As ‘invisible women’ debate rages at home, Kani & Divya sparkle at Cannes

Their movie 'All We Imagine As Light' is first Indian film in 30 years to compete for ‘The Palme d’Or’ Award
Divya Prabha and Kani Kusruti
Divya Prabha and Kani Kusruti

KOCHI: While film enthusiasts, filmmakers and netizens were discussing the lack of representation of women in recent blockbuster Malayalam films, 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 cynosures of all eyes alongside Kapadia after the film was screened in the competition category ‘Palme d’Or’ at the 76th edition of the prestigious festival in the French city. It is the first Indian film to compete for ‘Palme d’Or’ Award at the Cannes Film Festival after 30 years

The absence of women in prominent roles in recent Mollywood films including Manjummel Boys, Aavesham, Aadu Jeevitham and Bramayugam -- all of which did well at the box office -- had not gone unnoticed by the critics. G P Ramachandran, a film critic, said that women are placed in side roles in films to make the men -- be it the protagonist or the antagonist -- appear strong. “We have mostly seen women in supporting roles in Malayalam films and it is evident in films like 'Narasimham'. The presence of Kani and Divya at Cannes also indicates that we need to encourage more women to be part of the industry and more filmmakers to film them,” he said.

Malayali audiences celebrate films based on male bonding and the success of 'Aavesham' and 'Manjummel Boys' are examples of that, said film critic C S Venkiteswaran.

“Most films don’t have any female characters, and if at all there are some, their presence is marginal. In a way, this could in some ways be a post-WCC (Women in Cinema Collective) phenomenon, prompting filmmakers to avoid female characters altogether. On the other hand, it is also because of the box office reception these films receive, which indicates the deep misogynist strains in the Malayali psyche,” he said, adding that it reflects not a lack of acting talent but a deliberate gender bias of the filmmakers themselves.

Yet the industry has witnessed the success of some female-oriented films, including Padmarajan’s 'Deshadanakili Karayarilla', Aashiq Abu’s '22 Female Kottayam', Parvathy Thiruvoth-starrer 'Uyare', Urvashi-Meera Jasmine combo’s 'Achuvinte Amma' etc.

“We have the talent. The filmmakers, government agencies and the audience should put in efforts to encourage women to be in the industry and to ensure better participation of women,” emphasised Ramachandran. Echoing the sentiment, Venkiteswaran said women’s representation in cinema in Malayalam and worldwide has become a point of discussion and the issue needs to be addressed.

“It is good that people are noticing the gender disparity after the success of several male-oriented films and are reacting to it. Such discussions are crucial in helping improve the participation of women,” he said.

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The New Indian Express