A still from the recent Fahadh Faasil starrer 'Aavesham'
A still from the recent Fahadh Faasil starrer 'Aavesham'Photo | IMDb

The troubling presence of Mansoor Ali Khan in 'Aavesham'

After making a problematic comment against a prominent actress, Mansoor Ali Khan still got to work in the Malayalam film industry. Why?

Malayalam cinema may have 'peaked' amid a string of critical and commercial successes but the industry still has a long way to go when it comes to being sensitive and sensible on issues relating to misogyny. Not sure what this is about? Let me explain.

Fahadh Faasil's recent mass entertainer Aavesham was packed with action and humour. However, after seeing Mansoor Ali Khan on the big screen, I was completely put off. And not surprisingly many of my friends agreed with me.

For those who have not yet watched the film, Mansoor Ali Khan's 'Reddy' was Fahadh's Ranga's guru or mentor who took him under his wing. This alone was disturbing and uncomfortable enough given that the former made inappropriate remarks about rape in the past.

In a press meet last year after the release of Leo, Mansoor Ali Khan said he had hoped to have a 'rape scene' in the film as he had in older Tamil films starring actors like Khushbhu and Roja.

He said, "When I heard that I was acting with Trisha, I thought there would be a bedroom scene in the film. I thought that I could carry her to the bedroom just like I did other actresses in my earlier movies. I have done so many rape scenes in a number of movies and it's not new to me. But these guys didn't even show Trisha to me on the sets..."

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Responding to his shocking comments, Trisha said, "I strongly condemn this and find it sexist, disrespectful, misogynistic, repulsive and in bad taste. He can keep wishing but I am grateful never to have shared screen space with someone as pathetic as him and I will make sure it never happens for the rest of my film career as well. People like him bring a bad name to mankind."

Standing in solidarity with Trisha, singer Chinmayi Sripaada said, "The thing about men like Mansoor Ali Khan is they have always been talking like this. They have never been condemned, with other men in power, money and influence laughing along."

Chinmayi also said that Mansoor Ali Khan will continue to get work and sadly that is how it works, citing the examples of actors Robo Shankar and Radha Ravi who have made similar statements. No serious action was taken against them.

Now, many still argue that one must separate the art from the artist but I seriously couldn't digest it. Not to forget, the Malayalam film industry is known to be more progressive than the others. But is it though?

How could the Aavesham team have allowed this man to feature in the movie? Even if his scenes were filmed before he made the offensive comments, they could have been reshot with a different actor. Sure, it would have cost more but the film has recouped more than five times the budget, so it's not as though the producers couldn't have afforded it.

Moreover, it's puzzling that there has been virtually no public conversations in Malayalam film circles about the casting of Mansoor Ali Khan.

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Noted actor and activist Chetan Kumar (aka Chetan Ahimsa), who has appeared in several Kannada films, voiced his thoughts on the matter saying, "Although I respect the Malayalam industry as there's a much more stronger social consciousness and awareness about societal issues, I think we need to take such matters seriously like the aftermath of #MeToo and we should keep it alive in memory of the survivors."

Furthermore, Chetan believes that the Malayalam industry has a much more activist spirit in terms of its awareness about the content, writers, gender equality causes and so on. "However, if these people are not convicted by a court of law, then to what level can we hold other members accountable when they continue to work with such offenders," said the actor-activist.

This brings us back to what Chinmayi said about how male actors will still continue to work and receive opportunities as seen in the 2024 Tamil film Joshua: Imai Pol Kaakha where Mansoor Ali Khan appeared again in a similar role known as 'Don Shiva.'

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"I don't think any of these men from any of the industries are being punished enough for their misogyny," said well-known historian and social critic J Devika, who is also a Professor at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.

Devika also pointed out that most of the top Malayalam films of 2024 have been male-centric, except for Premalu and Aattam.

"Some of the movie posters struck me as completely devoid of female names which makes me wonder whether opportunities for women in the Malayalam industry are drying up. The stories also seem to be focused on masculine experiences, with very few women playing the lead role," she added.

Devika did add that the few women in major roles in Malayalam films are depicted as sassy, sexy and so on. But are they just shown for that effect and nothing else?

Acclaimed actor and director Revathi says that filmmakers must also be conscious and aware of societal issues. But this ultimately depends upon the individual, she stressed. "As a director, I would not have cast Mansoor Ali Khan solely due to my conscience. Because I would not be comfortable with it and I believe in practising what I preach."

Revathi added that the sensitivity to such issues is extremely low. "It is our responsibility to create that safe space and include sensitivity. I really wish we all change the attitude of brushing things under the carpet and I am hoping the newer generation will do better," she said.

The actor-filmmaker also said it's good that workplaces including film sets are now legally required to set up an internal complaints committee (ICC) for sexual harassment after the act was passed in 2013. However, it has to be a properly functioning forum and not just for the sake of doing so.

"The genuine need to create a safe working space for one's team has to come from the individual or the law has to be powerful enough to enforce it in every industry which has not happened. All production houses are supposed to set up an ICC when their production begins. However, the film industry realised late, and some are still unaware or disinterested in understanding its significance," she added.

A Fafaa stan myself, I went for the FDFS of Aavesham only to feel disappointed. It's not enough to make an entertaining film. Although the 1995 Mammootty starrer The King drew flak for the same problematic reasons, that famous dialogue of having "sense, sensibility and sensitivity" seems like good advice for not just Mollywood but all.

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The New Indian Express