December 8, 2023


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From ‘Varathan’ to ‘Aarkariyam’: Breaking Kitchen Stereotypes in Recent Malayalam Movies by Joseph Sunny

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Joseph Sunny explores how the recent Malayalam movies are breaking kitchen stereotypes by portraying strong and independent characters who are a far cry from the gender roles usually shown in movies.

After a stark decline in quality & content in the 2000s, Malayalam movies entered into a new phase, precisely right after the release of ‘Traffic’ in 2010. Unlike the macho-hero-centric mass masala movies of the 2000s, the ‘new gen’ tagged movies of the Malayalam industry started exploring paths that were somewhat unused in Indian cinema.

Rather than recreating another ‘Bahubali’, they tried to focus more on things that happen in everyday life, through which they narrowed down the wall between the lives on & off the screen. This doesn’t mean that mass masala movies cease to exist. But they aren’t anymore the only ‘entertaining movie’ options available for the audience.

In picture- A visual from the Malayalam movie ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’

The new filmmakers eschewed the parochial outlook maintained by their predecessors about gender & social roles. The audacity to break away from the existing pattern, shown by K G George & P Padmarajan in the 70s & 80s, is visible in their works.  In the 2018 Amal Neerad movie ‘Varathan’, when the character played by the protagonist Fahad Fasil made & served tea to his wife & guest, it was a deviation from the gender roles usually portrayed in movies. ‘Ordering’ his wife to make tea upon the arrival of a guest was part of a hell number of films.

The so-called family dramas have asserted homemaking as the sole responsibility of women. They even went to the extent of projecting cooking skills as a scale to measure the virtue of a woman. It’s true that these are the general ideas existing in our society & these movies have done nothing but just copying it. However, by sugarcoating this oppression, movies are further asserting these ideas in the minds of society.

In picture: A poster of the 2018 Malayalam movie Varathan starring Fahad Fasil.

If what we saw in ‘Varathan’ was a small step towards equality then ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ by Jeo Baby was a hard slap in the face of patriarchy. The movie is nothing but a clear-cut portrayal of everyday life in a typical Indian middle-class household. The mundane life of a housewife buried under glorification was vented out in the movie sans any piece of exaggeration. In the words of the director, the concept of cooking being a choice for men & responsibility to women was the impetus to the making of this picture.

By shedding light on the unrecognized never-ending drudgery of cooking, cleaning & other household chores, this low-budget Malayalam film chastises the Indian marriage system, which in most cases leads women to lifelong enslavement.  None of the major characters have a name just to show these are not confined to one family.  By showing the ‘wife’ character played by Nimisha Sajayan walking out from her marriage, the makers have taken a bold step which is in contrast to the usual rosy picture of marital life provided by Malayalam movies. 

Another recent Malayalam movie that mesmerized me with the presentation of gender roles was ‘Aarkariyam’ directed by Sanu John Varghese. Set against the backdrop of Covid, the story revolves around a husband & wife who get together with the wife’s father at his home when a nationwide lockdown was declared. While providing an engaging story that slowly takes the shape of a thriller, the makers have also made sure to free their characters from the existing gender stereotypes.

Throughout the movie, we can see the household chores being shared between the three main characters without any kind of hesitation. Even the husband, played by Sharafuddin, is willing to bathe his father-in-law, which, as I said, is something new. There was no further effort from the side of the makers, in the movie, to amplify this ‘change’ they have brought. It is shown like this is how things are normally.

The movies I have mentioned in this article are only a few among the many recent ones that have displayed some degree of effort to be politically correct. Back in the pre-2000s, films with out-of-the-box ideas were likely to crash in the box office. This is what forced many to go with the usual formulas that give a minimum guarantee. But the arrival of digital platforms changed the scenario. The growing popularity & number of OTT platforms have helped these movies to attain maximum recognition & also emboldened others to question & jettison stereotypes & other politically incorrect notions in/through their movies.


Joseph Sunny completed his graduation in History from St. Stephen’s college, Delhi. He is currently living in Kerala.

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