Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi finally breathed a sigh of relief last week when the Kerala High Court ruled out a case of obscenity against the biweekly for showing on the cover of a recent edition a model breastfeeding a child. The picture showing Gilu Joseph, also an actress-writer, holding the infant sparked a massive controversy in March and a case was registered against the magazine and the model for being ‘indecent’. The court said, “Obscenity lies in the eyes of the beholder," also adding, "One man’s vulgarity may be a lyric for another.”
Gilu, a 28-year-old former airhostess says she has primarily been a writer. “Before the cover picture went viral, people knew me as a writer,” she recalls. “The very next day when the cover picture came out, there were people who called me a slut”. The magazine picture completely changed people’s mentality about her overnight, she adds. Excerpts:
Do you feel vindicated after the High Court refusing to call the Grihalaksmi breastfeeding cover as obscene?
After the court’s judgement, I felt extremely happy. The case was not directed to me, the magazine handled it on its own. Even the judgement is something I came to know about from the media. Reading the news, I was really happy and surprised because it was a verdict that was so much favourable for all artists. You know, art is not always appreciated. We are not in a place where artists are always appreciated. There are always lots of criticism and backlash. So, when Kerala High Court came up with its judgement, we were all so happy.
ALSO READ: The Joy Of Being Gilu Joseph
Could you please share with us your experience...on how you withstood the attacks against you?
For me nobody came up to me directly or told me in the face, but most of the comments and all the backslashes were on social media. People were calling me names, tagging me, labelling me. But before doing the shoot, I knew this was coming up. I knew I will have to face lot of criticisms. I was mentally prepared for all of that. So, I was not at all affected. But, my family had to face a little bit more than I faced. For, they had no words to say like I had. If somebody tells me something, I can answer them back because I know what I did and why I did it. I still stand on my decision very very clearly. For my family, though, they did not know why I did it. Neither did they have an idea about what to tell those people who came up to them and called me names. You know they even called me slut, blue-film actress etc? Just because of the picture! I mean there is nothing wrong in being a blue film actor, but for me it was just because of the picture I got that label.
More than me, my parents had to face most of the criticism. That is something that affected me a lot. I love my parents and when they are affected with something that I did it, it makes me feel bad; it affects me. I know people forget everything. It’s not there anymore. The phase has gone. The picture did not change my life upside down. But, the only thing that affected me was my parents were hurt, they were clueless about the whole incident.
Did you get support from the groups and people from whom you expected it?
Well, when I got this project, I didn’t actually tell anybody. And I didn't expect anyone to support me. For me, it was a very personal choice and I did it. Expecting support from someone was not there, expectations always disappoints so, inside my mind I knew I will have to face criticism and I will have to deal with it all alone. But, I actually got a lot of support from other people and it made me so happy. I had prepared my mind for the controversies as I knew the picture was going to a very orthodox-minded community. Specially I am from a very remote place in Kerala (rugged Kumili in southeastern Idukki district) where people has their own beliefs, system, culture and they halt so much into it.
Is there any change in people’s attitude toward breastfeeding in open?
Absolutely! You know at least if the campaign could bring up on so many controversies from so many people, then it means it has reached these many people—and that is progress. In Malayalam, breast is called mula. The word was itself considered abusive for long, but now even small kids talk about it. It has become a normal word now.
Breastfeeding was never been talked about in Kerala! Maybe because of that, the mindset of the people was different (from most other parts of the country). But, we cannot expect society to change overnight. It’s not like you get up one fine morning and see people have mentally changed. We need to talk to about it, have small discussion on it and I am sure very slowly things will change. I am so sure that after there were so many discussions over my picture, deep inside people’s mind they have realised that it is normal.
I had also received so many positive comments when my picture on that cover went viral. My Instagram was filled with so many positive, good comments.
There was also a bare-chested campaign in Kerala this year after a college professor compared a woman’s chest with water melon. How do you see it?
No, I don’t have any personal opinion on that. Online campaigns, criticisms…I think they are fine. I don’t have any personal comment on anything else but, the shoot for the cover that I did was my personal choice and my personal decision. Not to change the world. It’s just that I liked the assignment and took it up.
In April, Telugu actress Sri Reddy went nude to protest casting couch in the film industry. The other day, singer Sona Mahapatra threatened to go nude to silence her abusers. Is nudity becoming a way of protest among Indian women?
As I told you earlier, I don’t have any personal comments on any other campaign. But, for me it’s not about nudity, it was not about anything else. For me, personally I believe that we all are much much more than our body. See, when a rape case comes up, in India it’s always the raped who is called the ‘victim’ because that person thinks that she is the one who is affected. We all reduce ourselves to our external body. But I personally believe that I am much much much more than my body. Whatever I gained from my life could be my relationships, my talent, my wisdom and whatever is inside me. When we have so much to focus on, we always focus on our external body. That is the major problem in our society, I think. I don’t think it’s about nudity or anything; it’s about believing ourselves.
Are you taking any more conscious efforts toward woman emancipation?
As of now, no! I don’t have any plans like that. At the age of 18, before taking my passport , without seeing even an airport, I had become a cabin crew in an international airlines. I worked for 8 years and travelled the world. Now I am 28 and I have written three books , more than three thousand poems and more than 50 articles. I have done small roles in 12 movies out of which three are yet to be released. And I have also done the lead role in three short films, besides writing songs in 8 movies. I am also an internationally certified scuba diver. I never had any plans. Even for this breastfeeding campaign I had no plans. It just came to me and my mind said what is wrong in it and that is when I did it. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow onwards I will go and change society. I am not sure if the same project comes up again whether I will take it up again. I don’t plan things. I am not a person who plans anything in life. If I am comfortable with the work then I will surely take it up. Just because I was part of the cover, doesn’t mean that tomorrow onwards I will take up all the campaigns or support all the projects for woman empowerment. No! I will sign a project when I am comfortable with it.