“Oru kurinnu jeevane kollano?!” is the first question that arises whenever abortion is talked about in most Malayalam films.
It’s been 51 years since the Abortion Law in India was enacted, but many Malayalam films do not often portray abortion as a woman exercising her choice. It adds drama and agony to ensure that some sections of the audience are not upset. Movies in the past went so far as to exaggerate the medical risks behind the procedure without giving adequate attention to real barriers like financial costs, emotional fortitude and social support that a pregnant person would need to make the abortion safer.
Let’s look at some Malayalam movies that talked about abortion and how they portrayed it.
Sandhyakku Virinja Poovu
Released in 1983, Sandhyakku Virinja Poovu, directed by P.G Viswambaran, starring Seema, Mammootty and Mohanlal, was probably the first Malayalam movie to talk about abortion.
The plot revolves around Dr Baladevi (Seema), who had to abort the child that her brother Thilakan’s girlfriend conceived after being raped by a man. She died during the MTP surgery, and Baladevi got into legal issues. Adv. Jayamohan (Mammootty) solved the case.
Though the movie tried to educate society about some laws surrounding abortion, it probably created fear in doctors – that there might not be an Adv Jayamohan who would come to save them.
Notebook revolves around Sooraj (Skanda), Pooja (Parvathy), Sree Devi (Maria), and Saira (Roma), who are 12th std students at Lord’s Academy in Ooty. Sree Devi falls in love with Sooraj. After their school tour, she misses her periods; they know she is pregnant. Sree Devi’s family is traditional, so she doesn’t disclose it to her parents. So her two friends try to resolve it by aborting in a faraway hospital. Sree Devi dies during the surgery, and Pooja and Saira flee from the hospital.
This movie reaffirmed old-school beliefs about abortion as unsafe without delving into the underlying problems leading to Sree Devi’s death. The film also delivered messages against teenage love, which made Kerala parents tense about their daughters. The fear this movie instilled in many parents led them to suspect their child’s friends and consider them a bad influence.
Starring Jayaram, Padmapriya and Baby Niveditha, the movie’s main plot is based on how abortion is inhumane and morally wrong. The young couple and their daughter live happily until their ‘unborn child haunts them’.
“Amma, you killed me for your happiness and selfishness though I was in your womb…did you not
love me?” – This was the question asked by the ghost of the baby they aborted as it possessed their
child. Needless to say, the movie was pro-life.
Kaana Kanmani portrays abortion as a monstrous crime and disregards one’s right to autonomy over one’s body. Maya aborted the baby as, at that time, they were not financially stable and were not interested in bringing a baby into the world.
The gynaecologist advises Maya not to terminate the pregnancy by explaining the terror and helplessness of the fetus. Such a scene is misleading as the advice the gynaecologist gave was unscientific and biased. The doctor shows the statistics of abortion in India in a negative context.
Many people were horrified after watching the film; some even believed such a haunting would happen to them.
Anamika was not a commercially successful movie. It starred Samvritha Sunil, quite similar to Kaana Kanmani, but here the movie showed the mental state of a woman who has undergone an abortion.
Rachel (Samvritha) is happily married to Louise (Arun). She gets pregnant and is ashamed of another sudden pregnancy. After meeting her friend, she decides to have an abortion. But after the procedure, she becomes gloomy and depressed. She feels a strong sense of guilt and even has some feelings of vengeance towards the doctor and her friend who insisted on the abortion. This was another movie that made the women rethink the decision to abort a child and instilled fear in them.
For a woman, deciding to terminate a pregnancy is never easy. The intensity of this dilemma might vary based on the woman’s social, cultural and economic backgrounds. The recent Malayalam movie Sara’S, directed by Jude Anthany Joseph, portrays a woman in such a dilemma. As a teenager, she was pretty sure she wouldn’t have a kid unless she could direct a movie independently.
Sara’S was a great leap to educate women about their rights to their bodies and decision-making. Sara (Anna Ben) showed that women could take bold decisions. The film also talks about the lack of sex education in India, inequality in Indian marriages, and how unprepared Indian couples are as they enter into parenthood. The doctor in the movie, played by Siddique, clearly states that “it’s better not to be a
parent than a bad parent.” This is definitely in light of several cases of infanticide committed by parents and the rising rate of post-partum depression.
One aspect where Sara’s could’ve been better is by portraying how an abortion might impact a woman and talking about post-partum depression.
Bro Daddy came in contrast to Sara’S. Anna Kurien (Kalyani) becomes pregnant accidentally. As they were not married, they planned to abort, but soon her boyfriend, Eesho (Prithviraj), learns that his mother is also pregnant. When his mother makes him hold her stomach and says that there is life inside her womb and killing the life is a sin in the eyes of god, he decides to keep his baby.
Like many before, the movie talked about how abortion is murder, which isn’t righteous and is against God’s wishes.
Pop culture’s portrayal of abortion is one of the reasons why we have people making statements like “You should have thought about it before spreading your leg” when an unmarried woman decides to abort or “There are people who can’t give birth to babies, but you people are trying to kill them.” to couples who decide to abort.
Malayalam films have a long way to go regarding their portrayal of abortions and the many complexities surrounding abortions.