Malayalam blockbusters marred by poorly written female characters? The trend in 2023 as we saw it

'Kannur Squad' hardly had female characters, while 'RDX' rode high on the machismo of its lead men. Movie posters | Imdb

The Malayalam film industry, which has been witnessing a sea change in the past few years, has every reason to cheer this year too. Despite a string of flops, there were a few films that brought good business to the industry. Mammootty Kampany’s ‘Kannur Squad’ is the latest of the lot that raked big numbers at the box office.

In ‘Romancham’, except for the female ghost ‘Anamika’ and the curt nurse, there are hardly any female characters. Photo | Imdb

Despite these major achievements, surprisingly, the money-spinners didn’t have any strongly-written female characters, compared to its predecessors last year. If ‘2018’s leading hero was a male, ‘Kannur Squad’ was conspicuous for its lack of a woman character, let alone a strong one. In ‘Romancham’, except for the female ghost ‘Anamika’, who supposedly is creating a lot of havoc inside the men’s paying guest accommodation and the curt, smart nurse who is treating Jibin (Soubin Shahir) in the hospital, there is hardly any female representation in the movie.

Seetha (Bindu Panicker) in ‘Rorschach’ was enigmatic and intriguing. Jaya in 'Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey' changed the narrative when she decided to take matters in her own hands. Photos | Trailer stills

This is in stark contrast to the commercially successful films in 2022 that had boasted of several women-centric female characters. Though Seetha (Bindu Panicker) in ‘Rorschach’ was definitely not a hero, she was both enigmatic and intriguing, a kind of woman rarely seen in Malayalam cinema. The devilish brooding Bindu Panicker brought to the character was so powerful that she often overshadowed the protagonist.

It was not just Bindu Panicker's Seetha. The titular character in 2022’s ‘Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey’ was someone who was initially meek, but she changed the narrative when she decided to take matters in her own hands. That Jaya (played by Darshana Rajendran) cared about herself and decided to oppose her abusive husband (Basil Joseph) by learning taekwondo was both fun and empowering. It should be remembered that Beepathu (Kalyani Priyadarshan) from the 2022 fillm ‘Thallumaala’ was not only strong, but strong-willed and stylish.

While Mahima Nambiar, who played Mini (Robert’s girlfriend) in this year’s superhit film ‘RDX’ did get some good screen space in the film, her character arc was soft, almost like it was written to cater to the male audience. Though she gets her moment of glory in the second half by putting her husband Ratheesh in his place with a taekwonda stunt, the scene was too short. 'RDX' for all its fun and charisma, rides high on the machismo of its lead men -Robert, Dony and Xavier, played by Shane Nigmam, Antony Varghese and Neeraj Madhavan.

The lead in '2018' is a male character. Movie poster | Imdb

Rony David, actor and screenwriter of ‘Kannur Squad’ admits that they overlooked female characters in the four-men squad because the movie was entirely based on a real-life team, which only boasted of male characters. A classic case of art imitating society. “It honestly skipped our mind to introduce a female character. However, if you look at the reality, there are very few women who are involved in inter-state investigations. There are several practical difficulties,” he says.

Underwritten female characters in blockbusters can be chalked up to the demands of male-driven mass entertainers or even seemingly justifiable requirements of the plot. But the trend definitely is disappointing, especially since no women-centric movies did decently well at the box-office this year. Vincy Aloshious’s film ‘Rekha’ that boasted of a strong female character, hardly received theatres in Kerala.

Vincy's film 'Rekha' hardly received theatres in Kerala. Photo | Imdb

Vincy (now named changed to WinC) had even implored the audience to go watch her show in available theatres. Though her hard-work paid off and she received the Best Actress award from the state government, the movie fizzled out from theatres without much ado. KSFDC’s highlight film ‘B 32 Muthal 44 Vare’ directed by Sruthi S also did not do any good business in theatres this year, though efforts were made to promote the movie prior to its release.

In contrast and not surprisingly, Tamil movies like ‘Jailer’ and ‘Leo, which had poorly-written female characters, did big business, even in Kerala. But just when it was felt that the Malayali audience have developed a fatigue for strong, empowered women, Jeo Baby's 'Kaathal' happened. Jyothika's Omana can perhaps be rated as one of the most empowered on-screen women characters even Indian cinema has ever seen. It also seemed like Mammootty's production house, Mamootty Kampany, was making up for the lack of a woman character of note in its earlier blockbuster 'Kannur Squad'.

'Kaathal' seems like a pleasant twist near the end of a generally dull year for women characters. Photo | Movie trailer still

'Kaathal' seems like a pleasant twist near the end of a generally dull year for women characters. But even Omana is no excuse for the poorly written female roles that came a year after we lustily cheered an ordinary woman who, with a well-timed taekwondo side kick, sent her chauvinist entitled husband twirling up in the air and then crashing down on the dining table.

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.