There are still miles to go before there’s ‘fair’ representation for women and women-centric films in Malayalam cinema. That said, in a decade dominated by ‘new generation’ swagger, there has been a few gems on celluloid that were all about the woman; her hopes, her dreams, her plight, her resilience.. Here are some of the best women-centric Malayalam movies of the decade.
Elsamma Enna Aankutty (2010)
Elsamma is that rare breed of sense, sensibility and sensitivity, played by then debutant Ann Augustine in this Lal Jose film. Elsamma takes downfalls in her stride and chooses to face life head on. She’s the sole breadwinner for her family and almost effortlessly juggles her career as a reporter, newspaper agent, and odd-jobs girl with her role as Balanpillai City village’s premier social activist, ever ready to go up in arms against the local illicit liquor mafia and corrupt politicians. Woe betides those who cross Elsamma!
It’s the heart-wrenching story of hundreds of women who slave away as maids in the households of West Asia under adverse conditions, echoed in the tale of a young widow Aswathy (Kavya Madhavan), who arrives in Saudi Arabia in search of greener pastures. She soon finds herself in a quagmire of abuse and exploitation at the hands of her employers, from which there seems to be no escape. Directed by Kamal, the movie is inspired from a real-life incident.
22 Female Kottayam (2012)
Rima Kallingal plays the lead role of a naive nurse-turned-femme fatale Tessa, in this Aashiq Abu film. Tessa dreams of immigrating to Canada but is betrayed and sexually exploited by her live-in boyfriend (Fahadh Faasil) and his slimy boss (Pratap Pothen). Instead of remaining the victim, Tessa chooses to be a survivor and exacts bloody revenge, knives sharpened.
Meenakshi (Mallika) has always been subservient to her boorish husband Thanu Pillai (Lal), unlike her mother-in-law, the indomitable Kali Pillai (Swetha Menon), one of the all-powerful ammachis (matriarchs) of Travancore of yore, when the matrilineal system was still the norm. At age 55, after 30 years of marriage, Mallika petitions to divorce her husband and to free herself from the slavery that is her marriage and become a proud woman like her mother-in-law. The film was directed by Madhupal.
Ohm Shanthi Oshaana (2014)
Jude Anthany Joseph’s directorial debut is narrated in entirety from a young woman’s perspective: a rarity in Malayalam cinema. It follows the irrepressible Pooja (Nazriya Nazim) as she chases her dreams, be it riding a motorbike, sneaking a drink at ‘wine’ aunty’s house, taking up archery, studying medicine or getting the seemingly unattainable Giri (Nivin Pauly) to fall in love with her, hook, line and sinker.
How Old Are You? (2014)
It’s not every day that a woman actor returns to cinema after a 14-year sabbatical and sets the box office ablaze. Manju Warrier did exactly that with élan in the film directed by Rosshan Andrrews. She stars as Nirupama, an ordinary government employee and mother of a teenager, who craves for change but is unable to meet anyone’s expectations. After a few setbacks, Nirupama transforms into the extraordinary woman she was always meant to be, inspiring many others along the way.
Rani Padmini (2015)
Rani (Rima Kallingal) and Padmini (Manju Warrier) couldn’t be more different in this road movie, directed by Aashiq Abu. While Rani, a tomboy Delhiite, is on the run from a goon, Ayurveda practitioner Padmini is hot on the tracks of her husband, a rally driver. They meet on a bus winding its way up the mountains, strike up a friendship based on the universal bonds of womanhood and have an adventure of a lifetime in the Himalayas.
Oru Muthassi Gadha (2016)
Malayalam cinema learnt a new lesson with this one — that grandmothers can also rule the box office! Newcomer Rajini Chandy and voice artiste Bhagyalakshmi star in film about two grandmothers, the grumpy Leelamma and the easygoing Susamma, respectively. The duo decides to live a little by ticking off everything on Leelamma’s bucket list, to some engaging outcomes. The film was directed by Jude Anthany Joseph.
C/o Saira Banu (2017)
Never underestimate the resilience of motherhood. Manju Warrier stars as an adoptive mother, a postwoman, willing to go to any lengths to clear the name of her son, Joshua Peter (Shane Nigam), wrongly accused of a crime. Even if that means Saira Banu will have to defend her son in court with scant understanding of the law, then that’s what she will do! It’s been directed by Antony Sony.
Take Off (2017)
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Sameera (an impressive Parvathy Thiruvothu) and a bunch of her fellow nurses are stuck in the middle of a war-zone in Iraq. It’s on them to survive by sheer grit, quick thinking and will power, until help can come their way. Editor-director Mahesh Narayanan’s film is inspired by the real-life rescue of four dozen Indian nurses who were held in captivity by militants in Tikrit, Iraq in 2014.
Mollywood wrestles with patriarchy in this sports comedy by Basil Joseph. Punjabi actor Wamiqa Gabbi plays Aditi, a wrestling champion, whose autocratic brother doesn’t think that girls belong in the ring. She runs away from an arranged marriage and ends up at the home of her college-mate Das (Tovino Thomas) in Kerala and comes under the tutelage of his father, Captain (Renji Panikker), a former wrestling champion himself. How Aditi sets about conquering hearts with muscle power forms the crux of the movie.
If women can wrestle, they can fly planes too! Pallavi (once again, the formidable Parvathy) stars as an aspiring pilot, whose dream of a career in the sky is shattered when her jealous boyfriend, Govind (Asif Ali), throws acid on her face and disfigures her. Not one to be cowed into submission Pallavi, with some help from airline executive Vishal (Tovino), embarks on a new career as an air stewardess, once again battling prejudices, until one day it falls on her to save the day.
In the reckoning to be included in this list are Aishwarya Lekshmi in Mayaanadhi, Anna Ben’s Baby Mol of Kumbalangi Nights and Helen Paul in Helen, Rajisha Vijayan in June and Nimisha Sajayan and Rajisha in Stand Up .