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Moothon to Kumbalangi Nights: 9 Malayalam films that challenged social norms

Ryan Gomez

Ryan Gomez
Jul 20, 2021

Malayalam films in the past have not always taken risks in terms of storytelling to include thought provoking themes that challenge social norms. However, there are some films that disregarded the backlash and criticism they might face to showcase groundbreaking stories. The following is a list of films that were brave enough to challenge society’s views on widely accepted beliefs.

1
Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal
8.5OTTplay Rating
P Padmarajan was a visionary director who was far ahead of his time. Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal was a groundbreaking masterpiece that challenged society on how they treated victims of sexual abuse. This character trope was exploited and was one that was denied any form of a redemptive arc in countless films. Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal was one of those rare films where such a character gets their ‘happily ever after’. It is also interesting to note that it took over two decades since its release for the Malayalam film industry as a collective to finally do justice to the trope.
2
Sandesham
9.3OTTplay Rating
Sandesam is arguably one of the best written movies from the 80s and 90s. A political satire that critiques the political structure of Kerala dominated by the Communist party and the Congress party. Through two brothers from a family who support opposing political ideologies, the focus is on why having blind faith in the fictionalised versions of the aforementioned political parties, or any political party, is not only problematic for an individual’s personal lives, but also harmful for society as a whole. The film written by Sreenivasan and directed by Sathyan Anthikad was a reality check for the people of Kerala, with themes and messages about politics, family, class, and caste, relevant even after 20 years of its release.
3
Thoovanathumbikal
8.9OTTplay Rating
Thoovanathumbikal is yet another P Padmarajan classic that makes this list. The film pushed the boundaries of themes of lust, love and individuality - themes that were too taboo for the mainstream audience at the time. This engrossing tale is widely regarded as one of the best Mohanlal films of all time with a fine balance of metaphors and analogies intertwined with a riveting narrative.
4
Anuraga Karikkin Vellam
7.6OTTplay Rating
A family romantic drama starring Biju Menon, Asif Ali, Rajisha Vijayan, and Asha Sarath, attempted something fresh with the narrative by tweaking a few plotlines and moving away from the cliched romantic comedies. The film gives a fresh perspective on relationships and challenges society's misconceptions on what an ‘ideal relationship’ should be. Khalid Rahman’s directorial debut was a success with the film receiving universal praise for its heart and humour.
5
Achuvinte Amma
6.7OTTplay Rating
The story of single mothers is not something the Malayali audience has been exposed to over the years. Achuvinte Amma starring Urvashi and Meera Jasmine, as the mother-daughter duo, attempted at highlighting how the society might chastise single mothers. The hurdles, questions, the judgemental eyes society casts upon them are all subtly discussed in the movie. Of course, the movie should have taken greaters risks with how they wrote the characters, but it nevertheless does pose challenging questions to the audience.
6
Kumbalangi Nights
8.8OTTplay Rating
The film that challenged social norms as well as character tropes from Malayalam films in the past. The most interesting aspect is the fact that the film has been able to seamlessly include socio-political themes in a story about a dysfunctional family. The film directed by Madhu C Narayan and written by Syam Pushkaran, is easily one of the best Malayalam films ever made, with its excellent cinematography, sound design, screenplay, and performances by the cast. It is one of those films that will stand the test of time and will be used as a benchmark for future films.
7
Trance
7.8OTTplay Rating
Religion is something filmmakers often tend to avoid discussing in their stories as it more often than not leads to backlash. However, this unique take on Godmen who exploit the masses through quackery and the idea of ‘divine science’ strikes the chord about the pitfalls of blind faith. While the film does successfully act as an expose, it fails to build a cohesive narrative that perfectly blends the visual symbolisms, the themes, and the message it was trying to convey.
8
Moothon
7.9OTTplay Rating
The Malayalam film industry doen’t have a great track record of films that discuss homosexuality. It is partly because some still consider it to be a taboo. Even the films that did have themes about gay relationships, portrayed them in a negative light such as Mumbai Police. Geetu Mohandas’s Moothon, starring Nivin Pauly and Roshan Mathew, however an exception. The film gives a new perspective to the Malayali audience about homosexuality through its lead characters.
9
Desatanakkili Karayarilla
7.5OTTplay Rating
The third Padmarajan film to make it to the list and one of the first mainstream films in Mollywood history to subtly include themes of a lesbian relationship and how a society perceives them. It wasn’t until Moothon was released in 2019, over 20 years after Deshadanakkili Karayarilla was released, that a Malayalam film portaryed homosexuality other than just a comic relief. The film may not have been well received at the time, but over the years it has become one of the most talked about films in the industry.
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