Excerpts from a conversation between Baradwaj Rangan and Lakshmy Ramakrishnan.
You are a filmmaker and yet your reputation and popularity comes from your activism, which we see on TV and social media. Do you see yourself as an actor/filmmaker or as an activist?
I don’t consider myself as any of these alone. Whether it is filmmaking, being a mother, a housewife or an activist, I think these are the different roles Lakshmy Ramakrishnan plays. All of these make me the person I am. Nothing of this is forced or planned. It just happened on its own. I evolved.
Most activists take up issues such as free speech, whereas you restrict yourself largely to relationships. What gives you the confidence to say that this is something that I know a lot about and I think I can sit in judgement on?
I won’t say I can sit in judgement, but I would say that I have a lot of concern for and a lot of conviction in what I believe in. I can’t be judgemental. It’s a matter of your own conviction. When it comes to that, my experiences as a young girl getting married at a very early age and coming to a different State and the struggles I faced such as identity crisis, conservatism and gender inequality, have led me to a place where I strongly feel that a family is the basic unit of any society. If you want to bring up complete, responsible and balanced citizens, it has to start at home. Whether it is a single parent or a husband and wife or the extended family, family as a unit plays a major role. Whatever happens inside a family, whether it is domestic violence or any other social evil cannot be set aside or discounted, saying that it is a private affair. In that context, my children were brought up by my husband and I. We always prioritised our children because we felt responsible. They’re all hugely individualistic, with their own passions. They’re multi skilled, highly qualified and have their own strengths and weaknesses, and are aware of those strengths and weaknesses. I realised that our upbringing has contributed to this. With my experience, I realised that family is very important. Family, mental health and a conducive atmosphere is very very important for bringing up responsible citizens. That’s why I focus on that.
The definition of family, over the years, has changed. There are single parents, products of divorce, gay and lesbian parents and other kinds of parents. How did your family experience transition into something larger to help the world?
When you say ‘family’, it need not be a husband and wife. When two partners cannot get along and there is a lot of abuse in the relationship, it’s the right thing to move away, because being together will harm the children more. There are many episodes in my show where I’ve told couples that if they stayed together, the child would be affected. So, when I say ‘family’, it may be single parents, divorced couples, friends or two men/women deciding to have a family. I don’t belong to a generation that was exposed to all of this. That’s not my fault. But I respect that. There’s no way I would be judgemental about it. But, whatever type of family you are, maintaining a healthy, conducive atmosphere for a child is very important.
Would you say that the reason you got into the recent controversy with Vanitha Vijaykumar was your concern for the children involved?
No. It was not about the children. After everything happened, I sat down and thought about it. Because whenever something happens, I look at myself first and then decide how to go forward about it. It is very important for me. I want to learn from whatever experience I go through. So the talk about this incident has been all over the place but I truly believed that it was her right, her life and her decision to live her life. The first comment that came from me was when I saw the legal wife claiming on a popular news channel that they were not yet divorced. I see such women and such cases in my show. So, I connected to it immediately. All I said was to at least make sure there’s a divorce before you get into a relationship, because it will do away with a lot of unnecessary tension. But some of the media made it look like a fight between me and her. There were personal attacks. I didn’t react to any of this and maintained my decency. I understand she was going through a tough phase. I didn’t want to add to her misery. If you check my tweets, you will know that I maintained this and I’m not judgemental and that I wish her well. But before coming out and celebrating and glorifying a relationship, make sure it is legal because it might set a wrong precedent for many people, because you’re a popular figure. So, there might be people waiting for an excuse to justify their wrong actions. That was the concern. But it was blown out of proportion and the media made it seem like a personal fight. It wasn’t even a personal tweet.
Is Twitter really the best way to handle the situation?
No. That’s what I have learnt from the whole process. That’s my takeaway. My husband and my children have been telling me for so many years that social media is not the place to show your activism. I never listened to them. I love expressing myself on Twitter. I love that platform. This incident taught me a very, very costly lesson. Because of this incident, many other elements have surfaced. If there is one regret I have in the whole episode, it is when I agreed to talk to her. In my experience of eight years, I have faced so many weird cases. That gave me the confidence. I’ve convinced many tough people to sort out things. But here, I was wrong. I want to clarify one more thing. When I say regret, I’m talking about how I have given an opportunity to my other haters who had a personal agenda to celebrate that moment.
So, in future, would you say that you would not go back to Twitter for such a situation?
I will never go back to Twitter for activism. I’ve taken this call. That’s the greatest lesson this experience has taught me.
One of the comments on the video presented a hypothetical situation and asked if something had gone wrong with your life, heaven forbid, how would you like it if the world sat on judgement on that? What would your answer to that be?
See, if something went wrong in my relationship and if I put it on Twitter or YouTube and discussed it, it means that it’s not a private matter anymore. Once I put it out and make it public, it means I have given the opportunity and permission for everybody to comment on it. In my TV show, people comment and personally attack me. But I’m patient when I reply to them because I operate on a public forum. People have the right to comment. When I bring my personal life, celebrate it and glorify it on a public forum, I automatically give people permission to comment on it; it is no more private. Each person’s journeys and battles are different, so we can’t generalise. But the mindset of people towards a certain issue matters a lot.