From kicking ass in all her roles to being unapologetically vocal about misogyny, discrimination, and everything no one else will talk about, Parvathy has the talent and the valour to do it all.
An actor par excellence, a director in the making, a founder, a strong feminist voice, and overall force to reckon with, it’s hard to define Parvathy Thiruvothu. Not one for labels anyway, she has been criticising the wrong attribution of a casteist surname to her. The multilingual actor has made a mark in Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, and Hindi during her nearly 15-year-long career. Her filmography may be shorter than that of her peers, but she sparkles in every one of her roles — a spirited paraplegic RJ Sarah in Bangalore Days, the bold village belle Panimalar in Tamil film Maryan, nurse Sameera in Take Off, or the widow Jaya Shashidharan who takes a second shot at love in her Bollywood debut Qarib Qarib Singlle.
In her latest full length role, she plays an aspiring pilot whose dreams are shattered when her toxic boyfriend throws acid on her face. In a country that sets unrealistic beauty standards for its female actors, she chose to highlight the horrific realities of gender violence. Both critically acclaimed and a box office hit, the movie came out before Bollywood’s Deepika Padukone did Chhapaak (2020). “A lot of my own experiences in terms of how I’d not put self respect first while trying to make a relationship work came into play when I prepared for that role. I also recognised a lot of emotional manipulation within myself that I had done in the past to people I claimed to love, as well,” she says. Apart from consistently producing stellar work, she has been a vocal critic of misogyny, discrimination, and gender pay gap in the Malayalam film industry; cofounded a Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) for equal opportunities; fended off scathing attacks from trolls for her opinions; and along the way, picked up a couple of dozen awards, including a special mention at the National Film Awards for her performance in Take Off.
Parvathy has strong opinions, and is not afraid to air them. Sample this: “I’d rather live life as disruptive and a whistleblower than opt for numbing ‘peace’ that is simply aiding injustice,” she said, on being asked where she draws strength from. But her outspokenness has come at a cost. She calls cyber bullying a fear tactic to break one’s spirit, one that she manages to brush off “because I am backed well by my feminist ideals, and friends who are strong individuals who would never let me down”. “I don’t have many (friends), but the ones I have would easily beat any misogynistic extremist army,” she adds. It also meant fewer opportunities for herself. “Despite my films being successful at the box office, with my continuous open discourse on malpractices within the industry, I didn’t have offers back then. That is not the case now,” she says.
For her, addressing gender violence is not limited to expressing opinions, or making films about them. She was at the forefront of setting up the WCC after a fellow female actor was reportedly assaulted by a leading actor. There was much furore around the incident, but little practical support for the survivor. “With WCC, we are proving we are here to stay, and not going anywhere. We will work, will clean our workplace, and there is no stopping that,” she says. Last month, she resigned from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), calling its general secretary’s remarks about the survivor “utterly disgusting and mortifying”. But it’s not all serious with the versatile actor, who is looking forward to doing comic roles. “Comedy is a genre I have not explored at all. I think as an actor, it’s high time I flex those muscles, and see if I’ve got the chops for it.”
She did have a brush with comedy in her latest role, a cameo appearance as an acting coach in Halal Love Story (2020). Parvathy played an acting coach in a movie that revolved around a bunch of amateurs trying to make a film that will abide by all Islamic rules, thereby making it halal, and not haraam (forbidden). She is also in the process of switching gears to directing, apart from filming for Sanu Varghese’s directorial debut. She then has a project with Ratheena Sharshad that will start next year.