Cinema is a word that comes from the French cinematograph that is used to refer to the device that projects a motion picture on to a screen. In fact, movie is a more popular word than cinema and represents popular culture more than a medium of art. Movie is an alternative name for a motion picture that is used in all parts of the world. Female leads have been there in Malayalam cinema performing various roles that received recognition. But if we analyze those movies in detail, we can understand that mostly they played the roles of mother, chaste women, crooked one, romantic heroine and so on. In short, gendered roles were assigned to both men and women in movies. Let’s check out the evolution happened in the roles done by female characters in Malayalam cinema from 1990s till now.
“Neelakuyil” and “Chemmen” are two classic examples of movies in the 90s that promoted the thought of chaste women and made the sexual violence invisible and gave special recognition to the person who assaulted the women. The movie Neelakuyil directed by P. Bhaskaran and Ramu Kariat is based on the screenplay of Uroob. Neeli in this movie played by Miss Kumari belong to a lower class got impregnated by an upper caste school teacher Sreedharan Nair. But the case got hushed up when he took the responsibility of the child after his marriage with another woman. The violence faced by Neeli is totally ignored throughout the movie. Whereas the rapist got better recognition in the movie. In the movie Chemmen (1965) directed by Ramu Kariat the story revolves around the romance of Karutthama (Sheela) and Pareekutty (Madhu). But it ends up in tragedy where Karutthama, her lover and her husband Palani (Sathyan) are found dead on the seashore and the reason behind these deaths fall upon Karutthama who is believed to have engaged in an illicit relationship with her lover. Because the people at seashore believed that the life of men who went out for fishing depends upon the faithfulness of their wife. Here the heroine is blamed for remaining unfaithful and unchaste.
In the movies such as Tulabharam (1968) directed by A. Vincent and Swayamvaram (1972) directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan female characters are portrayed as suffering and silent women. For example, in both these movies Vijaya (Sharada) and Sita (Sharada) are depicted as helpless characters left alone with their children after the death of their husbands. From 1990s onwards movies started to depict missing mother’s and the struggle faced by children without a mother and how another female character replaces the role of mother. The examples of suchmovies are Fazil’s Pappayude Swantham Appoos (1992) starring Shobana and Mammotty, No. 1 Snehatheram (1995) directed by Sathyan Anthikad also propagates the idea that a family is incomplete without a mother. The similar themes can be seen in the movies Ente Suryaputrikku (1991)directed by Fazil starring Amala Akkineni, Suresh Gopi and Sree Vidhya. Maanathe Vellitheru (1994) by Fazil also depicts how a character (Vineeth) connects with his mother through the song sung by Merlin Fernandez (Sobhana). Here also the motherhood of a female character is emphasized more. There also emerged a period of romance and family drama in Malayalam cinema during this time. Some examples of such movies are Nokkathadoorathu Kannunmnattu (1984) by Fazil, Manichithrathazhu byFazil (1993) Aniyathipravu (1997) by
Fazil and many others. These films portrayed women as sweet, horrifying and problem making characters and they often are in a romantic relationship with the hero. Thencomesahandful ofmovies showcasing thehyper masculinity ofmalecharacters who throughout themovie through their breathtaking andtheso–called punchdialogues mixedwith toxicity.However, these movies received awiderange ofaudience attention. Vakkalath Narayanan Kutty (2001) directed by T. K. Rajeev Kumar shows of the responsibility of a brother towards his sister by making her obedient through physical violence. He gave excuse for this by saying that he did it out of his concern for his little sister. This movie fixes the prejudice that men has the moral responsibility to chastise, and punish women for their benefit. Again, coming to the movies like Bharathchandran IPS (2005) directed by Renji Panicker, Commissioner (1994) and King (1995) by Shaji Kailas with lead characters as Suresh Gopi, Mammooty and Mohanlal are typical examples of showing off the masculine power of men. Their contempt towards women is evident through the delivery of their dialogues. Even in the movies that try to give voice to strong women it seems like they got suppressed or conquered by the male characters. For example, Manju Warrier in the movies Pathram (1999) directed by Joshiy, Aaran Thampuran (1997) by Shaji Kailas and Kanmadam (1998) by A. K. Lohithadas is depicted as a bold woman but eventually got conquered by the love of the hero. Therefore, the hero is emerged as the dominating character. The same theme can be seen in the movie Swapnakoodu (2003) directed by Kamal. Still there are movies that show off these characters like the 2010 action movies like Thanthoni directed by George Varghese in which Prithviraj Sukumaran is presented as Vadakkan Veetil Kochukunju, a macho character who is dominating throughout the movie.
Even the dialogues are scripted in such a way to make him the prominent. We can see that the female characters remain submissive before him, even his mother. Another movie similar to this is Pokkiriraja directed by Vaishakh in which both Mammoty and Prithviraj plays central characters. It is just the show off of masculine figure throughout the movie and how a beautiful woman gets attracted with the character played by Prithviraj. So, in this movie there is no important role given to woman other than getting married to him. Again in Roshan Andrews’ movie Mumbai Police, we come across the gay police officer Edwin Mosses (Prithviraj). He is portrayed as a rough masculine character who gives no respect for women. There is a scene in the movie in which he shows his violence towards the wife of a culprit which is unjustifiable. Likewise, his attitude towards his female subordinate is also in the same way he considers himself as the superior being. But in the movie Kasaba directed by Nithin Renji Panicker the attitude of the hero, Mammoty to women, especially to his senior officer is really worst and shameful. As a police officer, he doesn’t maintain a decent decorum. His masculine character is dominated throughout the movie making all the female characters under his feet. The dialogues used by him is sandwiched with sexual violence against women. So, it is clear that in this movie women are not given any respect they deserved.
Coming to the 2011 movies like Make up Man by Shafi we can see a clear picture of how patriachy operates by making us to feel sympathy for Balu (Jayaram) and anger against Surya (Sheela Kaur). The title of the movie itself “Make up Man” is just about a man who took up the job of a make up man to watch over his wife who is an actress. The movie therefore moves around in male perspective and sidelines the role of women. In the movie Rathinirvedham by T. K. Rajeev Kumar, women is represented merely as a sexual object whose function is to satisfy the sexual desire of the characters as well as the spectators who expects this sort of visual sexual pleasure. In the Roshan Andrews movie Casanova also, women characters are prying over the masculine figures. From the movie itself it is evident how Mohanlal is always surrounded by a group of women and he remains as the main highlight throughout the movie. In Aashiq Abu’s movie Twenty Two Female Kottayam, the character Tessa (Rima kallingal) is presented as a women who take revenge on her tormentors. Here we can see a transformation in presenting female characters compared to other movies. Her life, betrayal, survival etc. are explicitly explored. In Thira directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan we can see the bold and brave
women character Rohini, a cardiac surgeon (Shobhana) who gives shelter to destitute girls. The strong and brave character of Rohini can be seen throughout the movie, how she encounters with the criminals, her influence, and confidence is really portrayed and need to be appreciated. In the movie How Old Are You by Roshan Andrews, the women character Nirupama Rajeev (Manju Warrier) is insulted by her husband even though she is a government employee. Even her daughter considers her as a failure and her husband and daughter migrates to Ireland for better prospects. By the half of the movie, the things change upside down when she starts a group venture of vegetable cultivation in balconies with the neighbours which became really successful and she got an invitation from the Indian President who found her venture really applicable. She is shown as an example of a women who is capable of making revolutions in her life and is reallyinspiring for many women characters as well in real life.
Similarly, there are also a lot of movies like Take Off by Mahesh Narayan, Uyare directed by Manu Ashokan, Virus by Aashiq Abu, and Helen by Mathukutty Xavier which places women as central characters. In these movies women characters are given a dignified status. There also happened a change in the concept of molester marrying the molested. It is experimented in the movie Stand Up by Vidhu Vincent. Here the character Diya (Rajeesha Vijayan) is molested by her lover who belongs to an upper-class family. To prevent her from filing a case against her lover, they decided to get her married to their son. But she refused and was so stern in her decision and go ahead with the case. Finally, she got justice and the molester was sent to jail. So, this movie give voice to the female character that resonates above all those patriarchal norms and concepts. Recently there emerged a few movies in a different perspective like The Great Indian Kitchen (2021) by Jeo Baby starring Nimisha Sajayan who is presented as a character who retaliates against a patriarchal livelihood. Ishq, Sara’s, Freedom Fight, Biriyani, and Oruthee are movies that experimented their plots in a different way reversing the old tales told through movies once. I should say comparatively better and central roles are given to women recently in cinema. It doesn’t mean that there is a complete change. Still the evolution made by female characters from early times till now is really remarkable. Visuals can make a major impact on audience, therefore more movies should emerge experimenting different perspectives and devoid of sexist, racist and toxic dialogues.