Queering the Routes in the Malayalam Movie ‘Sancharram’

 The term of LGBTQ has gained significant importance in the academic parlance too. The glimpse of lesbian life and the transgressive desires of women on screen through the Malayalam film, ‘Sancharram’( The Journey) released in 2004 did stir a lot of queries in me. The story unfurls the life of Kiran and Delilah, who decide to break the shackles of religion, sex and gender for the sake of their love for each other. Although homosexuality is perceived as an aberration in the society, the film boldly addresses same sex love, and how grounded sexuality is in the daily ways of life.The movie directed by the Indo- American director, Ligi J. Pullapally is a path-breaking film focusing on the travails and traumas of love making that is forbidden or ‘abnormal’ in a heterosexual society. The concept of family, gender and sexuality gathered a new definition in celluloid medium as well. Let’s have a glimpse of the debut Malayalam film that overtly addressed lesbian love as its thematic underpinning.

‘Sancharram’ ( The Journey) tells the tale of lesbian relationship that ignited between two female teenagers who know each other since their childhood days. The film served a sensual resonance simmered in an Indian context while also scooping itself out of the patriarchal prevalence and the matriarchal lineage of the Kerala community. The Indian film making culture somehow still appears confused towards forming a universal opinion about projecting homosexual desires as well as characters. The Chicago-based, South Asian filmmaker, Ligi J. Pullapally was one of the directors to come up with a film that openly dealt with homosexuality. Albeit the movie revolves around the motif of lesbian love making, it hints on issues like gender, body, sexuality, male hegemony, matriarchal legacy, religion etc. existing in the socio-cultural fabric of Kerala. ‘Sancharram’ set in the backdrop of a lush green village in Kerala narrates the coming to age love story of Kiran, a Hindu Nair girl and Delilah, a Catholic Christian girl. They are neighbours, childhood friends, classmates and their affection slowly and steadily takes the form of a romantic and sexual bonding.

The two childhood friends, Delilah and Kiran are attracted to each other. Delilah is lively and mischievous whereas Kiran is a potential poet with a quiet temperament. Kiran returns to Kerala with her parents to live in her ancestral home and Delilah is shown as her neighbour who is a visible presence in Kiran’s daily life. Their affection gradually takes the form of love although Delilah does not accept it at the onset. Though Kiran loves Delilah deeply, she is hesitant and scared of expressing her feelings. Love at first sight also gets a shake with the introduction of queer aesthetics. Here in the movie, Rajan has madly fallen for Delilah and he is unable express his feelings to her. He discloses his love for Delilah to Kiran and takes her help to know her likes and dislikes. He in fact asks her to help him by writing love letters for Delilah. Kiran agrees and writes letters. This act of writing love letters to Delilah is an expression of her repressed and romantic feelings untold hitherto. Later on, Delilah gets to know Kiran has written those letters for the beloved she identifies in Delilah.

The lesbian look of exchange and female bonding are vulnerable to heterosexual structure. The lesbian discourse places the heterosexual conceptualised notions of romantic love in contrast with homosexual love. The movie for instance depicts a scene in which Rajan and Kiran are looking at Delilah standing in front of her courtyard. Rajan and Kiran are standing outside the wall of the house and both are gazing at Delilah. When Kiran gets to know that Rajan has seen her observing Delilah, she dashes from there. Moreover, it is Rajan who informs Delilah’s mother about her ‘abnormal’ relationship with Kiran. This scene can be read as Rajan’s vengeance for Kiran as she is the one chosen as lover by Delilah over Rajan who badly loves her. The failure of a ‘normal’ love affair between their classmates Sabiha, a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy is also exposed in the film. Their elopement is not accepted by the society as they created shame for both the families. This occurrence unravels the fact that some heterosexual relationships transgressing the barriers of religion and caste are not accepted in the society. Although Kiran wishes to play football, her father dissuades her by saying “playing with balls is only for boys”. Hence, she moves on to the path of creating writing. When teacher asks Kiran regarding the content of Sugathakumari’s love poetry, she answers it as the loneliness of love and the hell created by it. In a way, it reveals Kiran’s inner conflict of her love’s intensity and the loneliness emanating from it. The film also discusses the inescapability of male- female unions prevalent in the society.

Delilah who is passionate about shadow plays is spotted with dolls during her study hours. During their combine study one night, power fails due to heavy lightning and thunder. Kiran and Delilah begins the shadow play where in Kiran plays the male role and Delilah in female role. Kiran’s body language resembles a man. She wishes to wear plain dress and likes to cut her hair short if her parents agree. She does not cry when Delilah pierces her ear. Rajan screams in front of his friends as he gets to know about Delilah’s wedding whereas Kiran faces the heart-breaking news with a strong heart.

There is an absence of public spaces in the film. The whole story travels through the confines of the homes, courtyard, school, pond and their scenic cum romantic ambience. On one side, there is Kiran’s ancestral home boasting of the grandeur of the matriarchal ancestry whereas on the other side, there is Delilah’s home where in she is accustomed to become a woman and wife. Even though her grandmother senses Delilah’s relationship with Kiran, she does not treat it as abnormal or try to evade her from that unlike other family members. There is a resonance of Partha Chatterjee’s classification of ‘ghar’ and ‘bâhir’ in Kiran and Delilah. Kiran wishes to break the barriers and come out of the societal norms whereas Delilah is confined to the room and forced to accept the decisions taken inside her home. She asserts that her ultimate place of existence is the interior. Delilah even says Kiran “there is nothing more between us”. Kiran and her masculine disposition represents her domain over Delilah, her submissive and womanly counterpart.

The social structure is still subjected to the structured normative patterns of heterosexual society. The intricacies of the female bonding are not accepted or welcoming in a hetero-normative domain. The climax of the movie signifies the dependence of the queer factors towards the non-queer factors. Delilah is forced to go back to the normative structures of the sexual identities and duties ascribed by the society. The movie ends with an optimistic note as Delilah runs out of the church during her wedding ceremony and Kiran decides not to commit decide. Kiran comes out of her female assertions by cutting the hair and walks forward. She embarks a new journey of self-discovery without the fear and favour of the societal norms.

The very name of the movie, ‘Sancharram’ denotes journey. It is a journey in search of ‘fresh woods and pastures new’; a journey to discover one’s self, identity and independence. Delilah and Kiran are yearning for a new journey satiating their physical, mental, emotional and sexual needs. Although Delilah succumbs to her family’s desire of marrying a man of their choice, she promises to continue the relationship with Kiran. Still, Kiran confesses that she can’t marry anyone else and she will find their share of happiness somehow. The moves culminates in an optimistic note where both the heroines get ready to undertake a new journey by shattering the shackles of societal chains. Delilah runs outs of the church where as Kiran keeps on walking after having cut her hair. It’s time to start afresh a new journey in both their lives. The movie at the outset introduces a fortune teller who predicts that Kiran will love early and it will be as strong as the bond between Shiva and Parvati. She exhorts: “Above all, know thyself!Without which in shadow dwells all else, Lord Muruga!”. The movie ends with the unruly laughter of fortune teller watching Kiran . In a way, her prediction has come true and Kiran initiates a new journey to know herself, a journey without the shadows of conventions and traditions.

Never miss real stories from India's women.

Register Now

Though her father supports her in all her endeavours, Kiran fails to convince her love to him. Her father also can’t get rid of the societal ‘normalcy’ and the ways attributed to a woman. Kiran’s mother strongly holds the view that women are the guardians of tradition. “ Once your children will also be born and brought up here. And our tradition will continue through you”. Her mother’s words echo the obligation of a daughter in continuing the family heritage. Delilah is forced to agree for maintaining the tradition and the duty of procreation by being in an arranged wedlock.

Through the mouthpiece of teenage girls, the movie raises voice against the hardships faced by women who wishes to trespass the forbidden barriers of gender, love and sexuality. The film, ‘Sancharram’ is symbolic of the rocky road that Indian lesbians are forced to travel in a traditional culture that frowns upon homosexuality and continues to employ arranged marriages as a matter of course for its daughters. Our society is too harsh on women especially if she breaks stereotypes. Society has rules for a reason. In spite of all the scientific and technological advancements, we survive in such a society where the needle of the watch decides the character and morality of a female. As normal and ordinary human beings, it is quite natural and normal for the woman folk having a desire to materialise their whims and fancies. Likewise, they wish to soar in their imaginary sky with their viewless wings of a butterfly. The flight of these butterflies are clipped and curtailed by the society in the name of morality, hetero-normative structure, social status, etiquette, decorum and what not. These fetters in reality restrain the light of a woman’s sustenance.

The notion of a third gender is still treated as an abnormal one rejecting the truth that true love knows no gender. “Randu Penkuttikal” (1978) was Malayalam cinema’s first prominent encounter with lesbian relationships, and was followed by Padmarajan’s “Deshadanakili Karayarilla”(1986) . “Sancharram”(2004) will remain unique for its daring depiction of lesbian love as its central theme. The film ensures the visual possibilities and limitations of lesbian relationship at its zenith.

























About the Author

Dr. Aparna Ajith

Anvik Baby's Mom/ An Assistant Professor in English/ Author of 'Musings of Venus'/ A Freelance Journalist. Above all, an epic weirdo with an unfading zest for life and its exhilarating/exhausting journeys! read more...

8 Posts | 2,351 Views

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

All Categories