Our Cover Girl – Actress and now an activist, Rima Kallingal, has been a tidal wave of change in the cine industry one Ted Talk at a time; she is open, honest, and oh-so-inspirational! A minute of conversation with her makes us go, “Give this woman all the fish fry she deserves!”
Check out the exlcusive interview and pics below!
“First came the reality dance show, then Miss Kerala and finally, Cinema followed!”
Being an actress wasn’t part of the plan but a natural course of events for Rima. “Kerala had just announced its first Dance Reality Competitive Show and I could not wait to be a part of it. I packed my bags and went to Trivandrum by myself and after a good couple of months, I realised it wasn’t getting me anywhere. I was almost going to turn back and come home when one of the organisers of Miss Kerala who knew me personally recommended I participate. I was to hang around for ten more days in Kerala and went through the whole process. I didn’t win, I was runners-up. I decided to go back to Bangalore when few ads happened. And then followed a few cover stories for magazines, a few shoots. It was around that time when two of the biggest names in Malayalam cinema approached me about a movie; Shyam sir and Lal sir called me and auditioned me for a role and both of them selected me. It was totally unexpected, it still feels surreal that it happened.”
“22 Female Kottayam happened because of me!”
In the 2012 Malayalam blockbuster ‘22FK’, Rima played a rape survivor,a character for which she won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actress. Talking about the movie she says, “Aashiq, the director firmly believes most of his projects come to life when he meets people. ‘Daddy Cool’ happened because of Mammootty, ‘Salt N’ Pepper’ happened because he came across writer Syam Pushkaran and he believes ‘22 Female Kottayam’ happened because he met me. He tells me he saw the character come alive in me and I also believe Malayalam cinema was gearing up for change. The industry was ready to experiment, and there were a lot of producers ready to take the type of bold risks as well. When I read the script I wanted to try it on for size and that opened up a whole new dimension in my career thereon. I didn’t think I would love being in front of the camera so much and that I could try on new roles and characters through this medium. I was so happy the crew trusted me with such a layered protagonist role.”
So was she ever intimidated? Rima shakes her head firmly and goes on, “No, in fact, I was overjoyed! This is what every artist dreams of. Nobody constantly wants to do the same hip shaking in 4 songs or a crying character with 4 scenes and basically just a love interest for the male lead and later disappearing from the plot. We need more, more of a challenge. We need real women characters.”
“People told me I would last only 5 years”
In an industry ruled by negative-ism, there’s no escaping from ageism and sexism in any corner. Rima lets on, “People told me I would fade away in 5 years. I would have to compromise on scripts. It keeps playing in your mind. It affects your confidence as an artist, it brings you down. At one point that’s what they want as well. They want us to dumb down and compromise constantly as they stay exploitative.”
However, there is a positive side to it too! “That amazing moment when women come up and tell me that they were inspired by this particular role, particular speech or some scene they saw is totally the opposite. I realised that there is a huge gap between what the industry has perceived about its audience and the actual members of the audience! Nowadays, close to half the population in theatres are women! There is a huge population of women cinemagoers out there who are looking to see women like themselves being portrayed on screen. They yearn for some representation, some meaningful stories about them. Some meaningful narratives and some meaningful perspectives about them in real stories. And I don’t understand why the industry is in denial; it refuses to acknowledge the fact that there is a whole range of untapped audience and they contribute to success as much as the others! How long will they deny that women are a big part of the box office sweeps of many of the movies they make?” she asks.
“Stop calling my friend a victim, she is a survivor!”
In the wake of the high-profile actress abduction case, Rima was one of the core team to form the Women in Cinema Collective, an association for actresses and women crew. Rima shares, “When my colleague was attacked in a moving car in February of last year, it shocked us, it stunned us. We realised how helpless we could be in a situation like that. When my friend mustered up courage and went ahead and filed an FIR the very same night we wanted to stand by her. Everybody else was being insensitive to the point of making it her fault. And let me remind you she is not a victim, she is a survivor. The industry has a lot of issues, but this was the ultimate breaker. That was when I decided I wanted to do something about it. We had to stand up and tell some people to be sensitive and make sure change happens.”
With many high profile names of men and women alike in the WCC, it was only matter of time that they made the news. Rima goes on, “All it took were a few calls. I called all the people I knew, they called all the people they knew. Parvathy Menon, Manju Varrier, Beena Paul, Geethu Mohandas, Remya Nambeesan, totally 19 of us got together and we met the CM of Kerala and requested him to speed the process. We are all in different parts of the world most of the time and we are very busy with our own work. We are not a union, we are a collective trying to change the collective consciousness of people in the industry.”