Tamil Directors’ Roundtable: Lakshmy Ramakrishnan On A Missed Opportunity

Lakshmy Ramakrishnan writes about how self-doubt came in the way of her expression during the interaction, and what she actually attempted to state about casteism
Tamil Directors’ Roundtable: Lakshmy Ramakrishnan On A Missed Opportunity

As always, the trolls have come calling. And, what I attempted to convey during the Tamil Directors' Roundtable, but eventually did not, I now write. This is not to play the victim card, but to just put across some points that I could not, due to factors I'll explain. 

There is a glass ceiling, and many of us are unable to break it, not able to attain opportunities that are in front of us because of subtle yet damaging discrimination (gender, caste or race), despite our ability and effort. That is frustrating.

As a woman in the film industry, I am also a member of an underrepresented minority group. Those of you in a minority group will understand how hard it is to find that proverbial seat at the table. And once you do, once you have your foot in the door, the struggle to prove that you belong there begins. It is there that things went wrong for me in the round table organised recently by Film Companion.

In spite of being an outspoken person, I sometimes suffer chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual inferiority that wins over any tangible proof of my competence – psychologists call this "imposter syndrome". Can you imagine being at the dinner table one fine day with people you most look up to? Won't you be nervous? Won't you wonder "Why am I here? Do I deserve to be here?". And in that moment, can you imagine being entirely yourself? Since I was the "outsider" at the roundtable discussion, amidst people I look up to but haven't really identified with, I was caught second-guessing myself at the most crucial time. The roundtable should have been my time to shine. As a person in a minority group, I have to use my social capital to find opportunities, and it is for that exact same reason that I cannot burn any existing social capital I have. The fear of burning that capital by being honest among people I may have to depend on to be successful, combined with imposter syndrome put me at a disadvantage. 

I found myself caught between wanting to be honest but also not wanting to offend anyone. It was hard for me to comprehend the norms of what is acceptable and what is not, and so, I was being very careful. Baradwaj Rangan was an effective moderator and I definitely got a lot of talk time without being interrupted, even though I felt intimidated. I have realised that the key to truly being successful is to grab any opportunity presented to me with both horns and fully believe that I deserve to be at the table. It is only then that I will be able to do justice to my philosophies, the discussion and the audience. I failed to do that this time. 

Neither am I against caste representation in cinema nor do I have anything against Pa Ranjith's films. I loved his Kaala, Madras, and, of course, Mari Selvaraj's Pariyerum Perumal. My explicit appreciation of how caste was represented in these films seems to have been overlooked by people who are interpreting my statements in a way that best suits their hidden agenda. 

I was attempting to bring to light the seemingly increasing consciousness and prejudices around caste, behind the scenes on a film set. For instance, one of my assistants expressed displeasure in my choice of the colour blue for the cushions in my office. He saw that as my support of 'Neelam', the color that has empowered Dalits. Attributing caste to something as mundane as cushion colors was shocking. In the discussion, when I quoted this incident, my intent was to question whether we are breeding unnecessary fanaticism and whether a modification is required in the way we approach this in cinema.

While discussing the changing trends around film names, I felt that terms traditionally used to depict anti-heroes have now become appealing titles. Our present-day heroes are as aggressive as the villains of the past. It is okay to have contrary opinions and it takes courage to be open with them in such an august panel. The banter between director Vetri Maaran and me around this topic was interpreted as his defence and my defeat, when it was just a healthy discussion.

The segue of the discussion into violence in cinema has led to some other misinterpretations. As far as I can recall, Vetri and I were in agreement that depiction of violence in cinema  is on the rise. He also mentioned that there is a pressure to depict anger and angst in cinema because of increasing disparity. My reference to this topic was to only question whether it is responsible on the part of filmmakers to fan the fire.

A still from Lakshmy Ramakrishnan's <em>House Owner</em>
A still from Lakshmy Ramakrishnan's House Owner

To those questioning my capability to be on the panel, I think I earned my place. I am proud of the movies I've made and will be making. The reviews should speak enough about my films, I should not. If  trolls have not understood or not been able to comprehend my films, it is not on me. I would still make films with honesty and without worrying about commercial success. There are people who like my films and that is encouragement enough for me to continue this fantastic  journey. And, that is also the reason I write this — for those who care about what I was trying to say.

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