There are many iconic female characters in modern Malayalam cinema. While some expose the dark sides of reality, others set an example to follow. Tracing out the history of several movie characters from movies in the past, there are female characters who have made the initial steps to break the norms and introduce a new idea into the system. Whether successful or not, these revolutionary female characters have contributed a great deal to Malayalam cinema as they can and are indeed the brave attempts by writers who thought differently. Here is a list of some of such revolutionary female characters who defied common ideologies:
|Spoiler warning for Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu, Yathrakarude Sradhakku, Naalu Pennungal, 22 Female Kottayam, and Ishq.|
Clara in Thoovanathumbikal
Being a movie from the ’80s, the introduction of the character Clara was a brave move as she was unlike the conventional female characters of the time. Clara is bold and independent, who wants to explore and enjoy her life. She is a liberated free woman who doesn’t let the patriarchal ideologies of virginity or marriage hold her back from living life her way. Though she is a prostitute, she is not presented in a shady light that makes the audience condemn her but as a representation of the new woman who wants the freedom to live her own life, and the pragmatic woman, who doesn’t let emotions stop her from seeing what’s right and wrong. Compared to other female characters who were shown as the highly emotional family caretakers, Clara was an incorporation of contrasting values.
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Bhadra in Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu
The title of the movie is ironic, as one wouldn’t expect the plot of revenge and murder from the title conveying a woman’s act of dressing up. The protagonist Bhadra was a novelty at the time as the movie revolves around her act of seeking revenge for the death of her parents. She is a woman who single-handedly plans and executes her revenge. She uses her womanly charm as her main weapon while we also see her fierce strength; showing both sides of a woman. Though there is a subplot of a man falling in love with her, she stays focused on her plan without getting swayed. Instead of the usual frail woman who gets rescued from her miseries by a man, the character Bhadra takes things into her own hands, imbued her father’s image of ‘Veerabhadra’.
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Jyothi in Yathrakarude Sradhakku
Jyothi is shown as a modern and progressive woman, who doesn’t believe in any of the societal rules imposed on women. Unlike the stereotypical woman, she dresses differently, travels and lives alone, is financially independent, and doesn’t hesitate to deal with a man when she has to. She doesn’t think much about these things and pragmatically deals with them as needed at the moment. She even proposes the idea of living with Ramanujan as his roommate, which wouldn’t have been the best idea for the conventional woman. It is even funny how Ramanujan is the one who overthinks and gets flustered while Jyothi is basically emotionless.
Vanaja in Achuvinte Amma
Vanaja in Achuvinte Amma is a single mother who works as an insurance agent and raises her daughter Ashwathy. She works and manages the house at the same time and maintains a close bond with her daughter. Her life managed to incorporate a different theme of motherhood, which is that of single mothers, into the movie; portraying an independent woman who took the bold decision to raise a child herself without the help of a man.
Kamakshi in Naalu Pennungal
Naalu Pennungal is an anthology film, depicting the lives of four women who face different problems in their lives. One of the stories is of Kamakshi, who is a spinster. As she gets older it gets difficult to find a groom for her. Her siblings get married by the time she walks into middle age leaving her no choice but to live as a spinster. After the death of her mother, she’s made to live with her sister but problems arise in the family and so she decides to live alone in their family house. Despite the judgments she faces from society, she takes the decision of living alone and proving to the world that a woman can live alone if she wants to. Her story ends with her saying that a woman doesn’t need a man to live.
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Tessa in 22 Female Kottayam
Tessa in 22 Female Kottayam could be considered as another version of Bhadra, a woman who decides to take revenge instead of accepting her plight. Tessa was betrayed by her lover and assaulted by his employer. When they thought they had completely broken her, she comes back in full force for revenge. Instead of the usual woman characters who would lose all strength, Tessa’s will gets powered by what happened to her, as she doesn’t want this to happen again. She also talks about how she got her mental strength from other strong women she met in her life.
Vasudha in Ishq
The climax of the movie is what got everyone’s attention. Vasudha shocked the audience with her response to her patriarchal boyfriend’s proposal. It turns out that Sachi had gone through all the trouble of getting back at the harasser because of his misunderstanding that he had assaulted Vasudha. His sexism and patriarchal mindset are shown at their highest when he tries to make sure nothing had happened to Vasudha that night before proposing to her. Her rejection would perhaps have been what made even the audience realise the hidden patriarchy behind Sachi’s whole act of revenge.
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Are there other revolutionary female characters in Malayalam cinema that you can think of? Tell us in comments.
Daya in Daya
Shyamala in Chintavishtayaya Shyamala
Shobana in Varane Avashyamund
Nimisha Sajayan in Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and The Great Indian Kitchen
Aiswaya Lekshmi in Mayanadhi
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