From name-calling to mansplaining and objectifying women to rape jokes, here are 8 Malayalam blockbusters which we collectively celebrated during their release, but looking back at them today makes us notice how glaring and problematic they were.
One of the most celebrated commercial hits in line with Aaram Thamburan, Ravanaprabhu saw the star play the role of Puvalliyil Indhuchudan, a demigod of sorts with daddy issues. From the guilty pleasure-inducing introduction to the most popular one liner “mone dinesha” alongside a stellar performance by Thilakkan, there are many factors that make Narasimham still an entertaining watch.
But, we cannot fail to notice the utter misogynistic and name-calling aspects of the film too. To start with, the romantic angle between its leads Mohanlal and Aishwarya. Though Aishwarya’s character is individually progressive and lives life on her terms at the end of the film there is a scene where Induchudan describes his requirements of a soul mate through a dialogue where he needs a partner who bears his histrionics is outright offensive and cringe-worthy.
This was the best contribution from Shaji Kailas–Renji Panicker collaborations, with hard-hitting political dialogues that still resonate back to the current political era with firebrand performances by Mammootty as Thevally Parambil Joseph Alex and Murali as MP Jayakrishnan makes this one of the best political films of Malayalam cinema. Yet, the film screams chauvinistic ideologies by undermining its sole female protagonist.
From the introduction sequence to the eventual killing of her character, assistant district collector Anura Mukherji (Vani Vishwanath) is repeatedly subjected to incidents of verbal harassment and name-calling on the pretext of character correction by Joseph Alex. This eventually leads to her falling in love.
This Robin Hood inspired story of a friendly neighbourhood thief Madhavan can be considered among Lal Jose’s best works. From its wit to counterintuitive humor the film scores high on the comical aspects alongside Vidyasagar’s musical score and S.Kumar’s brilliant cinematography. The humor in Meesha Madhavan remains the foundation pillar for many memes.
But, one sequence still sticks out like a sore thumb. The scene in which Madhavan breaks entry into Rukmini’s room to steal the hip chain added comic relief until a forceful rape joke is induced which instantly kills the naivety and leads to a collective cringe among the audience. Jokes on sensitive issues like rape cannot be sidelined with the “film has not aged well” excuse. It’s been 19 years since Meesha Madhavan was released and we still find movies in current times cracking jokes over rape.
From a slew of mansplaining songs like “Annalla Pennalla” to powerful lines such as “sex is not a promise” in Mayaanadhi, Malayalam cinema has come a long way in how female characters are written. With movies like Kapalika in the ’60s to Deshadana Pakshikal Karayarilla in the 80’s Malayalam films always had their share of women-centric films done right. But, the late ’90s to early 2000s saw a majority of movies that glorified regressive patriarchy and mocked progressive women. Njangal Santhushtaranu directed by Rajasenan is one such film that set box office records but fails to withstand the test of time.
From justifying physical abuse to utilizing character shaming as a trait to correct a person, the entire plot of the film can be considered problematic. The story of police commissioner Sanjeevan played by Jayaram who goes to any extent to reprimand his newlywed wife Geethu (Abhirami) for reasons as obnoxious as a claim for privacy and her lack of proficiency in Malayalam. The film’s xenophobic message is especially toxic in a family entertainer.
Directed by K.Madhu and written by Jagadeesh, Adipan tells the tale of advocate Shyam Prakash played by Mohanlal who goes against his client Mohan played by Devan (who sexually assaults Shyam’s sister). Though the film turned out to be an entertaining courtroom battle along with a chartbuster track “Shyama Meghame nee”, the entire premise of the plot stands over the false notion of marrying one’s sex offender.
In the latter half of the film towards the interval, we see Shyam talking about mediation by asking the perpetrator to marry the girl whom he has sexually abused as an ode to justice towards the crime. There have been multiple films which justified that one of the solutions to the heinous crime of sexual assault is marrying the culprit.
A milestone film in the list of Mammootty-Joshiy collaboration alongside New Delhi and Dhruvam gave a whole Rashomon angle in the whodunit genre of crime thrillers. Written by ace writer Dennis Joseph, the plot revolves around a convict Ravi Varma played by Mammootty who flees from prison to prove his innocence against the murder of his wife, who coincidently takes refuge in his sister-in-law’s home. The convoluted screenplay was handled well with impressive performances by its leads including Sumalatha, Urvashi, Babu Namboothiri, and Lizy.
But the premise on which the plot is built has not aged well. The film would have ended right away if at all Sumalatha’s character who is subjected to blackmail by a voyeuristic Babu Namboothiri logically approached the cops or at least intimated her husband. But our apprehensions are milked by showcasing the character as a vulnerable victim who tries to cover up this malicious deed in which she is not even part of to protect her marriage.
A swashbuckling cop drama which gave rise to the character Inspector Balram played by Mammooty. Directed by IV Sasi, this was Malayalam cinema’s answer to the Dirty Harry films spawning two sequels. The film dwelled on socio-political issues and went on to become a huge success.
The problem with the film was the way its central character address the women in prostitution. The angle between Geetha and Mammootty is sure to induce a cringe and makes us question that what gives the right for a person to behave in such a manner towards a woman, especially as he’s from law enforcement.
With grand world-building fused with a melodramatic tale of two brothers, the film attained immense success at the box office. It revolves around Murugan played by Mohanlal, a lorry driver who also specializes in hunting down the canine predators which attack the village. His efforts to rescue his younger brother from the clouts of vicious smuggler Daddy Girija played by Jagapathi Babu. The film still yields to an entertaining watch as we witness Mohanlal wrestle tigers and also humans until the forced track of involving actress Namitha as an ex-flame visiting Murugan. This subplot has no relevance whatsoever to the main conflict and is only added to crack a few jokes in bad taste and to objectify women.