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

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The Many Misogynies of Malayalam Cinema

In the context of the recent sexual molestation of an actor in a public space in Kerala, this article analyses Malayalam cinema’s language of neo-liberal governmentality that seeks to police gendered subjectivities and regiment them within its diegetic and social terrains. It looks at the new kinds of networks forged between culture industries, the ideological state apparatus, a transformed civil society, corporate agendas, and individual actors in evolving newer forms of surveillance and punishment of bodies marginalised by gender and sexuality. The aporia of Kerala’s modernity that results in certain retrograde tendencies is most evident in its cinematic discourses, especially those built around its current investment in male superstardom.

A spectre is haunting Malayalam cinema, in fact many cinemas in Indiathe spectre of male superstardom. Keralas culture industry is written over by male desires, both economic and libidinal, and has become a superstructural expression of a reified capitalist patriarchy. It is also to a large extent today a commercial enterprise afflicted with varying degrees of mafiaisation, where the entertainment component displays a censored and censoring moral upper crust while the corrupt underbelly dips into less than licit businesses and partnerships, including money laundering, hawala dealings, predatory moneylending, pimping, blackmail, extortions, and loan-sharking that would necessitate a nexus with gangsters. The withdrawal of state subsidies and state funding for cinema, and the installation of cinema as the only art form that could weave itself seamlessly into the productionconsumption industrial model within a market economy has contributed to undermining its ideological and aesthetic value. This has also led to cinema being established as the most viable of mass culture productions in its commodity form, validating, in a particularly localised context, Theodor Adornos seminal critique of the political economy of the culture industry.

That Malayalam cinema is steeped in misogyny to the core, blatantly and obnoxiously so, may be a given. But the recent dramatic events, while revealing the rot in its film industry, also point at the entrenched hypocrisy so characteristic of its cultural polity. A young woman, and a well-known actor at that, was on the night of 17 February 2017 waylaid on the national highway en route Kochi, forced into another vehicle, sexually molested, and had objectionable content involving her recorded by seven men in a moving car. The actor was brave enough to file a police complaint, undergo a medical examination and record her statement. The prime accused and his accomplices were soon arrested but there were attempts to write off the case as one of sexual assault by a bunch of history-sheeters for the purpose of extorting money through blackmail. However, the relentless media and public outcry kept the case under the spotlight, and constantly debated the possibility of there being a criminal conspiracy. Disturbing revelations were made about the fact that other female actors had undergone such assaults in the past, but had kept silent in fear of the shame and unwarranted attention it would force upon them. Finally, four months after the latest incident, Dileep, a self-styled superstar of the Malayalam film industry, was arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy. The police argued in court that Dileep had a personal grudge against the actor, over marital discord with his former wife who had filed for divorce.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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