Good and bad characters exist in every movie, then there are some characters who are pictured as ‘Nanma Maram’ but in reality could be termed as problematic. In part 3 of this article, let us explore a few such popular Mollywood characters in detail while analysing problematic storylines.
Hitler Madhavankutty from Hitler (1997)
For the world, Hitler is one of the most hated men who brutally tortured and murdered the Jews and also initiated World War II. But for Malayalis, the name Hitler would remind them of Mammootty – the overprotective, selfless and caring brother of five sisters. Even if a Malayali has not watched this movie, they would still be aware of this movie’s ever-famous story because a brother like Hitler Madhavankutty is a nightmare for every lover out there.
The entire movie revolves around how Madhavankuttty has given up his happiness for raising his sisters and how he picks fights with every male who decides to even look at his sisters. While over-protectiveness is indeed a problem, let’s overlook this because this movie comes up with another major shocking element.
In the movie, one of his sisters gets raped by her aged professor under the influence of alcohol. Under such a circumstance, what do we expect a brother to do? Yes, he does get enraged and tries to assault the professor but his anger melts as soon as the professor blames his sister for the rape. The professor goes on to explain that if she had shouted, then he would have come to his consciousness and stopped the act. Very conveniently, the professor blamed the victim and the overprotective brother comes to the conclusion that the professor is not to be blamed solely. This mindset is not even the biggest problem with this character. The ‘Lost Virginity’ factor combined with the stigma of this incident being publicly known makes this brother decide that his sister should marry her rapist.
Needless to say, the character Hitler and the movie went on to become a blockbuster hit and was remade in Telugu (Hitler) and Hindi (Krodh). Well, let’s just pray that a brother like him exists only in reel and not in real.
Munshi Parameshwaran Pillai from Sreekrishnapurathe Nakshathrathilakkam (1998)
This movie which is every Malayali’s go-to for a good laugh puts a glittering veil on the patriarchal family set-up. The story revolves around how an ordinary joint family’s life gets disrupted due to the arrival of an actress in their neighbourhood.
Munshi Parameshwaran Pillai lives with his four sons and their families. Throughout the movie, Parameshwaran Pillai is showcased as a knowledgeable, logical and well-respected personality who is often appreciated for maintaining harmony and peace among the members of the joint family. On a closer look, what we can find are problematic elements of patriarchy. To even buy a scooter, his adult son feels he has to seek permission from his father and the women of the family do not go to their respective homes for festivals as their father-in-law would be alone. These scenes subtly point out the silent power that the head of the family yields over other’s life and decision-making.
At one point, his sons and wives get smitten by the luxury lifestyle of the neighbourhood actress and without seeking permission from their father, borrow money to refurnish their house. Though the father behaves meekly and lets them have their way, he sends anonymous letters to his sons’ wives indicating that one of his sons is having an affair with the actress. This sets in motion various instances of blaming, lying, schemes etc, which are captured in a comical manner.
Later towards the end of the movie, he admits to sending out those letters (without any guilt) and reasons that their lifestyle was going out of control. Hence, he had to do this to bring them back in line. He even blames the women for forcing their husbands to lead an unaffordable high-class lifestyle and also for letting their husbands go wayward and getting close to the actress. But along with all this, he defends his sons and says he brought them up well and they would never do anything wrong when there are scenes in the movie to prove otherwise.
While most of us beam at Mr Munshi’s vision and care for his family, what we miss seeing is his controlling nature. He literally messed up his sons’ family life by the cheap act of sending anonymous letters and while he claims he did this in good spirits, it sure wasn’t. What if it was just his way of retaliating when he felt he lost control over his sons’ life? Does he not consider his sons as adults who are mature enough to come out of their own mess? Also, he shifts the entire blame on the women and portrays his sons and himself as saints. Next time you watch this movie, question if Mr Munshi was just a normal, doting father or a cunning, shrewd and controlling father.
Saratha Teacher from Amma Ammaayiayamma (1998)
An evergreen drama about a middle-class family consisting of a mother and her five children. The movie portrays various issues faced by this family once each of these children gets married.
Kaviyoor Ponnamma (Saratha Teacher) who acts as the mother is pictured as a role model and a perfect example of a mother. It is even pointed out multiple times that she had received an award for being the best teacher in Kerala. Throughout the movie, she oozes goodness and kindness by never raising her voice against any form of injustice. When her daughter returns home after her mother-in-law’s jibes over dowry and indirectly blames her for having an affair, Saratha Teacher explains to her daughter that she should return to her in-law’s place as a girl needs to have patience like the Earth and should be able to bear (suffer) anything.
The next scene the movie highlights is that her daughter underwent a miscarriage which was planned and executed by her mother-in-law. If you are thinking that the movie portrayed this as a message of how women should not be forced to go back to an abusive household, then you got it wrong. Towards the end of the movie, the ‘role model’ mother agrees to send her daughter back to her in-law’s place once her mother-in-law claims to have undergone a reformation. The worst aspect of this movie is how Saratha Teacher’s character is never blamed for her daughter’s suffering but in fact, she still resembles an angel who one needs to look up to.
While we are moving towards a society that professes quotes such as “A divorced daughter is better than a dead daughter”, old movies such as this which are often telecasted ends up messing up the mindset of the people.
Thankam from Nandanam (2002)
This is a simple and straightforward love story which stands out for its divine content, songs and the typical valluvanadan style of dialect. Manu (Prithviraj) who is from an influential family falls in love with their domestic help Balamani (Navya Nair). Manu is raised single-handedly by his mother Thankam (Revathi) and values her opinions/decisions regarding his life. Thankam is portrayed as a woman whose difficult life has forced her to become strong-willed but still harbours goodness and empathy.
The first element of toxicity is when Thankam arranges Manu’s marriage without even consulting him. At a later stage, when Manu confesses his love for Balamani, Thankam delivers a set of disturbing but sugar-coated dialogues while defending her bride of choice. At first, she tells Manu that if he had told this earlier, maybe she might have agreed but now it is too late. When Manu continues to hold his ground, she shifts tactics and takes the blame on herself telling her she should have asked him first, but then again, she conveniently slips the fact that her decision would be right. She even throws in statements like sometimes we cannot change fate (Well, this is the fate planned by her!) and also strategically tells her son that no one else needs to know about this incident.
Thankam also goes on to deliver a similar set of dialogues to Balamani, where she empathises with her and says she understands Balamani’s pain but she should forget Manu. Also, she pacifies Balamani by saying that she is not surprised that Manu likes her as she is that good but hopefully God forgives her for separating them.
Do give these two sets of dialogue delivery a watch again, it will clearly show the various forms of tactics and emotional blackmail that a parent often uses on their children. Kudos to the writer for this realistic representation that smoothly camouflages her true intentions and makes one easily mistake her character to be empathetic.
Kareem Ikka from Ustad Hotel (2012)
Kareem Ikka (Thilakan) is a person with a golden heart. He runs a restaurant where he sells biryani at a nominal rate. He gives extra money to his workers and he even donates to feed the needy. Very difficult to find any faults in this character, isn’t it?
When his grandson Faizi (Dulquer), who is educated abroad in hotel management, coincidentally lands up at his doorstep, he trains him in his restaurant. While Faizi is making plans to go abroad, is Kareem Ikka also plotting to keep him back at home? Kareem Ikka’s love for his restaurant and philanthropic ways is very evident in the movie and he is definitely looking for someone to take over the restaurant from him. Who can be a better person than his own grandson who has an interest in cooking?
As soon as Faizi lands a job abroad, his grandfather makes Faizi visit his friend in Madurai who had left a lucrative chef position to feed the poor. The incidents he witnesses in Madurai strike a vulnerable chord in Faizi. Post this, he gets to know that his grandfather had suddenly left for a pilgrimage. The movie ends with a scene where Faizi is happily cooking in Kareem Ikka’s restaurant.
While Kareem Ikka’s intentions are noble, did Faizi actually be happy with what has happened or did he accidentally fall into the emotional trap laid by his grandfather? The answer to this we will never know. But it is essential to question if Kareem Ikka’s actions are justifiable – wasn’t he trying to indirectly influence his grandson’s decisions?
No movie character can be credited for wholesome goodness or evilness. But it is essential to understand and question the inherent problems/toxicity that is packaged and portrayed as normal.