ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Celluloid Women of Kerala

For all its applauded elan, Malayalam cinema has engendered the myth and the mystique of the “empowered” Malayali woman.

The much-hyped “Kerala model of development”, which posits spectacularly superior social development indicators in the face of low per capita income, and helped lift Kerala’s image to enviable heights globally, has not augured well for the women of the state in terms of a liberatory potential that would translate into tangible gains in their everyday lives. Commendable indices on female literacy, employment, sex ratio and healthcare, together with reservation of one-third seats in local governance bodies, are often flaunted as proof that Kerala’s women have scored, socially and politically, in the public domain. Thus was born the myth – and the mystique – of the “empowered” Malayali woman.

Ironically, none of these indices find echo in the images of women in Malayalam cinema. From Vigatha Kumaran (1928) to date, on screen, Kerala women have joyfully surrendered their independence and identity, too willing to be putty in the hands of male desire and the male gaze. All through its 85-odd years of history, Malayalam cinema has, time and again, colluded with reformulated patriarchal ideologies to function as a false mirror, one which has the magical and delicious capacity to inflate the figure of the Malayali man to twice or thrice its natural size while trimming women to the tiniest possible proportions – metaphorically, of course!

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