Give women due space in Malayalam cinema

This absence of female actors was flagged by director Anjali Menon when she asked, “Where are the women in Malayalam cinema?’’
Image of a film reel used for representational purposes only.
Image of a film reel used for representational purposes only.

The Malayalam film industry is having a dream run these days—both critically and commercially. They are topping the charts in cinemas and on OTT platforms despite being the smallest player in the South Indian film industry. But if somebody watching the recent Malayalam hits thinks that Malayali women are almost non-existent in Kerala society, then s/he cannot be blamed. For, women have become invisible in Malayalam cinema. On the list of recent releases, most films have no major women characters in them, let alone in lead roles. Whether it was Aavesham, Manjummel Boys or Bramayugam—the three top grossers of the year—none has a women character with screen-time stretching beyond a few minutes.

This absence of female actors was flagged by director Anjali Menon when she asked, “Where are the women in Malayalam cinema?’’ While her question was heavily trolled by portraying women in the film industry as cry-babies, it provoked some serious discussion too. Ironically, around the same time, two women actors from Kerala were hogging the limelight at the Cannes Film Festival. Kani Kusruti and Divya Prabha, who played the lead roles in Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine As Light, were the cynosure of all eyes along with Kapadia. It was as if the duo was answering the question posed by Anjali Menon. Their much-talked-about presence at Cannes only reinforced the fact that there is no dearth of talent among female actors—but only that script writers and directors should have an inclination to give them due space.

The absence of women in Malayalam cinema does not mean there is a deliberate attempt to make women disappear from the screens. But with many films without women becoming huge hits, it is seen as natural that filmmakers would start thinking female actors were dispensable. And that is a worrying trend. While it is not creatively prudent to reserve roles for women in every film being made, it is also not a good sign that more and more films are becoming hits with no women in them. It is appreciable that people are noticing the ‘invisibilisation’ of women, as such discussions are crucial in addressing gender disparity. Cinema should never be a ‘boys’ club’ and it is the responsibility of everyone who loves cinema—from the writer to the viewer—to ensure that.

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