Malayalam Films On Patriarchy: Cinema in Kerala is known for being progressive and breaking barriers. And hence it's not a surprise if Malayalam films have called out our inherent patriarchy, time and again. So here are seven such Malayalam movies smashing patriarchy.
Kumbalangi Nights is a new generation film, a Malayalam cinema movement noted by its progressive themes and realistic screenplays. The film revolves around four brothers Saji, Bonny, Bobby and Franky who share a love-hate relationship with each other. Franky's elder brothers lead a messed up life with downright arrogance, differences, and disagreements amongst each other. Each one deals with a struggle of their own. However, a series of events forces them to keep their animosity aside and come together. Their relationship reaches another level when Saji, Boney and Franky decide to support Bobby stand by his love. As the film progresses, Franky's wish for a beautiful home cuddles hope.
The film has an utterly simple premise along with many layered hard-hitting moments. The story explores the idea of a man. The movie condemns hypermasculinity and morality, patriarchy primarily through the juxtaposition of Saji and Shammi's characters. Both men have psychological issues, but when Saji comes close to the chasm, he realises he must help himself and goes to a psychiatrist to cry out his emotions. Meanwhile Shammi insists on being “a hero” and handling things his way. The film not only succeeds in overthrowing the celebrated alpha male but also points out that he is the villain of the story in theory.
The film has also been appreciated for its feminist undertones. All women exercise free will and independent agency in the story without a "knight in shining armor". And for once, the onus of rehabilitating broken men is not placed on women, who act as an incentive for the men to change, and not agents who bring about it. They witness. They do not execute. The men take charge of their lives and mend their ties, as some enter the kitchen and some find vocation for themselves.
Uyare which means "Up Above" is Manu Ashokan's directorial debut. The film was nominated for the Best Debut Feature Film of a director at the 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in 2019 and is widely recognised as one of the defining movies of the New Wave Movement in Malayalam cinema.
If women can wrestle, they can fly planes too! Pallavi (once again, the proficient Parvathy) stars as an aspiring pilot, whose long-drawn dream of a career in the sky is shattered when her jealous boyfriend, Govind (Asif Ali), throws acid on her which disfigures her face. As her eyesight is diminished by the injuries, her flight license is revoked.
Not held back by this tragic event, the unstoppable Pallavi, with some help from an airline executive Vishal (Tovino), embarks on a new career as an air hostess which is predominantly a profession for only the conventionally beautiful, once again fighting prejudices, until one day it falls on her to save the day.
Elsamma Enna Aankutty
Elsamma Enna Aankutty which means "A Boy Called Elsamma" is a rare amalgamation of sense, sensibility and sensitivity, played by then debutant Ann Augustine in the lead role in this Lal Jose film. It was released in 2010 and is regarded as one of the first and foremost films of the Malayalam New Wave.
Elsamma is the sole breadwinner for her family and almost effortlessly juggles her career as a reporter, newspaper agent, and odd-jobs girl with her role as Balanpillai City village’s premier social activist, ever ready to go up in arms against the illicit local liquor mafia and unprincipled politicians. She faces downfalls on her path but chooses to fight life head on. Woe ensues those who cross Elsamma!
Ozhimuri which means "Divorce Record" is a 2012 period drama film, directed by Madhupal. It is also one of the very first defining movies of the Malayalam New Wave. Ozhimuri was an official selection in the Indian Panorama section of the 43rd International Film Festival of India. The film is based on the story of the book 'Uravidangal' by veteran bilingual writer Jeyamohan.
Meenakshi (Mallika) has always been acquiescent to her boorish husband Thanu Pillai (Lal), unlike her mother-in-law, the formidable and indomitable Kali Pillai (Swetha Menon), one of the all-powerful ammachis (matriarchs) of the erstwhile southern Travancore, when the matrilineal system was still in place.
The 'ozhimuris' (small palm leaf pieces) recording divorces of couples back then still stand testimony to the freedom, which women enjoyed in those days. At age 55, after 30 years of marriage, Mallika, taking inspiration from her mother-in-law, proudly petitions to divorce her husband and to free herself from the misery that is her marriage. The movie exposes the complexities of a period of transition from a matrilineal to patrilineal society.
How Old Are You?
It’s not every day that a woman actor returns to cinema after a 14-year long sabbatical and sets the box office ablaze. Manju Warrier did exactly that with this film directed by Rosshan Andrrews. Warrier even won a record fifth Filmfare Award for Best Actress - Malayalam for her role in this movie.
She plays the lead role of Nirupama Rajeev, an ordinary government employee in the Revenue Department and mother of a teenager, who craves for change but is unable to meet anyone’s expectations. However after some setbacks, she evolves into the extraordinary woman she was always meant to be, inspiring many others along the way. It is the tale of Nirupama's transformation from a common woman to a public figure through unceasing resilience and reinventing herself.
C/o Saira Banu
C/O Saira Banu is a legal drama directed by Antony Sony. The movie marks the return of Amala to Malayalam cinema after a 25-year hiatus. The film was a critical as well as commercial success.
Manju Warrier plays the leading role of a postwoman who also happens to be an adoptive mother willing to go to any lengths to clear the name of her son, Joshua Peter (Shane Nigam), from a case in which he is wrongly accused. Even if that means Saira Banu will have to herself defend her son in court with an exiguous understanding of the law, then that’s what she will do! Never underestimate the power of motherhood.
Mollywood wrestles with patriarchy again in this sports dramedy by Basil Joseph. The plot of the movie is about amateur wrestling. Punjabi actor Wamiqa Gabbi stars as Aditi, a wrestling champion, whose late father had encouraged her to take up wrestling from a young age but her authoritative brother thinks that girls don't belong in the ring and restricts her from playing, sometimes even through violent means.
In order to save her soul, Aditi runs away from an arranged marriage and ends up at the home of her college friend Aanjaneya Das (Tovino Thomas) in Kerala and comes under the tutelage of his father, Captain (Renji Panikker), a former wrestling champion himself. How Aditi sets about conquering hearts with muscle power forms the crux of the movie.