KOCHI: Actor Prithviraj’s bold statement on Saturday he will “never again let disrespect for women be celebrated” in his movies has triggered a debate on ‘misogyny’ in Malayalam films. While a prominent Mollywood actor coming forward with a public statement is seen as a good sign, the biggest question is whether it is possible for all popular actors to follow suit. Most of the leading male stars, especially the ‘supremos’ of Malayalam cinema - Mammootty and Mohanlal - have been ruling the box office from a platform built on certain misogynistic avatars on celluloid.
For instance, the movie Athiratram (1984) which elevated Mammootty to super stardom also has the presence of a bold character, Tulasi, portrayed by actor Seema. But there is a scene in whichMammootty’s Tharadas is mocking Tulasi by saying: “In an effort to defeat me, Tulasi forgets the fact that you are a woman, a mere woman.”
The dialogue was applauded by the spectators and Tharadas continues to remain a much-celebrated character. Following the success of Athiratram, Mammootty did similar macho-chauvinist roles including Balram in Avanazhi, Chandru in ahayanam and Nair in Nairsab. He even reiterated the same Athiratram dialogue ‘Mere woman’ (Verum pennu) - in The King (1995). Mohanlal, who ruled the box office with a boy-next-door image during the late ‘80s and ‘90s, switched to larger than life characters. Following the success of Narasimham (2000), in which his character Induchoodan boldly declares it is not a wife or life partner he needs, rather a girl who sleeps under a blanket on cold nights and is ready to bear with him even if he kicks her after drinking. Another of his films, Thandavam too was criticised for ‘certain’ remarks against women. There were moments of male domination in the recent blockbuster Pulimurukan too.
“Most filmmakers look at cinema as a mere commodity and women as mere ingredients,” renowned filmmaker Shaji N Karun told Express. “But in their attempts to completely focus on the business side, they are forgetting cinema is an art and the filmmaker is the flag-bearer. They are ‘masked’ makers. Genuine and honest filmmakers will never ever attempt to defame or sideline women characters through their movies.”
The makers of alpha male movies have justified their inclusion of such remarks, saying they were meant for mass appeal and heroism. Kasaba (2016) was criticised by many for Mammootty character Rajan Zachariah’s remarks against a woman police officer. Director Nithin Renji Panicker said, “I have answered the critics of Kasaba before. Let me tell you Kasaba is not the first movie in Malayalam in which the hero has made some remark against women. But nobody is talking about the good side of Rajan Zachariah. He is rescuing a group of sex workers and rehabilitating them. We have avoided ‘skin show’ completely from our movie.” Even if one or two prominent actors take the lead in avoiding misogyny, the superstars should lead the way.