The Progressive Lenses in New Generation Malayalam Cinema

Aishwarya Lekshmi Varathan

Most of the mainstream filmmakers are against political correctness. However this seems to be a trend these days which is lighted up by Syam Pushkaran and the Aashiq Abu school of filmmaking, WCC gave a follow-up. Parvathy’s shot at the misogyny in Kasaba sparked up a huge controversy with healthy as well as cheesy debates. Constructive criticism is widespread nowadays and Malayalam Cinema today is like a flag bearer of progressive writing. Though there are trash as always, the most obvious, top listed or content heavy films of each passing year plays it out with unconventional narratives and stereotype breaking masculinity portrays without machismo. These young filmmakers are giving priority to Dalit politics, anti-misogyny, anti-racism, anti-body shaming and feminism.

We are a society helmed by patriarchy. Most of us, including men & women have dilemma of patriarchy within. This is exactly why most of the so-called entertainers from mainstream are reckless fun.

Bangalore Days

Bangalore Days, written and directed by Anjali Menon is a film that I consider as the textbook progressive screenplay for mainstream entertainers of this generation, both in narrative freshness & political correctness. The film was one among the biggest blockbusters ever in Malayalam. If it was released today, with the new expanded Mollywood market, it should have went out to gross more than 100 crores. It is a sensible and sensory popcorn entertainer. Hands down, this is how a mainstream multi starrer should be pulled off with proper unadulterated fun and without any sort of body shaming, misogyny or gender discrepancy. This is the change that women filmmakers may bring.

Girish AD’s Thanneermathan Dinangal is also one film that I would like to categorize in this league, it is one of the best teen-sagas to come out of Indian Cinema. This would have been a charade of sexist jokes and female bashing in any other film, but here is a rather bona fide display of radical sensibilities through a slice-of-life representation, the film’s success (almost grossing 50 crores) is an advocacy for its progressive writing which didn’t at any point degrade women. Girish AD doesn’t try to give lectures on political correctness, but makes the adolescent perception of romance dignified without an ounce of adulteration in their teenage innocence.

Thamaasha

The recently released Love Action Drama, is a contrasting textbook – a misogynistic show inside a filtered canvas that gives regressive lectures on romance. This was supposed to be a film of grownups, note down the hilarity folks. Dhyan Sreenivasan here tries to make a modern day spin on his father’s classic Vadakkunnokkiyanthram, which was about inferiority complex of a husband in marital relationship. Dhyan literally does the same. With hero’s hyper possessiveness, stalking heroine segments, mansplaining and what not? It’s a textbook political ‘corruptness’.

Take Ashraf Hamza’s recent film Thamaasha, which is a remake of Ondu Mottaye Kaadha – a Kannada film which had a bald man and fat women as it’s central characters. The film is a subjective exploration, which almost makes its central character a caricature. But, Thamasha doesn’t do that. It finds a balance by writing a beautiful female character. When the bonafide sort of degrades the women who come and go in the titular’s life as adverse beings. Thamaasha brilliantly frames a humane attribute to its women. The screenplay gets even better when it does that.

Bobby and Sanjay’s Uyare is an outstanding example of how to make a dignified women empowering film. It has two seemingly contrasting characters of Asif Ali and Sidhique as toxic boyfriend and feminist father respectively. Asif Ali’s character would have been a stone cold villain in another film, but the screenplay here carves demon out of his human rather than glorifying the demon alone.

Love Action Drama

Simply put, the Nivin Pauly of Love Action Drama is no different from Uyare’s Asif Ali. Only the gaze of directors differ. One celebrates a toxic lover & the other: vice versa. On the other hand Bobby-Sanjay duo’s earlier women centric How Old Are You was a pseudo-empowering film which had lots of commercial compromises. Uyare is the most piercing example of relativity in the art of cinema.

Any deliberate attempt that tries to bring political correctness will only lead to artificiality. Kumbalangi Nights is a most obvious attempt of making a politically correct film. But, it uses the gender justice platform to demonize the mentally ill. Even Syam Pushkaran agreed that there are pitfalls in Shammy’s treatment, which is sort of tonally off and is quasi-fiction.

Kasaba

Political correctness is not necessarily showing everyone in good light. Most of the filmmakers have a very exaggerated understanding of this. Glorifying & depicting are something largely misunderstood. Which was why Parvathy received so much backlash with the Kasaba controversy. However, it brought lots of changes in perception to a category of moviegoers. Lijo Jose Pellissery, in many of his interviews stood with his stand saying there’s nothing wrong in showcasing misogyny on screen. Which is absolutely right. Lijo have dealt with misogyny in his films. But hasn’t celebrated it. He stayed true to his characters and their empathy.

Lijo’s second film City Of God actually headlines the “Women who are oppressed in the men’s world”, recent Jallikattu was also similar but is interpreted through male gaze. In a village where men goes berserk with an amok bull and tries to persevere machismo by capturing it, the women are having their run-of-the-mill routines and are clearly intelligent but oppressed group. Angamaly Diaries has one scene which precisely gives the definition of feminism without any showing any fuss. His action entertainers Double Barrel & Nayakan doesn’t find manliness in female bashing or misogyny like many other films of the genre, he doesn’t use that trope.

No one could make a 100% politically correct film

Whereas the recent Onam winner Love Action Drama is solely engaged in making the audience laugh to it’s female bashing and bullying, right from the word go. In short, Lijo’s recent films which are hugely acclaimed in the international circuits is the example of true art drawing political correctness. Which’ll happen, the reason why Padmarajan’s romantic films are now celebrated as timeless classic is because of it’s sheer progressive perspectives which is way ahead of its times.

Judy Anthony Joseph’s Ohm Shanthi Oshana is a quintessential example of male gaze, it is a women centric film where the leading lady goes on a run behind Nivin Pauly’s machismo. But at least it was a right intent considering the genre rom-com. It was a lovely role reversal from typical of the genre. No one could make a 100% politically correct film, it is a reflection of the times we are living in. But it’s more a step for making healthy viewing habits and not to normalise unacceptable social standards like stalking.

Lucifer

Take the masala films, which are the alpha male celebrations. In Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Lucifer, most of the negative reviews floating around was it’s extended and exhaustive climax action sequence inter-cut with an item number. What is the need of such dance numbers rather than focussing on the action? Prithvi has a lame reply to the same, says whether he have to shoot an Ottam Thullal in a dance bar or what. Well, then what is the need of cleavage shots & titillation? which is an absolute case of showcasing misogyny. Mammootty’s Madhura Raja roped in Sunny Leone for an item song. At least, this was material to screenplay.

The same team’s Pulimurugan has two ridiculous characters of Suraj and Namitha which were absolute yawn-feast even for the C class audience. Then why including? Take Anwar Rasheed’s masala potboiler Rajamanikyam, which is the best masala entertainer in the last two decades in my opinion. It is an out-and-out Mammootty show, completely peeling his power packed performance. Not having any unnecessary women interludes. So was Big B, which is another groundbreaking film to the genre.

The same Amal Neerad’s recent Varathan written by Suhas and Sharfu is the perfect evolution of masala genre. It needed the heroine finally, to shoot the villains and save the hero. Also a sensitive subject was neatly executed. Making a film politically correct & avoiding misogyny glorification are two different things. The latter could be easily identified for filmmakers but going with it is completely unacceptable.

Political correctness

Cinema is the biggest art form of the 21st Century. For us, Malayalees, cinema is a part of a culture. It knowingly or unknowingly played an important part in shaping our personality. As Parvathy said, Cinema has lots of influence in society. Political correctness in cinema is not something to get overly conscious about though not to take for granted. You have to stay true to the roots of your characters and know that there’s a clear difference in the impact of acts of protagonist and antagonist.

Even though both are womanisers, a Murikkum Kunnath Ahamed Haji and Rajan Zakaria are distinctive. Rather than the craving for showcasing political correctness, thriving to root characters with sensibilities is the key for progression. Also, it’s nothing wrong in depicting sensuality on screen. It’s not porn, people. Women characters are no more to be taken for granted or written for the sake of it. Let constructive criticism and political correctness go with the flow.

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About the Author

Arjun Anand
CA Student who's enthusiastic about films.

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