After A Top Actress Was Sexually Assaulted, Women In India's Movie Biz Began To Fight Back : Goats and Soda A movie star in the Indian movie industry known as "Mollywood" was kidnapped and sexually assaulted. No one thought she would speak out — but she did. Here's what happened next.
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After A Sexual Attack On An Actress, The Women Of 'Mollywood' Fight Back

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After A Sexual Attack On An Actress, The Women Of 'Mollywood' Fight Back

After A Sexual Attack On An Actress, The Women Of 'Mollywood' Fight Back

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Nearly a month after accusations surfaced against Harvey Weinstein, what's being called the Weinstein effect has gone global. Here in the U.S., more than 20 high-profile men in the entertainment business, in politics and in media have faced similar accusations. Some of them have lost their jobs. Just this week, here at NPR, Senior Vice President of News Mike Oreskes was forced to resign after sexual harassment allegations came to light. In a few minutes, we'll talk about the Weinstein effect and we'll ask, why now? But the problem is certainly not limited to the U.S. Other countries are dealing with their own public sexual harassment scandals. Over the past year in India, the film industry there has had to face its own problems. NPR's Nurith Aizenman brings us the story.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: This is a story about how a single act of bravery galvanized some of India's top actresses to band together to put an end to sexual harassment. It started one night last February, when a well-known actress got into a chauffeured car sent by the company producing the movie she was working on. Rima Kallingal is a close friend of the actress and tells me the story.

RIMA KALLINGAL: On the way, there was another car that rammed into the car that she was traveling in.

AIZENMAN: Several men jumped out.

KALLINGAL: There were about four to five men from the other car who got into her car, who forced themselves into the car she was traveling in. And - yeah.

AIZENMAN: Over the next several hours, they drove around with the actress as their prisoner, taking photos and video as they sexually assaulted her. NPR doesn't identify victims of sexual assault without their consent. This account comes from the court's prosecution summary. Kallingal, who's also a prominent actress, thinks the attackers must have assumed her friend would be too humiliated at the prospect of the photos being made public to report the crime, but the actress went to the police immediately.

KALLINGAL: I still remember going to meet her the very next day and how she stood like a rock and was so clear that, you know, she was going to come down with every person who's been involved in this.

AIZENMAN: Within days, several men were arrested. And the prosecutor is now alleging that they were hired by a famous actor because he had a personal grudge against the actress. An attorney for the actor tells NPR his client was not involved. This all happened in the southern Indian state of Kerala, home to one of India's various film industries. Kallingal, the actress's friend, says that by coming forward, she inspired her women colleagues to start a conversation they'd never had before.

KALLINGAL: It was like we opened a can of worms, really.

KALLINGAL: Parvathy Thiruvothu (ph) is another prominent actress. She says, at first, everyone was just calling each other out of shock. But the more they talked, the more they started to confide in one another.

PARVATHY THIRUVOTHU: It was really shocking for me and for everyone, in fact, once we got together about 18 to 20 of us that we have been either assaulted or have faced casting couch over these 10, 11 years. And we've never spoken about it, even with each other.

AIZENMAN: The stories ran the gamut - women getting slapped for expressing creative differences on set, male actors making lewd comments, other key figures expecting a woman to sleep with them during filming or get blacklisted. Thiruvothu says on one of her movies, a powerful man in the industry didn't even give her that choice.

THIRUVOTHU: I was really young at the time. And for me to try and escape that, and I didn't - I didn't. I was assaulted. I was forced to be intimate.

AIZENMAN: And she says other women have now told her this same man assaulted them. He's one of several men who appear to be serial offenders.

THIRUVOTHU: And these men are still like reigning in this industry as powerful people. Like, we have our Weinsteins here.

AIZENMAN: But when it comes to publicly naming them, that's where the parallel with Hollywood ends. Whereas Weinstein's accusers have been greeted with almost universal support, the women in India's film industry worry they'd get a very different reception. They say in India, just being in the movies opens you to accusations that you have loose morals.

THIRUVOTHU: Even as an actor right now, the way I get comments on social media is just that, hey, you sleep around. I mean, who are you? You're not even a pure woman or you're just a whore.

AIZENMAN: To change this culture, this past May, Thiruvothu and the others formed what they've called the Women in Cinema Collective. They've been meeting with a top official in their state, working to set up a committee that would have the power to investigate and punish claims of harassment in the movie business. Right now, the industry doesn't have those protections. Thiruvothu says they've got a long road ahead but that it's hard to overstate the significance of their first step - recognizing for themselves that this harassment is not OK.

THIRUVOTHU: Society's trained us to take it all in and implode.

AIZENMAN: Now, she says, it's coming out. Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.

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