Stereotypical Portrayal of Female Characters in Malayalam Serials


A middle-aged woman cautiously watches the television, which pumps heavy sentimental music from the backdrop.

This can be a convincing scene for any Keralites, as we all have at least one Malayali household that we may know of, whose routine might be similar to the scene mentioned. For many, evenings without serials would be like ‘thenga kothu illathe beef roast pole’. Some might love it, some don’t, but we can’t ignore the impact, it has created over the years. This mass medium, thus has a huge influence on shaping, reinforcing or altering views in the minds of the audience, depending on their level of participation with the medium.

A note to the earlier scene mentioned; I tried to cash in on the stereotype of women being the sole consumers of serials in our state. Although women are considered the main consumers of serials in Kerala, many men watch serials in their free time.

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This article might sound theoretical, but I assure you to carry this piece in an informal track, so as not to lose our attention.

Why are serials a major television genre among women?

As a mass medium, television has a ‘prime time‘ that gives broadcasters the highest viewing figures. Simply put, this is the time when most people watch television. In India, prime time is between 7 pm and 9.30 pm. In case you still don’t get it, it’s the time when serials are aired on television. The fact that serials are aired in prime time highlights their influence as an important television genre.

When artist baby Aliyan “Jose’ in ‘Maheshinte Prathikaram‘ asks his wife “Elsy” for some water, she and her friends are so engrossed in the rerun of the TV show that she doesn’t hear her husband. This is in fact the sole reason for the movie. Two questions arose in my mind while watching this movie, which we’ll try to understand.

  1. Why were the women so immersed that they could not be aware of their surroundings?
  2. Why is there a re-telecast of serials the next morning, even after being aired on prime time?

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Answering the first question, serials can emotionally connect with the audience, particularly women by providing ‘catharsis’. Catharsis refers to releasing repressed feelings or emotions through media in this context. It simply refers to the feelings emoted when one observes someone else doing what he/she desired. Thus, serials can relate to the audience, as most feel connected with the characters portrayed.

When Deepthi became Deepthi IPS in ‘Parasparam‘, women with bigger dreams who were forced to be homemakers would have had a purgation of emotions or catharsis when they saw someone else realising their dreams, even if they were a ‘dutiful wife’. This underlying feeling of relatability or connection forms the bond between the audience and the serials.

Stereotypic Portrayal of Female Characters in Malayalam Serials

The second question is a conundrum I’m still pondering. Serials are aired in prime time but are rebroadcast in the morning. If you think viewers who have watched it once won’t watch it again, well, I’ve aunts who watch it twice to ensure they haven’t missed anything. My answer to this question is a simple observation I mentioned earlier: Some viewers watch the reruns because they missed the episode or to see a recap before the evening episode. Also, these TV channels wouldn’t repeat the episodes if they didn’t have viewership. So,…

Let’s now discuss how female characters are portrayed in Malayalam serials.

The Paavam Nayika

How can you identify the ‘paavam’ protagonist of a serial? Everything about her is modest. No female protagonist in Malayalam serials has a flamboyant, posh demeanour as compared to the female antagonist. The creators ensure that they present the nayika in certain ways so the audience goes ‘Ayoo paavam’.

Another interesting observation that we may all have noticed is the conflict between tradition and modernity. The female protagonist would most often be a traditional woman, wearing the traditional Kerala saree with subtle make-up and accessories. Has ‘Sumithra’ in “Kudumbavilakku” ever been presented as wearing jeans or anything other than the ‘conventional saree’? If yes, well I would have missed the episode, so please feel free to comment.

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Stereotypic Portrayal of Female Characters in Malayalam Serials

The Cold-blooded Villainess or Villathi

It’s not hard to identify the villainess. She is just the opposite of the ‘paavam nayika’. Everything she does is grand and pompous, from her attire to her make-up and accessories. Or in other words, she is the modern version of the traditional nayika. If a woman is portrayed as wearing jeans or fashionable sarees, she is either the antagonist or has all the potential to be one in the future.

Since I mentioned ‘Sumithra’, I’ll provide the example of ‘Vedhika’ from the same serial. She is the modern version of Sumithra. In an episode, Vedhika appears to become the ‘ideal wife’ by appearing like Sumithra. This throws light into the fact that the creators use this tradition vs modernity duel among the protagonist and antagonist respectively, to better connect with the audience.

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Stereotypic Portrayal of Female Characters in Malayalam Serials

The ‘Moshadu pidicha Ammayiamma’

If a subservient wife steps into her husband’s house, her mother-in-law must be cruel and devoid of love. The ‘ammayiamma-marumole’ duel is a common plotline in serials, that is slowly reducing but never extinct.

The supportive sister/friend/cousin

Since the female protagonist has to endure a lot, she’s often assisted by other female characters who support or help her in difficult times.

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Stereotypic Portrayal of Female Characters in Malayalam Serials

The Comedic Character

Although male characters are introduced to satisfy the comedic needs in a serial, there are times when female supporting characters are introduced to fill that role in many Malayalam serials. Their presence can be discerned from the background music that accompanies such characters.

These are some common stereotypical portrayals under which female characters are represented in Malayalam serials. Feel free to add any more such stereotypes that you have observed.


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