What We Can Learn From Malayalam Cinema’s Epic Win Of LGBT+ Representation

Posted on April 27, 2016 in Culture-Vulture, LGBTQ

By Allen George Joseph:

A still from Ligy J. Pullappally’s Sanchaaram

As I was checking out upcoming Malayalam movies the other day, I read about ‘My Life Partner‘, a story about two gay men who decide to live together, complete with adopting a baby and all. Now, being a Malayali myself, my first reaction was a mixture of surprise and pride owing to the fact that I never expected anyone to attempt such a bold and explicit movie portraying homosexuality in Kerala, or even the whole country, for that matter. However, the film inspired me to search for other movies in Mollywood that dealt with LGBT themes.

By the end of my search, I was, to be frank, astonished. I discovered a good number of movies that included or revolved around alternate sexuality. And not just recent ones. The first released movie that dealt with homosexuality was in 1978. That’s right, 1978! Randu Penkuttikal by director Mohan portrayed the deep and passionate love between two young women. Although the film ends in a way that feels politically correct for those times, the fact that such a movie was made in the 70s’ is surprising and, in a way, inspiring.

My online search led me to a plethora of movies with various themes, having LGBT undercurrents. ‘Deshadanakkili Karayarilla‘ (1986) subtly explores the relationship between two girls, and while it does not openly express the nature of the relationship between them, it nudges viewers ever so slightly, leaving them to draw their own conclusions. Then you have ‘Rithu’ (2009), ‘Sufi Paranja Kadha’ (2010), and to some extent, ‘Mumbai Police’ (2013).

However, the film that most boldly deals with homosexuality is a 2004 release by Director Ligy J. Pullappally, titled ‘Sanchaaram‘ (Journey). It explores the relationship between childhood friends, Kiran, a Hindu and Delilah, a Catholic, which blossoms into romantic love. This movie pays absolutely no heed to any social structures, as is evident by the brutal honesty of the narration and the blunt, undisguised style of storytelling. In fact, Sanchaaram could be the first Mollywood film that is completely focussed on homosexuality.

Filmmakers have not shied away from making films about transgender persons either. The 2012 movie ‘Ardhanaari‘, tells the story of Vinayan, a transgender played by actor Manoj K Jayan. The film brings out the rituals, traditions, preferences and mentality of the transgender community in India. Although it received mixed reviews, it is well-made with a good amount of research behind it. Interestingly, it is considered to be actor Jayan’s finest performance and is the only Mollywood movie that deals with the issues of transgender people with such conviction.

My research instilled in me an increased appreciation towards the Malayalam movie industry that felt the need to stand up to some of the most conservative factions of society. 2016 drama Ka Bodyscapes was trolled online by individuals claiming allegiance to the RSS. They issued threats and littered the Facebook page with hate messages. But director Jayan Cherian remains unfazed. “The film cuts out a slice of contemporary Kerala, recreating in fiction the struggles of the young to gain space in the face of Hindu right-wing aggression in particular and community and class oppression in general. But it’s not pamphleteering that I’ve done. Fundamentally, it’s a poetic love story in the backdrop of an oppressive and intrusive social environment,” he explains.

Most of these movies face similar issues, and yet, producers and directors continue to make movies like this. And this is a good thing. A very good thing. For cinema, is just as important as music and literature in influencing the cultural growth of society. This is why it is a very big deal that prominent people in the Malayalam film industry do not hesitate from talking about issues like these and making movies out of them. Movies, just like books, have the potential to be food for the brain and the soul. And, as the popular saying goes, you are what you eat. Here’s to hoping that Mollywood, continues this bold march, onwards.