Meet Kaali, the fierce crusader storming an all-male Mollywood bastion

Kaali is urges women not to give up hope but to fight for themselves. Photo: fight_master_kaali_official/ Instagram

A childhood trauma can often wreak havoc on anyone’s mental health. Sometimes, it makes you suspect your own self-worth. And in a few exceptional cases, it spurs the fighter in you. Like Dhanya, or Kaali as she is known.
Kaali is an aberration in the male-dominated precincts of Mollywood, as the Malayalam film industry is often referred to. And she is an out-of-the-world incarnation, all the more because she has cut forth a path in a hitherto male bastion, a space where women were unheard of, unwelcome, and perceived to be unsuited– fights.

Kaali, is a women fight, literally
Her traumatic past when she was hunted out from her refuge in a burial ground to be molested and exploited gave her sleepless nights for years. Such is the impact that even now, a hearty laugh or a pleasant feeling evades her persona.
So it was the fighter in Dhanya who took to filmdom. To survive. She juggled many roles, including playing dupes, and ultimately landed in the male turf of fight scenes so vital to movies.

Travails of a single mom
Not that gender discrimination had vanished altogether. It remained to taunt the meek and the hapless. To survive, crisis-ridden situations were imperative for Dhanya. She is now fiddling with danger in her workplace– the fight scenes, but then Dhanya, the fight master, is not new to the perils of such scenarios.

“ Fighting is a dangerous scenario. Apart from the usual discriminatory practices, there is mostly no way out, to get out of such situations even if you are harmed in the process,” she says. It is not that women are averse to take up jobs related to fight scenes in the film industry. It is just that fighting involves dabbling with danger along with taking on discrimination, Dhanya vouches.

But considering the treacherous paths she has survived, Dhanya deems the fight master role is far better.
“ It is more so because in life you get thrashed for no reason, but in reel-life, to get paid for getting beaten up,” Dhanya makes her point.

The travails of a single mother weren’t helping her either. She has had to go to work after putting her children to sleep late in the night. Not to mention that the fighter in her gave her the much-needed self-confidence. “That is also a safety net. When many others quit this tough job scenario, I persisted,” says Kaali.

Foray into films
It was 16 years ago that Dhanya entered the film industry. First, she took to choreography and acting. But she couldn’t stick to these roles. Those days she didn’t even know that there was a key role for a fight master in films. That is when she had a chance meeting with Sashi master. “ She had gone to Saritha-Savitha theatre and had fallen from her bike when a shooting was going on. She was pulled out from under the tyres of her bike with burn injuries, but Sashi master noticed that Dhanya was smiling despite that. That chance meeting ended up with Kaali taking up the role of Sashi master’s assistant.

Sashi master himself had told her that she should make her appearances suit the feminine charms of women which was a prerequisite to get roles in the industry, she says. But she was adamant that she should remain Sashi master’s understudy.

Dhanya to Kaali
She had an aversion to her name, which meant “blessed” as she felt she lost her childhood and younger days when she stuck to that name-Dhanya. That trauma made her hate the name. So she decided she needed a different avatar, a different name as a fight master.
That was how Kaali was born, the new-age incarnation of the fierce Goddess that embodies feminine energy.

There were other names too that didn’t stick to her–Kuthira, or horse, Kilukkam, etc. The person considered her father told her her name was Bhadra. She didn’t want that name as she refused to believe the man was her father.
If we believe in God, we should know what that God is. “Like Kaalidasan, I felt I am a “daasa” of disciple of Kaali,” says she.

Struggles of adolescence
A ten-year-old’s physical exploitation had been hailed a heroic act then, she says about her struggles. The molesters touted it with pride. The scene, she says is not in faraway lawless lands of north, but in Murukkumpadam near Vypin, Kochi. She did gather the courage to post the names and pictures of her tormentors three years ago. She also took up the issue with cops. The hunters prevailed as the cops were more keen to characterise her as an immoral woman.
In her place in Vypin, there are many women with similar stories, Kaali says Many ask if they would get justice only if they died, a reference to solatium announced by the authorities in some cases.

What girls need is the protective ring of society, not chocolates or counselling, says Kaali. “Many who lose their sleep in childhood, traumatised by their past experiences, often fall into the lap of drugs. Even girls born in well-to-do families are unable to survive that. Imagine a situation when a whole region is hell-bent on exploiting a woman,” Kaali points out.
“I sincerely wanted to just sleep for a day without being bothered about anything. There are many women like that,” says she.

Photo: fight_master_kaali_official/ Instagram

When she was just four or five, a foreigner had preyed on her in Fort Kochi. Even now, when a molestation case is reported the questions asked are more pointed at the victim, who would be mostly helpless to explain and when forced to “list out her innocence”. After her traumatic burial ground experience, she hid whenever she came in close proximity with her tormentors. Many even went to the extent of suggesting that it was due to excessive bodily growth that I was subjected to such ill-treatment, she says. “When I say such things publicly, even that is an act of revenge on them,” Kaali says.

Parenting pangs
If children with such bitter experiences do not get good parenting, it is likely that they would fall into the ghastly alleys of sex work. They are then unable to get out of that racket. This happens because our laws are incapable of offering them protection. Kaali’s crusade is meant to make exploited women empowered to publicly air their bad experiences.
Fear of doing that would make them subjugate more to the wanton elements. “Women should be able to proclaim that it ain’t her fault and no one should touch their bodies. Even if we complain about someone, people ask you to just hush up the matter else your future would be in jeopardy. That makes the women feel insecure and lose sleep,” Kaali recounts, from her bitter experiences.
Kaali is urging women not to give up hope but to fight for themselves. A valiant fight she has shown them from her own bitter tale.

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