They say it takes a village to raise a child. But not everyone has a village of people at their disposal. While being a mother is no easy feat, being a single mom in a patriarchal society like ours can be even more challenging.
There has been no dearth in family-oriented movies in Malayalam cinema especially in the 80’s and 90’s – a santhushta kudumbam comprising Achan, Amma, a jeshtan or a pengal. But when it comes to movies that represent a woman trying to raise a child alone, it has usually ended up with the moral message that a woman’s life is incomplete without a man. Movies like Oru Nokku Kanaan, Chanchattam or even the Jayaram starrer Killukampetti (but then you expect that from a Jayaram movie) reiterated this point. Plots that focuses on single mothers were never a fun or light subject. Take the tear-jerker Akashadhooth for example. Like how does one even write about this movie without feeling an urge to cry?
Thankfully there are a few movies that have gone above and beyond as far as showing single moms in a positive light. So I’ve put together a list of those exceptional mothers who have graced the screens of Malayalam cinema. These women have inspired me and countless others who, at the end of the day, are just trying to do the best they can to raise fine human beings.
Aleena from Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare
One of the earliest portrayals of a single mom that I can remember that doesn’t showcase the mother as someone who is helpless or bitter. Aleena is an independent mother of a 3-year-old child. Although she makes up for the lack of a father figure in her child’s life, her heart-wrenching loneliness is evident in many scenes throughout the film. The entry of an anonymous man on the telephone (Mohanlal) is not as a rakshakan but simply as a welcome change in Aleena and Deepa mol’s life. What I found refreshing about this movie is that it is one of the first movies (as far as I know) that entertains the notion that a single mom or a widow can seek love and companionship again, which was a big deal at the time.
Vidhyalakshmi from Kadha Thudarunnu
An urban mother who is thrown quite suddenly into single motherhood is at her wit’s end trying to make ends meet. It is with a lot of help from various helpful strangers that she is able to find her footing again. What I admire the most about Vidhyalakshmi is that no matter how dire or scary the situation- like hiding from the house-owner or sleeping on a railway station platform as a result of being homeless, she manages to keep a cheerful disposition in front of her daughter. She plays the whole misfortune out like a fun adventure, ensuring that not even a little bit of the fear and helplessness she feels reflects upon her child.
Sameera from Take Off
Although Sameera is a single mother only for a short period in the movie, I thought this character deserves to be on the list. The reason she chooses to leave behind her initial marriage is not physical abuse or adultery but the lack of freedom and financial independence. When asked to choose between a job and her own son, we see her struggle. It’s a choice no mother should have to make. But we still understand the choice she makes. The heartbreaking scene in which she bids her child goodbye or the scene in the hospital where she tries to have a telephone conversation with her son on his birthday is a poignant representation of the countless mothers who live apart from their children in order to earn a living.
Sujatha from Udhaharanam Sujatha & The Mother from Minnaminigu
There is no question as to why Sujatha take up doing numerous odd jobs from dawn to dusk. She does not come from a place of privilege but she has just one end goal for all her efforts – to provide a better future for her daughter, Athira. It’s the same for the unnamed mother (played by Surabhi Lakshmi who bagged a National Award for the same) in Minnaminigu (a grimmer version of Udhaharanam Sujatha). Both are domestic workers with big dreams for their daughters who are their life-forces. In spite of their shortcomings, they aren’t the kind to sit around and wait for a man to come and rescue them. These women are the real power-houses who knows the value of the struggle, of having to put aside their own needs and setting aside every last penny to ensure that their children don’t have to face the same hardships they’ve had to.
Vanaja from Achuvinte Amma & Saira Bhanu from C/O Saira Bhanu
Rather than the never-ending financial struggle, these movies portrayed the wonderful bond shared between a mother (albeit adoptive) and her child. It was refreshing to watch the quick-witted chemistry between them, more friend-like than maternal. Their casual conversations are the kind you often have or wish you had with your own mother. The struggle for these highly possessive mothers is different though. The visible discomfort on Vanaja’s face when the police inspector passes a comment on her daughter or the angst on Saira’s face when she sees her son behind bars – these are things every parent tries to protect their children from. The best take away from this movie comes at the very end when both these mothers learn to loosen their grips over their children in order to let them pursue their dreams.
Deepa from Ennum Eppozhum
A contemporary mother with a high-flying career, Deepa is financially secure and brave enough to face any hardships that come her way. Unlike Aleena, she is not fretting over the lack of a father figure in her child’s life. With Deepa, we get to see the ugly side of a bad divorce. When a stranger enters their life (Mohanlal yet again), she resists at first. She never asks him for help, but he sticks around like a faithful shadow during her most trying times. When asked why he does that, he doesn’t come up with a proclamation of love or sympathy towards her. He simply replies “Vakeelnode enikki vallathe respect aane” – words that you don’t expect to hear a superstar utter to his ‘heroine’ in a movie.
Neena from Varane Avishyamund
Now, this is the life that I like to believe that Aleena and her daughter got to live sometime down their life. Neena is a well-settled, confident mother, who has done a great job in bringing up her daughter as a cool independent woman. Now she’s all set to explore her own life, be it with a brand new career, new friendships or a budding romance. A victim of an abusive marriage, she faces cynicism from everyone including her daughter for the choices she makes. But Neena holds her ground and embraces life to the fullest because she bloody well deserves it.
Sheryl from Jacobinde Swargarajyam, Teresa from Annmariya Kalippilaanu, Shyamala from Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala
These mothers are technically not “single” mothers, but do a kickass job of raising their children in the absence (voluntary or otherwise) of their partners. Sheryl from Jacobinte Swargarajyam could have let herself fall apart when her husband is forced to disappear from their lives, but she stands strong and helps her children every step of the way to keep moving forward. Treesa is aghast by Ann Mariya’s actions but she tries her best to understand it and to make the right choices to keep her daughter safe. Where do I even start with Shyamala? With a husband like Vijayan, she struggles to single-handedly run a household while making ends meet and provide for her children. Though the movies don’t spend nearly enough time focusing on how she does so, Shyamala surely deserves a mention in this list of kickass mothers.
Have we missed on a kick-ass single mother from Malayalam cinema? Let us know in the comments section.