The Problem With The Progressive Heroines in Sathyan Anthikad’s Films

From Bhavana to Vaidehi, from Daisy to Salomi, heroines of the veteran director's films have always been bold...but never bolder than the hero
The Problem With The Progressive Heroines in Sathyan Anthikad’s Films

Sathyan Anthikad has been around for quite some time, with his films continuing to entertain with stories of so-called 'ordinary' people. He has had numerous heroines who have been remembered for their very short stories and the lessons they taught the gullible heroes. But that's it. Does Anthikad follow a pattern when creating his heroines? We take a look.

She niftily climbs a wall, only to be stalled by Prakashan. Meet one of the heroines of Njan Prakashan, Shruthi. A brilliant multi-tasker, she runs her home single-handedly, takes care of her unwell mother, makes tasty burgers and cakes and can even manage some serious gardening. She also has a kind heart that prompts her to visit her terminally-ill neighbour.

Shruthi (Anju Kurian) is also Vinodayathra's Anupama (Meera Jasmine), but in a slightly better setting. Anupama is the proverbial 'man of the house' that consists of her sick father, weak mother, and unwed elder sister who has a child with a married man. She struggles to make ends meet and bumps into the hero, Vinod, at a phase in his life when he wants direction and advice. Anupama is also basically Kamala (Meera Jasmine again) from Innathe Chinthavishayam. Kamala and Anupama—same women with different names, placed in slightly different milieus—are at the core 'bold women' grappling with the world alone. If Anupama gives Vinod tips on life skills, Kamala is seen lecturing a group of boys on morality.

The template

The heroines in Anthikad's films are often the catalyst and rarely the destination. They follow a specific template perfected by Anupama, Kamala and Shruthi, and brewed through time from Bhavana (Samyuktha Varma in Veendum Chila Veetukaryangal) to Vaidehi (Aishwarya Rajesh in Jomonte Suvisheshangal).

Veendum Chila Veetukaryangal: the bold lower middle-class heroine, who does odd jobs to take care of a mentally unstable mother. She meets the hero, who is modelled after Vinod, and puts focus into his life.

Jomonte Suvisheshangal: the heroine Vaidehi shoulders the burden of her family, and is quick with her tongue and temper. Jomon (Dulquer), a combination of most of Anthikad's coming-of-age heroes, falls for her, regaining some of life's goals in the bargain.

Oru Indian Pranayakadha: the US-return heroine is the main reason for the wayward hero to pull up his socks and get his act together.

Ennum Eppozhum: Manju Warrier's single mother is a practising lawyer, who meets Vineeth (Mohanlal) who is wayward and lazy. Finally, at a crucial stage of her life, she finds herself helpless and is bailed out by him.

There were a few minor exceptions like Kadha Thudarunnu, where he reverses the role, and the lower-middle class hero decides to take charge of the heroine's (Mamta Mohandas) life.

One of the nicer and more original representations of a female journalist was in Artham, where a determined and adventurous woman was presented without the side order of an affair with the hero.

The original from the 80s

Anthikad's 'bold' heroine origins can be traced to the 1987 hit Nadodikattu: the practical no-nonsense Radha with a mother to take care of. When Dasan keeps harping about his "BA first class" she is the one who, with a calm smile, points out that some of the labourers have even done their MA. Similarly, in the sequel Pattanapravesham, the onus falls on daughter-in-law Ambika to shoulder the responsibilities after the death of her husband. Ditto for Revathi in Varavelpu. And the rest of them took it from there.

Sample this for the building of tropes:

Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam: after the death of the father, eldest daughter takes over the family comprising of a meek mother, mischievous younger brother and sister.

Oral Mathram: the heroine is super-efficient, she can change a fuse, speak different languages and take care of the family.

Narendran Makan Jayakanthan Vaka: she is embellished with the title of Panchayat head, and is again efficient, practical and kind.

Achuvinte Amma: The jack-of-all-trades "bold" woman reaches a crescendo with Urvashi in this film. Meera Jasmine is also in tune with the bold, middle-class, efficient line, even bringing a semblance of discipline to her would-be-boyfriend.

Saving bold women (and their mothers)

But, but, but…in the end, the heroes ultimately stroll back as saviours, don't they? In Vinodayathra, we watch, as helplessly as the heroine, when Vinod helps her stand on her feet after a personal tragedy. In Njan Prakashan, Salomi exacts revenge from the man who ditched her initially, but the scene is presented in such a way that we're asked to sympathise with him. But what of his master plan to ditch her after marriage?

Anthikad also thwarts the ambitions of the heroine who steps away from domesticity. You find balance, or you don't get anything at all; remember the talented dancer in Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal? One of the most regressive heroines in his film would be Daisy from Bhagyadevatha. She gets married, finds herself sent home by the husband when he realises that the dowry hasn't been paid in full. She goes on to win a lottery, and the man tries to win her back. Just when you think that she has some sense of self-worth and has spurned his attempts at reconciliation, you realise that it's a decoy for her much larger magnanimity (which, by the way, is also a subtle affirmation of dowry as the status-quo). Ouch.

The mothers in most Anthikad films also follow a pattern—meek, with a history of pain and sorrow, thriving on being dependent. While the sisters are the unwanted elements, they are around to whine about not getting paid enough dowry or are considered greedy for having demanded a rightful share in the property.

Sathyan Anthikad will probably carry on with this bold, beautiful, middle-class and pragmatic heroine template for a long time. And the heroes will continue to be at the cusp of their coming-of-age journey before their paths cross. Old habits die hard and with Anthikad, the Malayali audience seems to be okay with it. So far.

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