With the release of the controversial ‘Kerala Story’ in 2023, the demonisation of the Muslim community elevated to a whole new level, this time placed in the heart of Kerala. Islamophobia was delivered through a state narrative with a cautionary message that Kerala would turn into an Islamic State in the next twenty years if action wasn’t taken. In that light, we’ve compiled a bunch of Malayalam movies made by Malayali filmmakers that engage with Muslim culture and portray their idea of what Malayali Muslims may seem like, in all their quirks and complexities!
It is no surprise that Thallumaala, from the lot, tops the list of Malayalam Movies that portray Muslims and Muslim culture really well! From opening the movie with the prophet’s hadith, to all the little references to God, to the passionate mentions of “erchi” (beef), and most importantly, the many different portrayals of Beepathu; all make Thallumaala an ideal reflection of Malabari, Muslim culture. Unlike the singular, stereotypical portrayal of a Muslim woman’s appearance, Beepathu is seen wearing everything— entirely graphic stylish outfits, salwar suits with a veil on her head, sports jerseys, jumpsuits and even full-length, sleeve-less white wedding gowns. Ultimately, with the “esarp” styled hijab donned on her big wedding day, she completely confuses a mainstream audience.
Sudani From Nigeria
Sudani From Nigeria, while dealing with Muslim representation on the one hand, also was a game-changer for the regressive image painted of the Malappuram district in popular cinema. What is more beautiful in Sudani From Nigeria is how Muslim culture is simply a background on which the story of a foreign footballer is told and not the exoticised centre-piece of the film. Religious references are casual, as they should be, and characters are drawn from basic human values like love, care and compassion.
Also Check Out: Iconic Hugs From Malayalam Movies
Probably the first movie to portray a Malabari Muslim wedding in a fun and celebratory way as opposed to the strict, sombre atmosphere of Muslim homes. The celebration was just there for you to see! Vishnu Vijay’s brilliant treatment of ‘Mappila Paattu’ (Traditional Muslim Songs) also highlights the entire celebratory mood of the whole movie. Another important aspect of Muslim weddings that the movie manages to include is the seeking of consent of the bride, which is otherwise erased in popular culture, giving a negative image to Muslim marriages generally. They managed to creatively and subtly embed Arabic lyrics into a Malayalam song, skillfully incorporating a part of the Malabari language and culture.
Steering away from Malabar for a bit, we have Soubin Shahir’s directorial debut ‘Parava’. Parava showcases a very crucial side of Kochi that had gone ignored by the industry for a long time – the vibrant Muslim neighbourhood of Mattanchery. The movie portrays all the little Muslim nuances as casually as it does with the other elements constituting its essence: childhood, family, brawls, love, and pigeons. Parava’s brilliance lies in its subtlety in portraying an alternative Kochi culture, different from popular culture – the heart of it being the Muslim neighbourhood the maker grew up in.
‘Virus’, fifth in the list co-written by Muhsin Parari, also has characters from the Muslim community whose religiosity is not exaggerated and, most importantly, not portrayed as negative. Abid Rehman is a young doctor. He plays football, listens to music, and fights a little with his girlfriend, Sara Yakoob, who is not reduced to her hijab or exoticised because of it. ‘Virus’ also makes it a point to add other Muslim characters among the doctors, nurses and patients, normalising their existence among others. Parari also takes a step ahead and hints at the subtle islamophobia that the community faces when one of the Muslim characters catches the virus and is questioned on their “whereabouts.”
It goes without saying that this is not an exhaustive list! Malayalam movies continue to take us by surprise every day as it goes on to break stereotypes, be it beauty standards or gender roles. Of course, Malayalam Cinema is still haunted by various kinds of social prejudice that need to be addressed and can only be resolved with accurate representation in all fields of movie-making. But with how it is progressing, one thing is for sure; we’re heading in only one direction, and that’s up!