Shades of Rima Kallingal: Actor, dancer and proud feminist gets candid about her life, views and dreams

From fighting income disparity in the industry to being one of the few celebrities who got vocal about the #MeToo campaign, Rima is the icon we all want in the cinema
Rima Kallingal
Rima Kallingal

Actor Rima Kallingal knows all too well what people think about her. On one hand, there are those who are absolutely in love with her and adore her for who she is and for the kind of work she does. On the other hand, there are those who think of her as a curly-haired witch who goes around ‘hypnotising’ and influencing women to be themselves and pursue their dreams, using some kind of sorcery. Honestly, she hasn't even seen the middle ground between the two extremes, ever. The latter has garnered her many tags in the past, the latest being 'feminichi’ (a manglish term that is used as an attempt to belittle a feminist, similar to that of ‘feminazi’). But is she offended? Not even a bit!

"I'm a proud feminist. When someone calls me feminichi, I beam with pride. Seriously! It is the best compliment," says Rima, who is not at all affected by the constant trolling. "When these few hundreds of people were busy trolling me, I was busy performing my dance show, Mullapoo Mamangam. I was creating something beautiful with so many loving people around me. I was in the midst of so much positivity and fun, while these trollers were indulging in so much negativity. Who do you think is the loser at the end? Duh, them of course. They build an atmosphere of hatred and they think that they can  make us submissive and be less vocal," she says. Well, haters, we have news for you — she is not afraid. Neither is she going to back down, owing to a few hundreds of people.

Let's dance: Mamangam teaches Contemporary, Kalaripayattu, Odissi, Capoeira, Zumba, Hip-hop, Salsa and Kuchipudi

Yes, #MeToo

Rima is one among the countless women who have boldly posted the viral hashtag #MeToo on Facebook, to lend a voice against sexual harassment. Despite several supporters, she also knows that there are people who belittle these campaigns. But she makes her point anyway, "A friend of mine had gone through something very harrowing during her childhood. She was scared to put up the hashtag, just like how she was afraid to speak about her experience throughout her life. After much pondering, she gathered the courage to put up the hashtag and this marked the first time she talked about it. Don’t be too concerned about this becoming a big campaign. Because of this, many people have been able to boldly come out and speak out about their dark secrets that they've been safeguarding for years. It is closure for a lot of women so that they can finally let go of that negative energy," she says. It is definitely hard to disagree. If at least one of those abusers realised that they were wrong, she would consider the campaign a success.

Changing times: Rima is huge critique of the way women are portrayed in cinema and has always made conscious efforts to turn the tables around 

Women do exist

It would be unfair to talk about Rima and not talk about the Women in Cinema Collective, the association of women artistes of the Malayalam film industry. She says that almost a decade-long experience in the film industry has exposed her to a lot of bitter truths."Whatever is happening out there is not fair. The industry has a long way to go to portray a society that reflects on the big screen. I had a problem with the way women were treated and portrayed in cinema," says the artist. Her friend being abducted and assaulted was the final straw. "Even after she survived, registered a case and stood up for her rights, the society pictured her as a victim and not a survivor. Half the industry didn't even stand by her. We knew that there was no better way to voice ourselves than by banding together and being loud and clear. If we don't do it today, it will be an injustice to all the women yet to come. If not now, we will be doomed forever," Rima says, calmly. (Yes, calmly!)

Inclusive hero: Rima greeting the players of the blind football academy in Kochi

Casting couch is a real thing!

We remember Malayalam actor, Innocent, say that the casting couch doesn't exist in the industry. But how far is that true? Let's ask a woman to find out the possible truth. "It happens everywhere. People may not directly ask you to sleep with them, but it may be a sexual comment or just putting you in a bad spot by not giving you the kind of money or role you deserve or they might disrespect you. Harassment happens in many ways. That isn't how it should work," she says. Many female actors came up to her later and said that they never had a bad experience. But that is precisely why Rima thinks that they should stand up for the ones who have had bad experiences.  

Personally, Rima hasn't faced any sort of sexual assault. She thinks that her body language speaks volumes, but she has had problems with payment disparity. "I don't get paid half of what actors like Asif Ali get paid. We both set foot into the industry at the same time. I can demand the money, but no one will give it to me. And if we speak about it, we are unfair and undeserving. If women have no value, then why do you cast us?" she questions.

Single to mingle: Rima has been married to filmmaker Aashiq Abu since 2013

The Mamangam of arts

Rima has always wanted a creative space for herself. A space where she can be herself and explore the different wings of dance. Working with Nritarutya, a contemporary dance company in Bengaluru for four years, paved way for her to achieve this by setting up her own dance school, Mamangam. "That moulded me for my journey later on. I remember being exposed to different kinds of dances in Bengaluru. There were so many things that I didn't know. I thought I had to work harder than the others. I love the freedom martial arts and contemporary gives a person. The cultural exposure that comes from international dance styles like the Flamenco, Salsa and Belly dancing opens you up as a person. That is what I want to do through Mamangam," she says, passionately. At Mamangam, she has students as young as three and as old as 55.

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