Thappad & Kettiyolaanu ente Malakha — To forgive or not to
This is an analysis and response piece, so Spoilers, go watch both the movies and come back or read ahead, your wish.
Kettiyolanu ente Malakha deals with Sleevachan (Asif Ali), a farmer who is uncomfortable around women who gets married to Rincy (Veena Nandakumar). After a night of getting drunk, Sleevachan commits to the act of marital rape injuring Rincy in the process. Rest of the movie deals with how Sleevachan deals with the fallout of the incident.
Thappad deals with the life of Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) and Vikram (Pavail Gulati). When Vikram slaps Amrita publicly in a party, it causes Amrita to revaluate her life choices and file a divorce case against her husband.
The debate is about the ending of these movies.
Thappad film talks about the invisible hand of patriarchy in lives of women. Vikram and Amrita are living a peaceful life with Vikram working hard all day and Amrita working hard all day (didn’t see that coming) but in different scenarios. Amrita chose to be a housewife abandoning her love for dance in the process (even though it isn’t explained why) and tends to her ill mother in law. In a party, under the influence of alcohol and unable to control his anger against higher ups, Vikram slaps Amrita. Even the very next day, Vikram instead of apologising, takes the stand that It happens in a relationship and that she is supposed to move on. This leads to her leaving Vikram’s house and filing a divorce against him. The movie ends when against all odds, Amrita is successful in extracting a mutual divorce from Vikram (At this point, I want to call him Arjun, because stereotypically that’s what this character is usually named)
Kettiyolanu ente Malakha talks about the role of sexual education in marriages. Selvachan is portrayed as an innocent farmer who got married because the world forced him to. He does not understand a sexual relationship. One day, under the influence of alcohol (Aaha! Common culprit), he decides to force himself on his newly wed, Rincy. She is injured in this confrontation and both their worlds’ fall apart. We see Selvachan’s struggle with his image of masculinity and shame. He apologises, cannot bring himself to face his wife and tries to find ways to be better. When Rincy tells him that she wants to go home, instead of protesting he agrees and even drives her to her house, makes small talk with her parents and even stays over. Rincy asks Selvachan to stay and makes it clear that she has forgiven him. Selvachan asks for permission to hug her.
So Amrita chose to get a divorce from Vikram for a slap and Rincy forgave Selvachan for marital rape. Is Kettiyolanu ente Malakha wrong for this portrayal of a woman?
Before we get to the solution, let’s do what we usually do with movies. Imagine a different ending for them.
Rincy leaves Silvachan. The end. A bunch of critics gives the movie rave reviews, but the movie bombs and reaches no audience. The movie’s prevalent theme about sexual education reaches nowhere and dies in film, did that get people to understand a lesson on patriarchy? Nope! KEM is a movie told from the male perspective and it’s his story, it’s he who has an arc (if any). The movie just wouldn’t end satisfactorily and lose it’s audience then and there. If you are thinking endings don’t have to be earned, you are welcome to look at Oru Adaar Love, Unda, Man of Steel or How I met your Mother. If you are saying Reverse the Storyline, then you have to realise that the movie is trying to say early sexual education would not have lead to a man like Selvachan making that mistake. If you make Selvachan callous for an arc, then it just doesn’t work.
This is obviously true for Thappad too. If Amrita had forgiven Vikram after all the fuzz, the movie just wouldn’t have worked. Because that is not what the story or character arcs were leading upto. The makers have added just a little bit of care in there just to prove that Vikram exists in our own society and isn’t the cruel villain we see in other movies. The scene where Vikram comes back to get blessings from his father in law moments after he was storming off is an example of this humanisation.
The “Right” Decision
Burdening movie characters to make right decisions all the time is protesting against stories themselves. It’s bad decisions that make all the good stories, in fact it is bad decisions that sometimes make them worthy stories to tell. When the movie celebrates this bad decision in it’s making, then you get to attach whatever
ist you want to attach to it. I’m not saying pressurise everyone to boycott the movie and make court case against it, there is a difference. Who in the right mind celebrates slaps and rapes? If you watched Ayyappanum Koshiyum earlier this year, you would know that Koshi’s heroic transformation starts with a tight slap to his wife. For doing the right thing. Symbolically protesting against his dad. With no consequences. The whole theatre was clapping for it. Every meek husband’s arc in a Malayalam movie or serial is to slap his wife, I’m sure you can think of some. If you watched Chola, you can see the normalisation of brute strength winning over a woman (if you thought this is a realistic portrayal of some woman out there, so are Rincy and Amrita).In Jallikattu, you see a molestation attempt ending in an aroused and accepting woman?
May be instead of visiting other movies, we can give the movie that made the right decision (apparently), Thappad a revisit. There is a side plot, love story between Amrita’s brother, Karan and Swati. They are shown to share a lowey-dowey relationship in the beginning, but soon they end up having an argument with Karan shouting at Swati siding with patriarchy. Swati decides to forgive Karan when he repents and vows to not repeat the mistake. The same subject that KEM deals with is shown by the subplot of Netra Jaisingh, Amrita’s lawyer. She is going through marital rape from an “educated” man under the influence of alcohol, the same as Rincy, but this never gets confronted directly. Were all these the right decisions?
The point is that there is no right decision. None of us make right decisions all the time. Thappad and Kettyolanu ente Malakha are both movies that deliver on the life lessons they wanted to and ones that does it beautifully and that’s what matters. As long as films do not glorify crimes against any gender, caste or creed, I’m fine with them. When characters make decisions that are against the story, you end up with woke cinema and trust me, nobody wants to watch that.
PS: If you really wanted to see the heroine rebel against her rapist, watch Stand Up.