Changing Masculinity in Malayalam Film


Film: Mayanadi (2018)

Scene A: Mathan sees the Jacuzzi tub. He seems excited and prepares a bubbling bath with aromatic candles and expensive bath salts. He soaks himself and relaxes.

Scene B: Mathan lies on the belly of Aparna, after they make love. He asks if he can make arrangements for relocating to Dubai, intending that since they had sex, she’d give her consent. Aparna replies “Sex is not a promise, Matha”

Film: Eeda (2018)

Scene A: Aiswarya walks towards Anand’a bike, declaring that she loves him and walks back to the car. Anand doesn’t know what to say. Later, in the car she gets a text message by him, saying that he loves her too.

Scene B: (In Anand’s flat) Aiswarya asks : Do you have Adhar card”? Anand replies “Yes, why?”. She asks again “Is the rental agreement of this flat in your name?”. Anand says yes. Later he is seen following her into the Registrar’s office for applying for marriage.

Film: Aadi (2018)

Scene A: Aadi is reluctant to meet Mohanlal in the restaurant and asks for a chance in his film. His mother insists on him meeting the actor and she accompanies him.

Scene B: Aadi is dining with Sarath and Jaya in their house. Aadi sheds tears, homesick. When he sees that Jaya is looking at him, he wipes his tears off.

The three films above are all released in 2018 in Malayalam. Three of them are stories of young men and women struggling to overcome something beyond their power. Mathan doesn’t survive in the game while Anand is likely to end up as the same. Aadi manages to stay alive but is scarred incurably. Mathan and Anand are men who lost their lives and love. Aparna betrays Mathan and Aiswarya has to marry someone else for saving Anand. And for Aadi, though there is no woman to betray him, Jaya remains as a question mark to his conscience. He keeps a physical distance from Jaya, as one would from Siva’s third eye, knowing that he can never replace Jaya’s loss. Aadi escapes from the trap, but he gains nothing but regrets. Three of them are failed heroes.

When movies like Premam (2015), Thattathin Marayathu (2012), and Bangalore Days (2014) celebrated the restless Malayali angry young man and his victory over love and life, there is a serious change in the story line and the characterisation of men in the recent films. Firstly, they seem ‘half’ the men from the three films from yester years. Mathan, Anand and Aadi are neither lucky nor skilled in the game of ‘the survival of the fittest’. Secodly, none of the recent heroes is as active and decisive as George, Vinod or Arjun. Despite of having money, job or family they fail miserably when compared to the aimless, undisciplined and irresponsible trio of the latter group.

Mathan’s feminine nature is obvious as he slides into the bubble bath of Jacuzzi. Bath tubs are used metaphorically in cinema medium. It is seen as a temporary relief like a womb, a calm before the storm, a moment of serenity before the violence and this is why the amphibian man takes sanctuary in Eliza’s bathtub (Shape of Water), Tom and Izzi have a passionate lovemaking in her tub (Fountain) and the girl always takes a nap in the tub before the clawed glove emerges from the water (A Nightmare on Elmstreet).

In movies like PsychoA Perfect MurderThe Big Lebowski , Godfather II, and The Reader also bath tub often appears as a moment of relief before tumultuous events happen. On the other hand, some movies used it for showing an intimate moment of a couple or friends (Fight ClubPretty WomanOriginal Sin and Fifty Shades of Grey) or the most erotic phase of a woman, lying naked in the tub (Seven Year Itch and American Beauty). Indian films have often borrowed the bath tubs for this purpose. It was a very convenient way to show nudity in a not-so-nude way.

Many B class movies could make good use of the bath tubs. As Mathan lies in the tub, aromatic candles lit around him, one remembers the character Chandler who steals Monica’s bath which indicates one of the many feminine traits in the character (Friends –American TV sitcom aired in NBC from 1994 to 2004).  There aren’t many Indian movies which use a bathtub for anything serious than offering a sneak peak to the bathing scene. In this context, when Mathan slides into the water (though the event is immediately followed by a series of turbulence in the plot) a native viewer is not prepared to see a possible semiotic reading of the bath tub like in Psycho or Godfather.

Mathan is, also, presented as the embodiment of the average Malayali conscious which would like to believe that sex is something irreversible and it literally ‘traps’ a woman into a man. But this sudden change in the Malayali Hero cannot undertake the Herculean task of changing Malayali’s concept of masculinity.

Both Anand and Mathan don’t have a towering villain in the film. Mathan’s enemy is police which consists of three police men who do the Tom & Jerry chase. Anand’s villain is a social evil which has rather an abstract form than a single person with excessive testosterone. Aadi, unlike Mathan and Anand, has a villain- a powerful, rich and influential person who looks fearsome. But does Aadi face the villain in any of the scenes before the climax? No. Aadi is confronted by lesser ferocious petty villains until the last scene and when the movie ends the main villain ends up as a decoy and is shot down not by the hero but by his own evil world. In short, these three films are similar in lacking i) a masculine hero, ii) a vulnerable heroine, and iii) an antagonist to highlight the hero.

The theatrical success of these three films shows that Malayali could digest the lesser manly heroes. But if this sets a trend in the coming films or not is something to wait and see. Perhaps Malayali is finally tired of the burden of exaggerated masculinity attributed to a man and is coming in terms with the reality.


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