Till a few years ago, Indian female actors rarely spoke on topics other than their families, hobbies, and personal care tips. Even the “tell-all” talk-shows (with both male and female actors) were confined to mostly gossips around personal relationships and juvenile jokes on their industry colleagues.
But over the last few years, things have changed for the better. Whether it is in Bollywood or in regional cinema, a young, more daring bunch of female actors are opening up about topics beyond the “norm.” The likes of Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker, and even Sonam Kapoor are speaking their mind about politics, gender biases, and power dynamics ingrained in the movie industry, diplomacy be damned. This growing tribe of women is led in South India by a few actors from Kerala – Parvathy Thiruvothu being the most prominent among them.
Arguably the most bankable female actor in Malayalam cinema (other than Manju Warrier), Parvathy – who is turning 32 today – has also been widely applauded for her work in Tamil, Kannada, and Hindi cinema too.
Parvathy has also been at the centre of controversies in the last two years for doing something that was not expected of female celebrities in the country: she spoke her mind about the social responsibility of actors, calling out South superstar Mammootty’s misogynistic dialogues in Malayalam film Kasaba (2016) and the glorification of toxic masculinity in Telugu film Arjun Reddy (2017) and its Hindi-remake Kabir Singh (2019).
As online trolling got out of hands, and reached rape threats and death threats against her, Parvathy did not hesitate to go to cops and bring the culprits to justice.
Parvathy is active on promoting awareness and voicing her concerns on social issues regularly (and not just when her movie is set to release). In fact, she was part of the nation-wide protests related to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), in Mumbai along with actors like Farhan Akhtar, Aditi Rao Hydari, and Nandita Das. She has also been honest about the Islamophobia in her movies and the existence of casting couch in the Malayalam film industry.
Closer home, Parvathy was instrumental in the launch of Women in Cinema Collective, an organisation formed in 2017 to support women in Malayalam film industry. (It was formed in the aftermath of the abduction and sexual assault of an actress in Kochi earlier, which started conversations about the lack fo safety for women in the industry.)
In a world where following patriarchy and being submissive is the norm, Parvathy also did the rebellion of being true to herself – calling herself a feminist and standing up for gender equality. (Her Twitter profile says “Actor. Feminist. Shape-shifter.”) She has stated that speaking openly about the dirty secrets of the industry have took away work from her for a while. But she has made a comeback possibly one for true talent.
Actor with a conscience
Just as Parvathy’s activism reflects her political views, her work on screen is also true to her conscience. The actor has stated that she will not be part of any film that promotes gender-based violence or shows women in poor light. In fact, most of her roles– ever since her debut 14 years ago – have been of strong, independent women.
For instance, in Uyare (2019), she is an acid attack survivor rebuilding her dreams and rising from the ashes rather than living as a victim. In the ensemble-blockbuster Bangalore Days (2014), Parvathy was RJ Sarah, who is bound to a wheelchair but does not let it restrict her desires. In Take Off (2017), she was a nurse stuck in war-torn Iraq, a performance that won her Kerala State Award for Best Actress as well as Special Mention at the National Film Award. In her Bollywood debut Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017), where she starred with veteran actor Irrfan Khan, Parvathy stole the show as Jaya, who aspires for love and happiness while handling her emotional baggage with great maturity and dignity.
May be it is this conviction in her work that keeps bringing audience back to theatres for Parvathy’s films – including those who disagree with her politically. In fact, she stands out among the new generation, ‘woke’ heroines who rarely step out to be a part of the masses, and makes sure that her work is never compromised. After acting in about two dozens of films across languages, majority of them in her mother tongue, Parvathy has stated that her next big goal is to go beyond the camera. Very soon, Indian cinema may get another female actor-turned-director, joining the league of Nandita Das and Konkana Sen Sharma.
Here is wishing her a very happy birthday and more wonderful films in her kitty.