Malayalam cinema has always set rigid rules on code and conduct when it comes to women on celluloid. It was during the mid-80s and 90s that a lot of filmmakers went into this extreme myopic and sexist concept of a woman’s role in the society. Since it was always he who called the shots in cinema, he also drew the line of control for her. It was a thick, unbending, orthodox stripe, never to be crossed. We bring you a few instances of such blunt, subtle and indirect instances in Malayalam cinema when men always made the women apologise for no fault of theirs. And those rare instances when women were beautifully unapologetic.
Apologize, or else...
The climax of Mithunam, where Sulochana (Urvashi) is made to apologise for expecting her husband to love, cherish and share his grief and joys with her. Sethu who elopes with her is also neck deep in debts and he is running around, bribing and cajoling top officials to kickstart his biscuit company. At home, the newly married Sulochana who keeps building castles of love in the air is blissfully unaware of Sethu’s problems. Considering how he never shares anything with her. In the end when he decides to take her back to her home, and casually talks about his daily struggles, Sulochana wipes her tears and tells him— “Now I understand what you were going through.” Of course, he benevolently decides to live with her after that.
True, Kanchana (Urvashi) in Thalayanamanthram is a greedy woman and separates her husband (Sreenivasan) from his family. But in the end, again she is held responsible for her husband’s misfortune. Why? Didn’t he have a mind of his own? Or a sense of right or wrong when he decided to follow her lead? Why is the remorse only for her? The apology, no doubt happens at the ‘happy’ ending.
Rakkuyilin Ragasadassil has a husband (Mammootty) who keeps reminding his talented dancer wife (Suhasini) that her place is in the house waiting for her husband. When she refuses to give up her art, he decides to exit the relationship and leaves with their son. After years, when she is poised to have the title of ‘Natyashri’ conferred upon her he returns to complete his vengeance and emotionally blackmail her in the name of her son. The story ends when she falls at his feet and the saffron clad “wronged man” grants her forgiveness in lieu of the title.
Similarly, in Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal, the husband’s (Jayaram) joyous little home falls apart when the wife (Lakshmi Gopalaswamy) decides to pursue her passion for dancing. When her popularity keeps growing and various titles are conferred on her, the director makes sure he lets her fall from grace by picturing her as an irresponsible wife and mother. The husband meanwhile wallows in self-pity, holding the son close to him and talks about being a “middle-class husband who wants a normal wife at home.” Eventually, he decides to leave her and take their child with him. Years later, we are shown that the day they left the home, she refused to wear her anklets again and lived a life of misery and guilt. Of course, they are reunited, not before she is shown to be apologetic for the choices she made.
In Aalkkoottathil Thaniye, wife and mother Unnimary is constantly judged and berated by her husband (Mammootty) for choosing to aim for career growth. In the end, it’s his former lover (Seema) who stands with her and ridicules his narrow mindedness.
The feisty Anura Mukherjee (Vani Vishwanath) in The King lets off Joseph Alex with a feeble apology (which sounded more like he was doing her a favour) after all the humiliating words he spits at her. And worse, soon after she is used by him as a honeytrap against an MP for his case.
In Hitler, when Madhavan Kutty’s (Mammootty) sister is raped by her widower professor, he makes it sound like it’s her fault; it is her strict upbringing that should be blamed, he says. “If only she had cried aloud,” he reasons. She stands there crying repentantly in front of her brother, and when her brother orders her to marry him, she mutely agrees to marry her rapist.
Sreevidya in Edavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha plays a wife who lives a life of indifference and neglect with her busy husband (Madhu). She finds herself being drawn towards his friend and they have a full-blown affair. When Madhu finds out about her infidelity, not only is she thrown out of the house and separated from her daughter, he makes her feel miserable about his own inadequacies. When a woman decides to step out of the Lakshman Rekha because her needs are not met, 9 out of 10 times, she doesn’t get the welcome a man gets for the same sin.
Lal Salaam’s Sethulakshmi (Geetha) is always shown in an unfavourable light as opposed to her husband’s paramour Stella (Rekha) as the former has her sights set on climbing the political ladder. While Stella, according to Sethulakshmi’s husband GK (Murali), is a warm, loving woman who filled the void in his life. There is even a scene where the happily domesticated Urvashi’s character advices Sethu to “forgive and forget, as we are women.” Add this to another zillion instances on celluloid when women who have dared to get out of their domestic zone and pursue their dreams are made to feel apologetic, miserable and guilty.
The sister in most Sathyan Anthikad films, who is treated like an unsolicited member of the family. For a long time, the biggest bane of the hero’s life was to marry off his sister, that too with dowry. And the otherwise righteous hero had no qualms in agreeing to the outrageous demands of the groom, just as long as she is married off. Even post marriage, she is either a greedy, needy entry who keeps pestering her father/brother and mother for her share of the property. Why should she be made to feel apologetic about demanding her rightful share of the property?
In the early 80s only KG George had the audacity to make his celluloid women brave, ambitious and remorseless. Annie in Irakal is married to a man who cannot satisfy her needs in any way. She makes regular trips home to sleep with the rubber trapper. The film at no point questions or moralises her. In a film where all characters lack a moral stand, she is just one of them. Mattoral had a married woman (Seema) who walks out of her marriage to live with another man. Yet, she is never judged. Shyamaprasad’s Ore Kadal had a much married Deepthy (Meera Jasmine) falling in love with another man. The husband is often an onlooker and there is no attempt to paint him as a victim nor judge the wronged woman.
The most recent film to broke the glass ceiling is Ramante Eden Thottam. It’s about Malini, a docile married woman who lets herself be treated indifferently by her philandering husband and one day she finds herself drawn towards a lonely widower. They have an emotional affair and the husband finds out. He humiliates her, “threatens to throw her out and if she behaves well, promises to take her back”. Even that line of pity is thrown because of the knowledge that the affair was strictly platonic. But then Malini doesn’t apologise, cry or go down on her knees, she simply holds her head high, walks away and lives happily ever after.
It is 2017 and we seem to be getting somewhere.
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