Thursday, June 06, 2013

A Polarising Impact

TV anchor and actress Ranjini Haridas has created powerful reactions, both positive and negative, in Kerala society

By Shevlin Sebastian

Sunil Mathew was in a good mood. After a hectic period of work, in his company in Dubai, he had taken a few days off to spend time with his family in Kochi. So, on May 16, humming a tune under his breath, he waited patiently in line in front of the emigration counter at the Cochin International Airport. It was a long queue and there were a few stars present. They included TV anchor and actress Ranjini Haridas, TV actress Asha Sharath and a top Mollywood comedian.

Suddenly, a man, Joji George (name changed) began shouting, at the top of his voice, at Ranjini, telling her that she had jumped the queue. “I was just behind Ranjini and she had not done such a thing,” says Sunil. “Joji began to shower the choicest of abuses, attacking her and her parents. Throughout Ranjini kept saying, 'Please mind your language'.”

A distressed Sunil, along with a few others, alerted the policemen who were standing nearby. After some effort, they managed to stop Joji's verbal abuse. “It was an upsetting situation,” says Sunil. “In fact, the one who should have been shouted at was the comedian, who had actually jumped the queue. What was surprising was how he kept quiet even as Joji was shouting. And Joji, through his actions, revealed his inherent bias and prejudice against a smart woman.”

There is something about Ranjini that provokes a strong emotional reaction, whether negative or positive.

Whenever I think of Ranjini, the following words come to my mind: controversial, bold, and liberal,” says freelance writer Nandini Valsan. “She is proud to be who she is.”

Nandini saw her perform live at a show at the Durbar Hall. “I realised then that she has a magnetic personality,” she says. “Ranjini has the ability to mobilise an audience. That was when I began to appreciate her.”

Another event where Ranjini made her mark was when Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan came to inaugurate a showroom in Kochi. “As a compere she could hold her own against a celebrity like Shah Rukh Khan,” says Nandini. “She was not star-struck, nor was she fumbling, and she knew her English well. Ranjini is a person you would like to have on stage, representing Kerala. I don't think we have a compere at present who has that kind of confidence.”

Anna, the wife of Ernakulam MLA, Hibi Eden, is also an admirer. “Ranjini has style and poise,” says Anna. “People say that she is arrogant and a show-off, but I have never seen that. I have observed her in public functions where she has been a spectator and at various shops in Kochi and she has always behaved well. I feel that because she is a public figure, people say many negative things about her.”

Leading the negative charge are the men. “Whatever Kerala men say about the need for women to be empowered, what he basically wants is a soft and passive woman who will obey him,” says Anna. “They are looking for a 'paavam' girl. And Ranjini is the opposite: she is strong, confident and assertive. When men see this they get irritated and angry and bad-mouth her.”

Of course, there are sociological reasons behind this. "The patriarchal values and attitudes are still very strong in Kerala society,” says Professor John Kattakayam, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of Kerala. “As a result, people cannot tolerate liberated women within its fold. I do not want to judge the behavior of Ranjini, but it is time our society learnt to accept the 'liberated woman'. Otherwise, the claim that we are a 'progressive society' will be a hollow one." 

Meanwhile, the woman at the centre of the controversy remains forthright as ever. “There are many men who cannot stand the sight of a successful, self-thinking, hard-working woman,” says Ranjini. “This is not about me. I am just a representative of all the women, like me, who are out there. And we say, 'Bring it on!'”

Her bold stance has many supporters, especially among womenfolk, at all levels of society. Says Saritha Mohan, who works as a personal secretary: “I like Ranjini a lot. She lets off a lot of positive energy, charm, and happiness John

But Anna strikes a note of caution: “Many women do appreciate Ranjini, but there are some who are jealous of her success,” she says. “It is a positive sign that Ranjini is able to make people jealous of her. It means she is having an impact. The disappointing aspect is that our society still does not appreciate successful and confident women at all.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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