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Spadikam: Aadu Thoma’s ‘heroic’ brand of machismo and misogyny has aged like milk in Bhandran-Mohanlal’s film

Bhandran’s aim of trying to showcase the psychological trauma inflicted by abusive parenting, through Aadu Thoma, still remains relevant even today. Despite this, major parts of the film seem to have aged poorly.

Spadikam: Aadu Thoma’s ‘heroic’ brand of machismo and misogyny has aged like milk in Bhandran-Mohanlal’s film

Last Updated: 04.29 PM, Feb 13, 2023


When I first watched Spadikam as a child, when it came on TV, Mohanlal’s Aadu Thoma definitely made it into the list of my childhood crushes. With his rugged good looks in his Ray Ban glasses and striking red shirt, his keenness to fight for the common man and challenge authority, his moving backstory, and his mass-y fight scenes, Thomas Chacko was the underdog hero boys strived to be, and girls swooned over, at the time. Bhadran certainly delivered an iconic character in his 1995 film, one that still remains popular and legendary even today. The cult-like fan following the film developed seems to have its stronghold intact even today, as the crowds that gathered to watch its 4K re-release in theatres on February 9 can attest to. But popularity is not the same as relevance, and a rewatch of Spadikam recently definitely made that crystal clear to me.


More than two decades after its initial release, how has one of the biggest hits in Mohanlal’s career, aged? The film’s central theme, the tussle between Thomas Chacko and his mathematician father C. P. Chacko, definitely mirrors a lot of the parent-child relationships that exist even today, although in a much less exaggerated way. The extent of psychological trauma that abusive parenting can have on a person’s life, is definitely not taken lightly in the film. Chacko senior’s cold-blooded treatment of his own son, nipping every ounce of potential the child had through mental and physical abuse, is as hard to watch now as it was then.

The power tussle between Aadu Thoma and Kaduva Chacko is equal parts gut-wrenching and exciting, and the former’s ever so subtle humility in the midst of it all made it all the more better. Bhadran certainly did a fantastic job at executing the central theme to remain affecting and stirring even through the decades, and a lot of Aadu Thoma’s characterisation did stand the test of time. Others, not so much.

Aadu Thoma’s heroism, the battles he wages for underdogs like himself against those with more power than him, are definitely qualities fit for a mass-y hero. But his machismo and charm come with a side of misogyny that I was unable to detect at the time. In fact, his senseless misogyny and toxic masculinity seems to be written in a way as to form a part of his charm. And this makes his ‘love story’ with Urvashi’s Thulasi almost as hard to watch as the father-son tussle.

Thoma’s very first meeting with Thulasi in 14 years ends with him slapping her, which of course she instantly forgives. Her cringey attempts to make him a better man is rewarded by Thoma by force feeding her an entire bottle of toddy is even spun into a comedic narrative. From verbal abuse to physical assault, Thulasi bears it all and embarrassingly refuses to leave Thoma, who she believes to be the love of his life, alone. She degrades herself in her pursuit for ‘love’, and her giddyness when Thoma finally acknowledges her, barely, is something that has aged like milk.

Most of the women in Spadikam turn out to be as one dimensional and poorly written as Thulasi is, and they are constantly objectified at every turn, mostly by Aadu Thoma of course, which is certainly not the kind of ‘charm’ young film goers need to be learning from. Aadu Thoma is a flawed character, and is in no way intended to be perfect. But most of his ‘faults’, as was the case with a number of heroic protagonists of the time, are those that warrant sympathy and inspire piety. His actual flaws, his blatant sexism and toxic masculinity, the latter coming out in some patronising ways indeed, are written off as a part of his ‘charm’. Don’t even get me started on the antics that led to him earning his namesake.

Aadu Thoma’s casual objectification of women is something even his own family members cannot escape. While we are expected to hail him as a hero for the way he stood by in his support of Laila, a sex worker, there are numerous instances where the protagonist himself is guilty of sexism, which is glossed over like it is nothing. His treatment of Thulasi is definitely a glaring example of the same, where the young woman is literally abused and assaulted, on several occasions, when she tries to win the protagonist’s affection. But misogyny seems to be so ingrained in Aadu Thoma’s characterisation that even his attempts to be charming turns out to be grossly sexist.

Lewd playing cards aside, not a single woman in Thoma’s life is deemed to be worthy of basic respect it seems, according to the writing, including his mother and younger sister. While the latter is infantilised constantly, the former is written out to be a one dimensional character whose entire life revolves around being a mother and wife caught between the two toxic men in her life. Even Mumtaz, the beloved of his own friend Basheer, who Thoma so desperately tried to unite, saw a glimpse of Thoma’s toxicity when he ‘impressively’ lets the former’s father beat her mercilessly. Thoma even could not resist dropping a ‘killer’ line while looking on at Mumtaz’s plight.

Aadu Thoma’s bravado that comes with a side of toxic masculinity is clear in his air of self importance, apart from his treatment of women. While the women in his life bear the brunt of his patronising ways, men are not spared either, for which the writing is indeed at fault. Thoma’s doesn't seem to have any friends per say, but rather mindless followers who seem to have pledged their allegiance to him and cannot see past any of his toxicity. And of course, his brother in law Jerry, Jancy’s husband, catches the same train. The fact that Thoma gives a glimpse of his insufferable alpha male personality in their first ever meeting, does not seem to faze Jerry at all who becomes yet another Aadu Thoma follower.

The fact that Aadu Thoma and his brand of heroism is still considered ‘iconic’ even today, is alarming to say the least. Of course it is possible to enjoy a film while fully understanding that it has not aged well, and criticise it where it needs to be criticised. But I am left questioning whether die hard fans of the film will be able to look past Aadu Thoma’s brand of problematic masochism.

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