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Muslim Women In Malayalam Cinema: Portrayal And The Reality

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Islam in Malayalam cinema
  3. Portrayal and the Reality
  4. 1.kilichundan mamabzham
  5. 2) Sheroes of Anti CAA protest
  6. Conclusion
  7. Works Cited


A Muslim woman always comes with a set of labels and expectations in the mind sets of society. But in reality in addition to being a Muslim woman, she is much more. She is more than a Muslim and a woman. There is no template definition for what a Muslim woman should be.

One of the most misinterpreted or misunderstood parts of the Islam are topics related to women. They are always framed as the oppressed. The repeated narrative of need for liberation of Muslim women from their veil or hijab or from their entire community itself has dominated the larger discourse. According to the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) manifesto, the main focus is to ban the Burqa in public places. The manifesto states: ‘we will not accept these dehumanising symbols of segregation and oppression, nor the security risks they pose.’ The most crucial part is that, these policy formulations are made without being guided by the voices of Muslim women, but rather directed by the western, liberal notions of how Muslim women should be. The only positive portrayal of Muslim women labelling them as liberated is by their lack of Hijab or Veil.

Our experiences and identities are informed mainly through media images which shape our self and others. Muslims, occupying one fifth of the world population, its culture, values, economics and politics, is an important factor discussed on the world stage. (Mohammed, 2010). Media has grown into a powerful institution which kick starts the debates, questioning the basic structures and moulding the public consciousness. Society interacts actively with all mediums of media like journalism, theatre and film. One can no longer turn away from these mediums as these have become the part of our very normal life.

Reading or decoding a Film, whose meaning is rooted in perspectives and various positions, is very important. Film criticism helps us to observe them differently, to understand the unconscious reflection of social reality, the underlying power structures, the frames which melt into each other, the repetitive narrative patterns, the dialogues which use myth and history, the juxtapositions which take place and all of which simultaneously the medium follows. (Salim, 2018)

When it comes to the portrayal of Muslim woman in cinema, she is always depicted as the victim of male dominance and it is very uncommon to not see her in black, covered from head to toe. In Malayalam cinema also, Muslim woman is portrayed as voiceless. She is depicted as a silenced victim of religion and patriarchy. This paper mainly analyses the anomaly between the portrayal of Muslim women in Malayalam cinema and the realities of her life beyond stereotypes.

Islam in Malayalam cinema

“If you take the same images and you repeat them over and over again, and the images teach us to hate people and to hate their religion, what happens is that we, in spite of our intelligence, our innate goodness, actually turn around and let these images despise and vilify an entire people.” (Sheehan, 2001)

Representation of Muslims in mass media, mainly in cinema, was always based on a larger propaganda. It can be placed in the context of pre and post 26/11 attacks in India. “Terrorism became a perspective, an orientation, and a discourse for “our time” (Altheide, 2001). The narratives casting Muslim characters were mostly to achieve certain goals like to establish an emotion against the community. Loyalty of Muslims is always placed in a state of doubt. There is a collective effort in cinema and media to make sure that the identity of terrorist should not be doubted by the audience. It is laid solely on Muslims and Islam. 26/11 attack which is known as India’s 9/11 has played a role in turning Indian consciousness against Muslims. It also leads to uniting the citizens to attack the source of fear- Muslims.

For a long time, Malayalam cinema also (not any different from the other industries) has presented Islam not as a religion of brotherhood and peace but as an agent of terror and terrorism. The topic of portrayal of Muslim woman in Malayalam cinema, is also important to analyse as she is seen as doubly oppressed in films, first through her gender and secondly through her religion. There was a lack of genre of Muslim cinemas in Malayalam to counter such attempts. But now narratives are changing. People of Islam and other faith are coming forward to reclaim the spaces and identities of Muslim community that once were corrupted.

Portrayal and the Reality

The time and space of present century has brought significant changes in the education, rights, freedom, language, attire and status of Muslim women. So it is important to read the perspectives of present Malayalam cinema towards Muslim women. There are a lot of box office hit movies in Malayalam cinema which portrayed Muslim women as backward and in a stereotypical manner. But there are significant changes taking place in narratives presented today. The films which address the changes and developments made by Muslim community and portray Muslim women against the stereotypes are being made and getting attention.

Gayatri spivak identifies that there is a trend of generalising third world women in terms of western female subject constitution. This clearly ignores the differences in culture, language and social class. Women may be wounded in every society, but their experiences vary according to the community they belong to. Wounded Muslim women became a repeated theme of the twentieth century movies.

“Twenty first century Malayalam cinema showed no much difference from what it has been Portraying about Muslim community and Muslim women except a few movies which showed Protesting and independent women. The recurrent themes of Triple Talaq, Nikkah Halala, Polygamy, child marriage and the whole suffering women appeared in mainstream movies as well as parallel cinema. Some of the movies showed how these laws were misinterpreted to suit the needs and interests of the male section of the society. For example, the practice of Nikah Halala has been the theme of twenty first century movies like Alif, Kilichundan Mambazham and Mosayile Kuthirameenukal.” (salam, 2018)

The word Halala is derived from the word ‘Halal’ which means Lawful. It is the procedure in which the divorced woman becomes halal to remarry for her divorced husband. A man is allowed only to remarry his wife only twice and if he divorces her for the third time it becomes irreversible unless the wife gets married to a different man and therefore the man dies or divorces her. The term Halala is employed when a person intentionally arranges another man to marry his wife and divorce her so that he can remarry her.

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Polygamy, lack of education, superstition, Talaq (divorce) and patriarchy were the most common themes when it comes to the portrayal of Muslim women. Umma (mother) (1960) is the first Malayalam movie to integrate the element of Muslim community to the mainstream cinema. The story of the film revolves around the marital evils prevailing in the Muslim community especially in Malabar Region. But the heroine of the movie who is the victim of polygamy is represented as strong against the interest of her community and sends her daughter to school.

In an online article titled ―’Polygamy, Not My Problem’, a Muslim woman substantiates her views on polygamy by saying that the co-wife is her sister in Islam, and she can‘t violate her sister‘s rights. ―And when a man marries another woman, she says, ―he must understand that his first wife will naturally be hurt and upset. But this comes with the package. And if he can‘t handle this natural hurt and upset without blaming his wife or asking her to change, then he‘s the one at fault. Women will be women, and if a man doesn‘t fully accept what that means in reality, then he‘s not ready for polygamy (Telegraph, 9 October 2015).

Polygamy became a repeated theme in most of the mainstream Malayalam movies which casted Muslim characters. In the movie Kilichundan Mambazham,a commercial movie made by Priyadarsan starring Mohanlal, Sreenivasan and Soundarya, a sheer instance of Nikah halala is shown along with polygamy and other evil practices. Moidutty haji is a rich landlord in the place who practices Polygamy. The movie begins with the wedding of moidutty haji, who marries his third wife despite the approval of his first two wives. His mother Beeyathumma (Sukumari) blames one among the wives by saying that a person can marry as many women as he wishes if he is financially well off as said in Holy Quran. She explains how she lived together with her husband and his eight wives happily. No one in his house or village find it strange as they are all seen happily involving within the wedding ceremony except his wives. It clearly shows how women are silenced beside the enjoyment of men. It is his first wife who helps him in preparing for his first night with Aamina. While he tries to calm the anger of his wives by telling how Quran permits to have four wives for a man, Maimoona, his second wife reminds him of the real context in which Quran says so. She says it had been during the battle of Badr when many women became widows, Prophet married and protected them.

1.kilichundan mamabzham

The movie portrayed Muslim women as powerless victims of the evil practices of community and as educationally backward. It shows how men misappropriate the laws for their convenience and needs and consider women as a sheer commodity. Whereas in Islam it is clearly mentioned that a marriage to be halal requires the consent of both man and woman. The Qur’an states ―O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion … (4:19). Sahih-al-Bhukhari, one of the most reliable sources of Hadith (Islamic teachings) reports ‘The widow and the divorced woman shall not be married until her order is obtained, and the virgin girl shall not be married until her permission is obtained.’ (Bukhari, 67:42). There are a lot of instances when prophet called off such marriages which were conducted without the consent of both man and woman. When Quran and Hadith stand strongly against forced marriages it is the cultural practice and the context of the locality that takes away your right as a woman which is to be opposed.

Classmates was a movie directed by Lal Jose in 2006 that is set in a context that revolves around the college graduate class of 1991. There is a Muslim character called Rasiya in the batch, who wears Black Pardha, covering her face most of the time. She is called ‘penguin’ by her classmates. She is casted as least bothered about the political discussions happening on campus, who prefer to live in her own world around some books or other.

The movie was a huge hit which paved a way to set the context of politically illiterate and silenced Muslim women in the university campuses. Majority of Kerala university campuses are ruled by the Student Federation of India (SFI), a student political party. This movie also defined how a SFI leader should look and behave like. Post classmates, there was a trend of love that went viral in campuses, between comrade ( Sagaavu) and Muslim girl (Ummachikkutty).The movie Thattathin marayath in 2012 directed by vineeth srinivasan, was also based on the same plot where the name only changed to Ayesha. There was a practiced unconsciousness in cinema to silence the Muslim women rather than portraying her real self. She was deliberately portrayed as voiceless, who doesn’t have the guts to question the structures.

In reality, Most of the Muslim women of Kerala in the present generation are well educated and pursues higher education from reputed institutions of the country. They are in the fore front of all the struggles and fights from the independence struggle in history to the fight against brahmanical and islamophobic forces. Even in the Anti CAA protests, most of the movements are Muslim women led. But the portraying of Muslim women as victims of oppression is widely an accepted mind set in society. Perspectives of a muslim woman about her perceptions on engagement in Muslim community, public society, their families, institutional structures they belong to and their dreams and aspirations are less discussed. But to the contrary, Muslim woman is bold and strong enough to assert her identity and self-respect. She is capable of resisting the forces that comes along her way.

2) Sheroes of Anti CAA protest

Among the series of movies made or which tried to make political statement through the portrayal of Muslim community, KL10 Pathu stands out as a movie which marked the beginning of changes in narratives of Malayalam cinema in a number of socio-political and cultural contexts. The then released movies like Sudani from Nigeria, Virus broke the liberal and modernist perspectives that view religion as being obstructive to women’s freedom and liberty. KL 10 Pathu presented a completely different narrative before the audience of Malayalam cinema who was unfamiliar with the portrayal of Muslim women as strong, bold and independent. The movie also showed that like any other women in the world, Muslim women also differ from each other in these attributes.

The movie tells an ordinary love story of a Muslim man and a Muslim woman who drive away to get married while the former‘s brother chases them in another vehicle with a group of local friends. There is nothing thrilling about the elopement or the chase but Muhsin Parari, the director of the movie uses the journey to look into the soul of Malappuram, the place which was depicted as a black hole where women were domesticated and deprived, kept behind the burqa or hijab and the youth engaged in bomb making and terrorism manufacturing. The movie broke a lot of existing stigmas around a Muslim hijabi woman. The heroine of the movie is a bold, independent, strong Muslim woman who actively involved in politics and many other areas of public life. The movie starts with the scene of heroine raising GO BACK slogans against the brahmanical forces which shattered the long existed wounded Muslim women images in Malayalam cinema.

Contrary to what is depicted in movies and media, Islam guarantees women, her rights. In Movies like Kilichundan Mambazham, classmates, and thattathin marayath, we see a Muslim womes who is deprived of her rights. But the rays of changes are visible after the movies like KL 10 pathu, sudani from Nigeria coming to the mainstream discourses.


“It is important to know that like any other religion, there is no uniform practice of Islam. Various factors such as culture, education, politics, economics and upbringing affect the way women see their life and themselves. Therefore, any uniform depiction cannot address the diversity of Muslim women worldwide. Since the medium of cinema is a popular one with worldwide reach, it is important to be cautious while using it to address the minority and their life.” (salam, 2018)

The discussed films gives an image of how the identity of Muslim women were misappropriated in cinemas and Medias. As far as the religion concerned, an ideal woman is who capable of following her dreams and claiming her own spaces along with her religious ideals and practices. KL 10 pathu is considered as one of the significant movies of the recent times in Malayalam cinema. People of Islam and other faith are coming forward to reclaim the spaces and identities with the reality of the Muslim women and the entire musilm community.

Works Cited

  1. Altheide, D. L. (2001). Consuming Terrorism. In Symbolic interaction (pp. 289-308). Wiley.
  2. Mohammed, J. (2010). Muslim Cinema: An Introduction. my favorite review.
  3. salam, N. K. (2018). Muslim women in malayalam cinema :within and beyond stereotypes. Literary Herald.
  4. Salim, A. K. (2018). Trends in the portrayal of muslim women in malayalam movies. Paripex.
  5. Sheehan, J. (2001). Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.
  6. Telegraph, T. (9 October 2015). Polygamy, Not my Problem -A Muslim woman.

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