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Changing faces of Malayalam cinema – The Hindu

A poster of How Old Are You   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

After a hiatus of almost 14 years, a female actor returned to the screen in 2014, marking an iconic moment in the dreams of millions of Malayali viewers. When we look back at the changing profiles of women in our cinema in the past few years, Manju Warrier’s return epitomises the spirit of the times, signalling a turning point in the history of the female professional in Malayalam filmdom.
Shifts in sensibilities, exposure to global experiences, growing gender awareness, exponential growth in women’s participation in public life, a strong disaffection with the ‘star’ system in the Malayalam film industry, hopes and aspirations of independent cinema and a public sphere increasingly shaped by discussions on diverse sexualities, desires and human rights have made their deep impact in the way the woman actor has come into her own. This spirit paved the way for more varied presentation of experiences of women on screen, with innovative scriptwriters no longer pandering to a sexist ethos. The appalling attack on an actor as she was returning from work late at night, once again brought the misogynistic world of cinema into our daily discussions. More stories of distress subsequently came out of the woodwork, climaxing in the birth of Women in Cinema Collective.

Even as Mollywood is mired in controversies and scandals, the past few years have given us a clutch of memorable female roles, stellar performances and some brilliant débuts. And we have to be grateful to a crop of directors who are ready to move off the beaten path, recognising the exciting directions women’s lives are moving towards.
The entry of a director like Anjali Menon opened up new vistas and helped us explore new spaces that continued through movies such as Bangalore Days and Koode. Her films have unravelled a spectrum of women’s experiences and personalities. Sreebala Menon’s Love 24×7 was a neat attempt at capturing the journey of a woman-journalist and her inner conflicts. Parvathy’s role of Tessa in Martin Prakkatt’s Charlie became a rage among young women in Kerala as the heroine’s quest for an ideal mate, unfettered by her family pressures and ambitions, was a driving force behind the story. After How Old Are You, Manju Warrier went on to prove her versatility through films such as C/O Saira Banu, Udhaharanam Sujatha and Rani Padmini.

Aashiq Abu’s Rani Padmini, which followed an escapade by two spunky women across the Himalayan topography, brought in the motif of women on the run, long missing in our cinema, in a wildly hilarious way. Rima Kallingal and Manju Warrier held their own without any propagandist bluster or sloganeering.
A sensible Aishwarya Lakshmi, ever on the move through the city, alone and adventurous, moving from one audition to another in Mayaanadhi was in tune with new urban realities. Her character in the film became the talk of social media with that single line “Sex is not a promise”, throwing us once again into a vortex of confusion on how to negotiate a woman’s claim to her body and autonomy.
Family-bound and independent at the same time, contemporary heroines are carving their own private and public spaces with confidence and verve. Nimisha Sajayan’s roles in Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and Eeda were applauded because of this nuanced balance, something that added sparkle to the role essayed by Aparna Balamurali as well in Maheshinte Prathikaram.

A new youth culture, acutely alive to the gender disparities and complicated questions about identity, has professionalised the workspaces of film industry, calling into question conventional masculinity. Drishyam became a crucial articulation of this when Jeethu Joseph drew upon the anxiety of an average Malayali family whose honour revolves around the purity of its women and the fear of its loss aggravated by the inadequacy of the conventional male to tackle the dangers of our digital existence.
Parvathy, who won national acclaim for Take Off, highlighted the plight of the Malayali nurse and her travails, with a screenplay that deftly threads through her inner tensions. Aparna Gopinath in Venu’s Munnariyippu impressed with her mature performance as an ambitious journalist in a media world that often stalks ordinary lives for sensational stories and profits. Nazriya’s presence in films like Ohm Shanthi Oshaana underscored the reality of a viable market for a female-centric film where the narration itself was through the perspective of a young girl.
Sai Pallavi’s Malar in Premam struck a chord and introduced the Malayali audience to a vibrant talent. Ramante Edenthottam by Ranjith Sankar was noted for its portrayal of artistic discontent and creative desire within a talented homemaker, gracefully enacted by Anu Sithara. Surabhi’s role in Minnaminungu as a multitasking maid working hard to provide her daughter a good education won national honours.

The revenge narrative of Tessa that took us by storm in 22 Female Kottayam continued in Puthiya Niyamam with the hero given an equal importance in helping a traumatised woman (played by Nayanthara) recover her stability and peace.
As Malayalam cinema moves out of its comfort zones, there is an audience for the curious worlds of ageing women and lives of trans persons as well. Kalpana’s unforgettable role in Bangalore Days, the two mothers played by Savithri Sreedharan and Sarasa Balussery in Sudani from Nigeria and Jayasurya’s award-winning performance in Njan Marykutty eloquently document the transformations.
With more and more women launching into filmmaking, there is room for more layered stories that are richly textured, delicately scripted and imaginatively executed on screen.
The writer is an academic and film enthusiast

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Printable version | Dec 18, 2021 9:30:01 PM |
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