India and Indian cinema has the reputation of being misogynistic in nature for decades. Indian cinema is popularly and traditionally known for portraying women as an ornament to glorify the male leads.
The most common way a woman in Indian cinema gets portrayed could be related to an ideal daughter-in-law who wears a heavy ‘saree’ even while sleeping. However, little importance may be attached to sound education and even if she obtained outstanding academic excellence; she may decide not to look for employment and her resolution would be towards absolute commitment to household chores, selfless care to her parents during spinster, immensurable care to her husband when she eventually get married and immense respect to her elders. More so, the so-called Master Chef doesn’t go beyond the limits, doesn’t drink alcohol, must not have any male friends that aren’t blood related to her, sometimes suffer in silence, becomes submissive and chants the mantra “tumhi meri mandir, tumhi meri puja (Khandan-1965)”. The italicised statement construes that “you are my temple and I worship you almost all day”. The dialogue occurs in different formats in many Indian films. Sometimes, this idea may be conveyed through words and occasionally through visual aid. Most times, women that feature in Indian film don’t get enough screen time to showcase their character, dialogue and also their inevitable strength. It is strongly believed that cinema mirrors the society. The society also gets influenced by this kind of portrayal that is exhibited in the cinema. Therefore, women in the society tend to demonstrate or perhaps to exhibit the kind of character displayed by the women in cinema but it is absolutely unrealistic and unattainable.
Malayalam film industry is attributed to the film industry of Southern Indian State Kerala. The state has the highest number of literacy of about 94 percent (Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India) of its people being totally literate. Kerala is the first digital state in India with enhanced governance covering all departments of Government with more than 95 percent mobile tele-density, 60 percent of the population being covered with internet and every Grama panchayat (Village Council) having broadband connectivity.
The inhabitants of Kerala has been working assiduously to enhance and to encourage education among women than any other state in India and being a matrilineal society in the past accrued for the basis and motivations. However, modern Kerala society is very “patrifocal” (Eapen M and Kodoth P- 2002) and when it comes to women’s education, it’s simply feminist.
When saying patrifocal, it doesn’t mean there is an “all-round dominance” (Eapen M and Kodoth P- 2002), but simply means women are prohibited to do some certain things. In real sense, there are certain rules that govern them as they are expected to be portrayed in a certain way in media.
More so, travel restrictions are placed and are supposed to do some certain jobs, such as; a doctor, scientist, nurse, engineer, teacher etc and these are job roles that Malayalee women wouldn’t like to perform as an actress or as a women technician in cinema. This is absolutely something that a typical Malayalee wouldn’t want their girls to venture into until a few years ago. There are quite a few reasons for this; inadequate knowledge about how cinema works, gossips that leak out, fear of those gossips that may pose a menace on the girl’s marital life, alongside with a narrow ideology and mentality of Malayalee that if you come into film industry you absolutely “become bad”.
Television media worked tenaciously to allay and to eradicate the phobia to a reasonable point in film industry and it’s behind the scenes started to become more famous to the public than it was before the commencement of television media. Even though, television was launched in 1959 in India and it took over more than quarter of a century to reach the most literate state. First Malayalam television channel was launched in 1985, but it wasn’t well-known until the initiation of the first private Malayalam channel Asianet which was launched in 1993 (Asianet Satellite Communications LtD Official Website, 2018). This profoundly paved a way to Malayalee’s enlightenment about the film industry and what happens behind the camera. Asianet had a whole show called “cinema diary” dedicated to show the audience what happens on the sets and what being an actor or an actress is like.
Malayalee’s started to see the actors and actresses that were once only seen in movie theatres, and only heard through radio in their living rooms. Keralites became more open and informed about the industry. Presently, there are 45 television channels in Malayalam.
Malayalam films produced a lot of movies that gave more importance, strength, and relevance to the female characters than male characters. The best of the female orientated Malayalam cinema was produced before the year 2000. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Malayalam cinema profoundly elucidated on heavy female characters that broke all those gender stereotypes that could be portrayed in other Indian film industries. But then after 2000’s, there was a huge technological boom that took place and the entire world was getting unanimous and connected to each other. As a result of this, Keralites became so engrossed in the massive dip of female characters. Females were just used as properties or just for the sake of it. Moreover, something called “Superstardom” arose and gave two actors the label “Megastar” and “Superstar”. They are uniquely called Megastar Mammooty and Superstar Mohanlal. The three other superstars are, Suresh Gopi, Jayaram and Dileep who came in third, fourth and fifth positions after Mammooty and Mohanlal. Mammooty and Mohanlal became superstars through their portrayal than in life heroes and also through their comedy films where they acted as an ordinary people and got rejected by the audience. Suresh Gopi rose to stardom by acting police roles with ease and Jayaram and Dileep were previously mimicry actors who became superstars by portraying normal realistic characters and comedy roles and was accepted by the audience because of the role’s space in Malayalam movie. Besides, Mammooty hasn’t being able to do comedy roles or dance even at the peak of his career and Mohanlal’s comedy roles seem to be unaccepted as audience were finding it difficult to see him as a common man in avatar.
Only films of these actors were grossing in theatre and got to a stage where story or rest of the cast doesn’t matter to the audience anymore but becomes captivating as long as the actors are one of these two. This over dependence of star system led to less number of films being produced a year, and there was an astronomical increase in the cost of production for featuring star actors in many movies. Distributors were only ready to take such films and films with upcoming stars or other actors became box office disaster. Unfortunately, myriad of female actresses were demoted to mere ornaments and they started to make beeline to other intriguing and alluring industries that could accommodate them to showcase their good roles and dexterity. Some of them eventually succumbed to television media show for survival and continuity. During my interview with the seven time National Award winner Director Jayaraj, who has done films with all of these leading superstars, said to me “Malayalam film industry is still ruled by superstars, male superstars and they are still dictating who is going to act with them” and then he expanded on by saying “It is just in the last 30 years this has started taking place, In the past there has been stars like Prem Nazir, but they never involved in the casting, the producer and the director had the full capacity and liberty to cast and now after the entry of Mamooty, Mohanlal and their superstar and mega stardom, they started dictating and influencing director and producers and they started spoiling the industry”