2021 was the year of amazing father characters in Malayalam cinema. Movies like Kaanekkaane, #Home, Aarkkariyam portrayed some amazing solidly written dads in recent times. But the other day, I watched a video that spoke about how Bollywood or rather Indian society as a whole has often romanticised motherhood. It made me look back at how the mother characters in Malayalam cinema seem to have evolved over the years.
There was a time when most Malayalam movies would have a mother, mostly clad in mundum-vesthi, whose only purpose in the movie is to serve the family and worry about them. The main storyline does not even adthikoode poval these characters. These moms were so alike that you could interchange them between movies and no one would even notice.
What I love about the recent crop of mom characters is that they make their presence felt. Like how Kalpana in Bangalore Days or the mother in Kumbalangi Nights put forth fresh notions about motherhood that humanised them.
In the year 2021, we were presented with an array of mothers. They reminded us that mothers are also just people who have black, white and grey shades to them. Here’s how motherhood was portrayed:
The No-Nonsense Mom – #Home
In a house filled with men, Kuttiyamma is the efficient no-nonsense presence that never shies away from calling a spade a spade. While her husband “hmm”s and “haaa”s timidly around their sons, she is quick to call them out on their entitled behaviour. Her temper flares often but she’s also quick to forgive (that kutty scene where she simply smiles at a guilt-ridden Charles dissipating all the tension between them gets me every time).
Yes, we do see her toiling away constantly. But I don’t think she considers it her “punyam” to be serving the men in the house. That scene where Charles hollers at his mother in the middle of the night for a glass of water, only to show a tired Kuttiyama wrapped up in bed nonchalantly ignoring him, was so refreshing. Made me think of that scene towards the end of The Great Indian Kitchen where Nimisha’s brother demands a glass of water. If only she had more of Kuttiyama’s spunk.
Also Read: Women in Comedy in Malayalam Cinema
The “Ideal” Mother – The Great Indian Kitchen
Suraj’s mother in The Great Indian Kitchen is the kind of mom we’ve seen grace both large and small screens for decades. But probably for the first time, this endlessly toiling mother has not been painted with a light of goodness and sacrifice that is supposedly the benchmark of all mothers, but rather as a product of a patriarchal society.
While a Geetha in Vatsalyam would have condoned this kind of behaviour as the “vidhi” and “bhagyam” of married women to be able to devote their life in servitude of their men, GIK effectively ripped off that notion. It showed things from a whole different point of view making people sit up in their seats and take notice of the way they’d been treated/ have been treating women all their lives.
The Not So Evil Stepmother – Kaanekkaane
Stories of the evil stepmother are something we’ve all grown up listening to. Even as a grown-up this idea was often reinforced by certain movies and many serials. In a movie like Kaanekkaane, a character like Sneha (Aishwarya) would have definitely raised a lot of questions regarding the morality of her actions. Keeping that whole debate aside, you can’t really deny that she did make a good mom to Kuttu, her stepson. She treated him as her own without making too much fuss about it. It wasn’t kept a secret from him. There would be no grand revelation of “Idh ninde pett amma alla” later in his life. And I don’t think the movie would have ended the way it did if Paul (Suraj) didn’t believe that she was a capable mom to her grandson.
The Uninhibited Boomer mom – Aanum Pennum (Rani)
Okay, they don’t even mention if Kaviyoorponnama is a mom in this film. But c’mon… it’s Kaviyoor Ponnama. The mom-est of moms. While physically she looked the way she always had, this character had me dropping my jaw to the floor. It was like I had witnessed my parents talk about sex. It was uncomfortable at first, and yet so freakin’ refreshing, to see both Kaviyoorponnama and Nedumudi Venu break out of the ‘parent mould’ and remind us that older couples can have conversations just as raunchy as college kids do.
The Possessive Adoptive Mother – Thirike
Whenever I think of this movie, I get a nice warm feeling within. Even when it comes to Fatima (Shanthi Krishna), the “supposed” bad guy who was keeping Ismu (Gopikrishna) away from his brother, it is hard not to sympathise with her. The movie is penned so well that you feel bad when she alienates Thoma (George Kora) but also kinda understand why she’s holding on so tight to Ismu, a child she didn’t give birth to but had ownership of her whole heart. Ismu is someone she was desperately afraid of losing. I feel a character like Fatima is important in current times because of the way she showed us how it’s possible to love someone unconditionally and know when to let go of inner battles of egos.
The Non-Mother – Sara’s
I know Sara did not become a mother in the movie but that’s why she deserves to be on this list. A movie that portrayed a woman’s right to choose not to become a mother without demonising her or having the unborn child become a demon and haunt her, probably a first in Malayalam cinema. Sadly, the other mothers in the film don’t really present anything new – be it the nosy/pushy rude mother-in-law, the backgroundil nikkuna Sara’s mother and the working mom sister-in-law.
I realise that so many people from the older generation (or this generation) would have been flabbergasted by Sara and her reason for not wanting kids (‘I just don’t have the knack of handling them and it hasn’t really seemed essential to me.”) “Idhokke oru reason aano?” they would have mumbled in horror. Yes, ammayi, it is. Might have taken you a movie in 20-freakin’-21 to figure it out but it is high time you did.
The Harassed Single Mom – Minnal Murali
Recently we’ve seen a lot of movies that feature strong single mothers, capable of overcoming all the struggles that come in the way of raising a child alone. But that isn’t all that is part of being a single parent. Though her screen time is limited in Minnal Murali, Usha turns into something of a social outcast when returns to town after being abandoned by the man she eloped with.
The men in the village feel they’re entitled to make a pass at her whenever they get an opportunity – something a lot of divorced or separated women are subject to. We’d seen a glimpse of this in Koode with Parvathy’s character. In both cases, a hero (or villain in this case) comes forth to rescue and put an end to their miseries. In spite of the cliché, I appreciate the movie for addressing the issue, even in the midst of everything else going on in the film.
Also Read: Kickass Single Mothers In Malayalam Cinema
The Un-Guiltily Working Mom – Maanathe Ambili (Sithara Krishnakumar)
I know this isn’t a movie but having listened to this song 56 million times last year, I had to include it. This song features Sithara who is working late and gets a call from her daughter who says she’s feeling sleepy. I love how she just simply says “Okay, urangikko, Amma will be late.” There was no sense of apology or mom-guilt which people believe that moms need to carry for not being there with their children all the time.
It’s no secret that a lot of working moms are shamed if they dare put their work ahead of family. While the same is never applicable for men, women are often expected to finish the day’s work and be home in time to put their child to bed while effectively handling other mom duties. I like how the song normalises moms who cherish their careers just as much as their families. And how physically not being there doesn’t necessarily make her a “bad mom”. While the lyrics put forth emotions that mothers of any era can resonate with, the visuals were shot very much in keeping up with the times.
And that’s our list of Malayalam cinema showed motherhood in 2021. What are your thoughts? Tell us in the comments section. We’d love to hear them.