Let’s take a look at some common female character tropes in Malayalam cinema.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl
As a trope, the manic pixie dream girl exists just to teach soulful young men to embrace life with all the lemons it provides. And if that’s not a description of most Sathyan Anthikkad heroines, I don’t know what is. As Neelima Menon wrote in her Film Companion piece, Sathyan Anthikkad heroines are often the catalyst and rarely the destination in his movies. Educated, with a job (sometimes multiple jobs mind you) and miles ahead of the hero in terms of maturity; their biggest purpose in the movie is to instil a sense of direction and purpose in the heart of our wayward hero.
You can spot them in movies ranging from Nadodikaattu to Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal and Vinodayathra, to even recent movies like Ennum Eppozhum, Jomonte Suvisheshangal and Njan Prakashan. As opposed to the traditional definition of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, these characters are given some semblance of personality. But that doesn’t deter from the fact that their character essentially provides the same result.
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If there was one thing that cemented the idea of “bhoomiyolam sahikkunna sthree mentality” onto a generation, it was a slew of movies with this trope. These are essentially Sathyan Anthikkad heroines but their struggle is the front and centre of the movie. Associated tropes include them being the sole breadwinners of the family, subjected to one misery after the other and interpersonal drama that borders on tragedy. Examples include Priyamvada from Kasthooriman, Vindhya from Sthreedhanam, or any present prime time serials for that matter.
Damsel in Distress
This, of course, follows the classic trope of the Damsel in Distress, where she waits for the prince to save her from peril. The helplessness of these characters is derived from the general belief that women as a group need to be taken care of by men. The trend peaked in the 90s and slowly died down (although not completely) as the new millennium took over. Not because men didn’t think women don’t need saving mind you. Because at this point, we were mostly telling stories of men. Women were nothing but supporting characters at best in these stories. Examples include Maya from Thacholi Varghese Chekavar, Indulekha from Chandrolsavam.
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This trope is pretty self-explanatory. Usually, these characters are written for aesthetic purposes and it’s very evident from their character arc (or rather the lack of it) and how much it affects the A-plot of the movie. Examples: Priya Raman in Sainyam, Silk Smitha in Spadikam.
One might think this is a product of the past but have you seen the reels and the tiks and the toks of the present? Example: Anuradha from Narasimham.
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These heroines are usually the black sheep of the family. Well-read and usually the smartest person in the room. They do not enjoy the company of other people and spend time in their own world because others just don’t “get them”. They talk a lot to themselves, sometimes even breaking the fourth wall in the process. Examples: Janakikutty from Ennu Swantham Janakikutty, Arathi from Pranayavarnangal.
The Femme Fatale
Yes, in many cases for a woman to headline a movie, it has to be a revenge thriller. This can vary from your garden variety white sari-clad yakshi to characters moulded by vengeance like Bhadra from Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu or Indu Varma from Independence.
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The Bold / Modern Girl / Impending Kulasthree
All of these are pretty much cut from the same cloth. Any female lead whose vibe is shown to be higher than that of other characters will have a scene highlighting their vulnerability to the hero. Post this, the alpha male asserts his dominance over her. It’s a curse that these characters are portrayed to be bold, commanding or assertive, but never more than the hero. You can clearly see them in many of the civil servant characters that Vani Viswanath has portrayed, or Manju Warriers’ characters in Aaram Thampuran and Kanmadam where a badass turns into a meek simp after she falls in love with the hero. Or the much dreaded Njangal Santhushtaraan where Abhirami was wronged throughout the movie for her modern outlook and dressing sense, but the happy ending was her learning Malayalam in a saree.
Ah, these female characters, usually in their late teens, have traits that most parents would want to see in their children. “Ival oru aankuttiyaayi janikkendathaayirunnu..” would be something many parents in these movies would proudly proclaim. But of course, that’s as far they’d go. Examples: Ann Mathews from Chocolate, Sona from Niram, Pooja from Om Shanthi Oshana.
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Can you think of other female character tropes or examples in Malayalam cinema? Tell us in comments!
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