‘Aadujeevitham’ happened before I named Vairamuthu in the MeToo movement: Chinmayi

Chinmayi's association with A R Rahman began 22 years ago. Photo | Instagram (chinmayisripaada)

Singer Chinmayi Sripada, who made her debut in the film industry with ‘Oru Dheivam Thantha Poovae’ composed by A R Rahman 22 years ago, has collaborated with the celebrated music composer again in the upcoming movie ‘Aadujeevitham’. Her song ‘Ninne Kinaavu Kaanum,' along with Vijay Yesudas is a beautiful addition to the film, which will hit theatres on March 28.

Apart from her journey as a musician and dubbing artist, Chinmayi is one of the bravest voices in the Tamil movie industry. Her decision to call out popular lyricist Vairamuthu through the MeToo movement in 2018 sparked a huge debate in the industry. Prior to the film’s release, Chinmayi opens up about her career thus far and learning to find her voice in the Tamil film industry that has kept her out for six years.

Association with ‘Aadujeevitham’
I have worked with A R Rahman sir in several projects. ‘Aadujeevitham’ happened just like any other recording call, but I was happy when they called me for a Malayalam film. It is based on a true story. To be honest, I was surprised to learn about the difficulty an immigrant like Najeeb faced in the Gulf. This story is important for people who are in vulnerable spaces in society and those who are pushed to leave the country just to improve their basic means of living. I feel, most people have basic dreams only. It is time governments consider forming a cell to address the grievances of such people. But what can one expect of governments? There is a lot of red tapeism and corruption.

Being bold and vocal
I was never like this. I have been quiet all my life. But now what I am saying is so loud that people have forgotten that I had been quiet in the past. I found my voice very late in life, when I was 30. It takes people time to find their voice and expression. Most women may never find that voice because of the situation and their conditioning. Many are accused of speaking up late. The script against women abuse has always been the same. They accuse us of staying quiet for long, for smiling with the abusers in the past. However, people forget our conditioning. We were taught from a young age not to speak up for ourselves, at schools and homes. They said we would invite trouble if we were noticed. None of these rules applied to men.

Backlash over comments
I have shot myself in the foot so many times that I don’t have a foot any more. I will continue to speak up if I see people remain silent about abuse.

Banned for naming lyricist Vairamuthu in the Me Too movement
I suffered the ban for six years and it was not easy. It is an open secret in the industry that Vairamuthu is a sexual predator. It would be a joke if I said he is a safe person. I assume he is being protected to secure a vote bank.

Feeling isolated
Truly. I faced a (virtual) ban for six years. However, I was touched that people from Kerala, my neighbouring state, were raising their voice against my perpetrator. Women I hardly met, including Parvathy (Thiruvothu) and Rima Kallingal, slammed the jury for honouring Vairamuthu with the ONV literary award, saying the legacy of the award would be tainted for ever. Malayalis are rockstars that way. It hurt me that my home and the women who saw me grow up, never supported me. It is sad because Tamil Nadu has a huge history of women empowerment and even some landmark judgements regarding women.

Chinmayi says she was overwhelmed by the support she received from Kerala during her difficult time. Photo | Instagram (chinmayisripada)

A R Rahman showed willingness to work with you despite the virtual ban?

‘Aadujeevitham’ happened months before the MeToo movement. We recorded the song in March, while I made my statement against Vairamuthu in September. I have not worked with Rahman sir in the past six years.

Chinmayi and her mother with A R Rahman at a private function several years ago. Photo | Twitter (@chinmayi)

There were issues when reports emerged that Vairamuthu would be penning the songs composed by Rahman sir in Ponniyin Selvan. I want to believe Vairamuthu forced them to make him part of the project. But it didn’t work out for him.

Rumours about you winning national award for ‘Oru Dheivam Thanda Poove’ in 'Kannathil Muthamittal'?

I don’t know why people assume I have won the national award for that song. I have clarified this in many occasions but people still keep introducing me as a national award winner. I always joke saying people think I have won because they believe I deserved it (laughs). The song is a classic in Tamil Nadu and a huge hit in Kerala and other southern states.

Association with Rahman sir?

‘Oru Dheivam Thanda Poove’ was the first song I recorded with him and the journey has been great. Rahman sir is different in many ways. He is a thorough professional. I must say, his is the only studio in Tamil Nadu that has set up the Internal Complaints Committee. He has made sure there is no space for a sexual abuse environment at his studio. His daughter Khatija has also ensured the same. I spent several years recording several songs in that studio, but I have always felt safe. Rahman sir is not someone who gives speeches, but he implements action. I have a problem with those who give speeches, but do nothing.

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