For a long time, Malayalam cinema’s favourite trope was the over-protective male relative.
Rough, tough and idealistic, these men would spend a lot of their energy preventing their daughters, sisters, or younger brothers from falling in love, or even pursuing a career of their choice. Case in point: Mammootty’s Hitler or Chronic Bachelor, both directed by Siddique.
Also flourishing on screen were the dads who set sky-high goals for their sons, and harassed them for underachieving. Like the roles that Thilakan played in Narasimham and Sphadikam. Beneath their brutally assertive and unbearably protective nature lies a heart that refuses to accept that their child is all grown up. This particular type of dad though, went out of demand when actor Lalu Alex launched his series of overtly sugary, and liberal father roles that he played in films like Niram and Chocolate. He played wing-man for his ready-to-mingle sons, and wholeheartedly supported his daughters who wanted to marry a man of her choice.
Of late, younger actors like Prithviraj and Jayasurya, and senior superstars, Mammootty and Mohanlal, have been playing the chic, liberal father, seemingly different from their predecessors of the ’90s.
Until we looked closer, that is. These new-age fathers might be more suave, but they are no less sexist. They shower affection on their daughters and sons at the expense of humiliating and ignoring their wives. They still assume the role of a ‘guardian’ to their wives and kids, instead of becoming a more equal partner in the family.
The men who consider themselves equal partners do exist, though. The fathers who do a lot more than just part with some genetic material; they change diapers, cook, clean, and parent. But, our cinema continues to ignore the changing reality, and is content reinforcing age-old conventions and gender roles that are fast losing relevance.
It just dresses them up well.
In director Lal Jose’s 2014 Malayalam film, Vikramadityan, Dulquer Salmaan plays Aadityan, a young man brought up by his widowed mother, a police constable. He competes with his childhood friend, Vikraman, to clear the selection test for the post of a Sub-Inspector. The latter believes that it is his responsibility to fill the shoes of his father, a senior police officer, while Aadityan wants to be a cop and tread a path that his father, a petty thief, couldn’t.
Vikramadityan, one of the highest grossing Malayalam films in 2014, is founded on the curious friendship of Aadityan and Vikraman, and also, on the way the men looked up to their dads. Both are full of burning ambition that stems from the intense love for their fathers. Vikraman often makes fun of his friend for being the son of a thief. While Aadityan could have easily defended himself by mentioning his mother’s respectable career, he chooses to stay quiet, swallowing insult. Vikraman’s mother, played by yesteryear heroine Charmila, appears in several scenes, but like a shadow behind her son and husband. She doesn’t have a single dialogue in the entire film.
The Great Father
In the recent Mollywood hit, The Great Father, Mammoottty plays the titular role of a father going all out to avenge the brutal rape of his daughter. The teenage daughter hero worships him, and one of her several dreams in life is to marry a man who has the good-looks, guts and chicness of her daddy. Actress Sneha plays the mother, always sidelined by this daddy-daughter duo. When the daughter is found brutally raped, she suggests taking her to the hospital. However, the film immediately sweeps past her, and lets the father take over the turf. Mammootty’s David Ninan roams around in MUVs, flaunting expensive leather jackets, but he is never seen indulging in any real parenting. The emotional bond between the father and the daughter is inadequately established.
Philips And The Monkey pen
“Dad, mom is so stupid. Why did you marry her!” wonders the hero of this film, Ryan, a boy of 11 years. Jayasurya, who plays his dad, smiles and tells him that he married his wife because she is a great cook.
Philips And The Monkey Pen is a light-hearted, coming-of-age drama in which Ryan’s parents play a pivotal role. The couple fall in love at high school, get married as teens. They are of the same age, and spend a considerable amount of their youth together. Yet, the film lets the father and son dominate the mother. She performs practical parental duties like cooking and cleaning for the child, while the husband gets to take the son for a walk on the beach, and impart life lessons.
This Jeethu Joseph film is a brilliant crime drama woven around a family of four – a father, mother and two teenage daughters. When the daughter comes to face with an assaulter, she is left with no option but to kill him. She, with the help of her mother, buries the body, but the film soon looks to the father to save the duo from the law. He single-handedly rescues the women from their trouble, while they are treated as flies on the wall. They cower and wail when the police interrogate them violently, while the father puts up a tough face and endures it all. The mother and the daughter, meanwhile, having acted brilliantly in defense, rely on the father’s discretion, his wits, and quick thinking. The script makes much of it, and soon, much like other movies, it ceases to be more about the victim, and the women themselves, and instead, becomes a one-man show. Befitting a much-celebrated star.