Malayalam cinema and its inherent hypocrisy

By Remya Padmadas

The recent kidnap and sexual assault of a popular Malayalam actor has opened a can of worms in the film industry, with conspiracy theories suggesting that the incident may have been an inside job. Even though three of the seven accused have been apprehended, the police are still on the lookout for the main accused in the case.

In the aftermath of the incident, AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) organized a meeting in Kochi, where several veteran actors condemned the incident and exhorted the police to bring the criminals to book.

Some of the speeches, inspite of being well-intended, were seemingly overshadowed by patriarchal tones. Mammooty, for instance went on to say in his emotional discourse that “manliness lies in protecting women in our society”, perhaps not understanding that the perception and portrayal of women as the weaker sex is the root of several problems in today’s society. Women do not need to be protected, they are a force in themselves and are perfectly capable of holding their own. Like any other species on the planet, they only need to be given the space that is rightfully theirs, so that they can grow.

Contrary to what they proclaim off-screen, the patriarchs of Malayalam cinema are well-known for the sexist dialogues that they spew on-screen with no shame whatsoever. Mohanlal’s sexist dialogues in “Run Baby Run” and Mammooty’s in “Kasaba”, all in the guise of heroism ofcourse, are unbelievably cringe-worthy. The younger actors aren’t far behind either.

Popular filmmaker Major Ravi, too, came out in support of the actor, with statements like “….if a celebrity can go through this kind of torture from the rowdy gang; it can happen to any of our sisters. Shame on you all the system who can’t take action on these culprits…”

However, in March 2016, in the midst of a discussion on Asianet News, the filmmaker verbally abused a news anchor and said,“…If I am given a chance, I would spit on her face, that’s all”. When asked to comment on it later, he claimed that he hadn’t intended to make any derogatory remarks against any particular channel or journalist and that he did not regret making such comments.

Recently, director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan whose short film “Sexy Durga” which won the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam 2017 faced a lot of backlash on social media due to the use of the word “sexy” with the name of Goddess Durga. The president of an organization which called themselves the Hindu Swabhiman Sangh even sent abusive messages to the director over the issue.

Ironically, Sexy Durga is a road movie, which follows the nightmare experience of an eloping couple at the hands of two men, who offer them a ride in their car in the dead of the night. The film shows the hypocrisy of today’s society, where women are worshiped in the form of idols but abused in the flesh.

The attitude towards women isn’t restricted to the Malayalam film industry alone. Tamil director G.Suraaj recently made a comment about wanting his heroines to wear skimpy clothes and sizzle on-screen. He said, “…I don’t mind even if my heroine is not happy or comfortable… This is because audiences pay money to see the heroines in such clothes”, inviting harsh criticism from actors like Tamannaah, after which he offered a belated apology.

Two days ago, Tamil actor Varalaxmi Sarathkumar too, tweeted about her casting couch experience in the industry and about how people in the film world no longer batted an eyelid on hearing about such things.

Shobha Warrier, author and journalist, says that what we see in movies today is a clear reflection of what happens in society. “They make movies like this because, sadly, people enjoy watching such things. But watching such movies propagates wrong ideas as to what is socially accepted behaviour for men”, she says. It is a vicious circle, one that film makers have to make a conscious effort to break out of.

National award winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan too, expressed his opinion on the incident. “Actors protesting the molestation of a colleague (rightly so) may just want to think about the respect heroines get in their films”, he tweeted.

Pramod Kumar, senior journalist at FirstPost, echoes his sentiments. “In movies, women are viewed as subjects, and not as human beings. Such double standards are completely unacceptable.”

The abducted actor is known to have lost several opportunities in the Malayalam cine industry, due to being on bad terms with Dileep, a leading male actor.  As a result, she had had to seek opportunities in other South Indian languages. Now that the media have started to look closely into the alleged conspiracy behind the incident, Dileep has come out on Facebook, proclaiming his innocence and slamming the media for suspecting his involvement. Consequently, the film chamber boycotted the media and decreed that no one from the industry would need to respond to queries by the media.

Even though the main accused in the case was apprehended by the police as he appeared in the magistrate’s court to surrender, the drama is far from over.

In the last decade, several women directors like Geetu Mohandas, Sreebala K Menon and Anjali Menon, have started to make their mark in Malayalam cinema. For instance, Geetu Mohandas’s film “Liar’s Dice” won two National Film Awards and was India’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film in the 87th Academy Awards in 2013. “Love 24*7”, by Sreebala K Menon, won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2005.

Inspite of such achievements, Malayalam cinema continues to be a man-dominated industry. Unless film makers and actors put a check on the sexism and misogyny in their films and consider women their equal, both on-screen and off-screen, they will have no right or voice to speak out against the evils perpetrated against women in society, even if it against one of their own.