working with so many people in a team.
So, she manages many things herself. “I take my own food, take my own vehicle, I keep a personal assistant with me…” she shares.
As per the Pashupati Prasad actor, one has to be prepared, be it before entering the field, starting your career or a film or before starting your shoot.
As an artiste and producer Aaryan Sigdel says he has not heard of unhealthy working environment nor has he created one.
“I have worked in a good, healthy and family environment in all of my projects,” the November Rain actor shares.
Shah worked with him in 2018’s Kaira. As per him, “She must have got the most friendly and healthy environment working with me in Kaira.”
When it comes to bad working environment in the industry, he is of the opinion that every person needs to be good, otherwise nothing will change.
Media should step up
Sharma has not had any first-hand bad experiences as “maybe I was upfront about what I was not comfortable with” but she admits that she has seen people who have been and are in the industry just to hang out with women.
“But if someone goes through such experience, means I am experiencing it, especially in my field,” she says.
There are different kinds of harassment. “It is not just rape and physical abuse. Its definition is vague. If someone makes you physically, emotionally and mentally uncomfortable irrespective of gender, that is harassment.
Everyone needs to know and be aware of this,” Sharma says.
“This is not just in the film industry but in every industry, and every man and woman at some point of their life must have gone through this.”
So, she or Shah coming out will not be enough — it will fizzle out in a few days. In all these realities, when media has become one of the reasons why people do not trust the film industry — things are sensationalised in a two-hour interview which reaches households tainting the reputation of the film industry, the Loot actress sees the important role of national mainstream media in addressing the wrong environment of their (film) industry.
In the same vein, Karki adds that they (actors) shouldn’t be put on the spot where they are interviewed and their words are twisted, changing the meaning and highlighting them just to make headlines, and they (actors) too should not give that kind of liberty to media who do so. Thus, the actors have started discussing may be it is time to stop giving interviews or stop facing people and media except those who support serious content and not support yellow journalism, she adds.
Sharma believes that national media should take responsibility.
“They should not gear up only when such issues rise up, but they have to make it their national agenda — you (media) should be able to gain trust that we can come to you and that you will print our voice — not just me, but of a plus-two student as well.”
A version of this article appears in e-paper on July 6, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.