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Malayalam movie Kettiyolaanu Ente Malakha whitewashes issues of marital rape by letting the husband off the hook of responsibility for his actions.
To everyone who lauded the movie titled Kettiyolaanu Ente Malakha and recommended it to me as a ‘woman oriented movie which discusses the issue of marital rape’, I do not know if I can ever forgive you. The movie should have been tilted ‘Sleevachan, the Saint with a flaw’ as the movie clearly revolves around the male protagonist and his feelings.
Kettiyolaanu Ente Malakha is about Sleeva or Sleevachan, a simpleton from the high ranges of Kerala who has no ‘impure thoughts about women’, who gets married to Rincy, and the aftermath of his marriage struggling with a fear of physical intimacy.
At a time when the Malayalam film industry and film makers are tackling serious issues through good thought provoking cinema, Kettiyoolaanu Ente Malakha trivialises the issue of marital rape as the ‘single wrong-doing of an otherwise perfect man’ who is an ideal son, the perfect church-goer, and an efficient farmer.
The biggest problem with the movie’s narrative is the overarching male gaze, and a masculine narrative which becomes a saga of Sleevachan realizing his ‘mistake’ and reconciling with his wife. The trauma that Rincy, the heroine and Sleevachan’s wife, who is the victim of the rape undergoes is just touched upon.
The rape is attributed to Sleevachan’s ignorance about sex, and is also portrayed as part of his ‘innocence in these matters. The male performance anxiety and the use of sexual dominance as a mark of masculinity is realistically showcased in the well-crafted movie, but alas, there is no room for female anxieties or desire. All that the female lead needs from the hero is love.
Slevachan’s nonchalance and bewilderment after the rape and his later realisation that it is an offence forms a substantial chunk of the movie. The entire episode is portrayed as if it is a case of a man committing an unknowing error and repenting about it. The fact that Sleevachan does not realise he is raping his wife does not erase the fact that rape is a wilful physical aggression and violation of a person in the most intimate manner.
Marital rape (which is not yet a crime in India) is one of the worst forms of violence against women albeit probably the most frequent and most perpetrated one, downplaying the gravity of the offence, and side-lining the angst of the woman is the worst way one can represent it.
The heroine, Rincy, is also shown as the ideal daughter–in-law and wife who does not complain to the police or to her family, since Sleeva (as it is shown in the latter half of the movie) is not a bad guy after all! In one scene, she is even seen congratulating Sleeva for being awarded by the community.
Ask any trauma victim, whether she would be able to do that in a matter of days, even if the perpetrator is your husband. The answer would be in the negative. Imagine having to serve breakfast to your rapist after you have been raped last night – that’s what the victim of marital rape goes through!
Sleevacahan’s intentions are never questioned throughout the movie, and he is portrayed as a hardworking do-gooder. The latter half of the movie leaves no stone unturned to show that Sleevachan is the ‘ideal hero-type’.
He gets a commendation from the Agricultural Board for developing a new strain of pepper, helps a couple in love get married, goes to church regularly and what not! At one point, you even have the church priest apologise to Sleevachan for not educating him about sex, and the onus of the burden is clearly shifted from the hero’s shoulder to elsewhere.
The clichéd trope of the ever forgiving wife who is only desirous of the husband’s love is played to perfection by Veena Nandhakumar. Of course both actors, Asif Ali and Veena have done an impeccable job of portraying the characters. Indeed, it is the genuineness of the characters that make the movie even more problematic, as the scenes are probably reminiscent of what happens across most Indian homes. The forgiveness granted to husbands, brothers, and uncles who can be sexually violent because they are otherwise ‘good decent human beings’ is one of the most repeated but sickening aspects of Indian families.
The film thus lost a glorious opportunity by not focusing on the offence or the offender. Rather it prods the viewer to forgive the hero and wraps up the story with the hero confessing his love to the victim.
While the movie maybe an awakening call for a lot of Malayalee men, it is deeply flawed in its representation of women, and also speaks volumes about the deep rooted patriarchal nature of Malayali films which even when trying to make a socially sensible movie end up caught in the loops of male-centrism.
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