Posted by Anu Karippal
This comes from a deep sense of anger I have learnt to internalize. I have seen men make fools of their wives and entirely shift the love and care to children once they are born. I saw it in my immediate family, families of friends and strangers. I’m not choosing to ignore other dimensions of our gendered lives. But a writer has to pick and choose her battles and I choose to write about what’s most intimate to me. Because no one will ever know or can tell our stories like we ourselves do.
The Malayalam film Ramante Edanthottam is a narrative of a middle-class family in Kerala, of the brittle marriage of Elvis and Malini and the complexities of marital life. Elvis draws a narrative of Malini as a naive character, unaware of the workings of the world. Estranged of love and unable to fulfil her dream of dancing, she falls in love with Raman on a family trip to Wagamon. Raman gives her the strength to pursue her dreams and they decide to remain friends.
It’s been a year since Ramante Edenthottam released. I asked my colleagues and my immediate family relations if they have seen the movie, given Malayalis feverishly follow movies. Most of them didn’t even know that such a movie existed. Neither did I see any review of the movie in major journals (forgive my ignorance if I have missed any), unlike the usual good Malayalam movies, followed up by a review.
While get fascinated by books and movies that confirm our reality, it can be unsettling too. Ramante Edanthottam is that kind of a movie – a vivid portrayal of many Malayali households where men easily get away with building the narrative of a foolish, ignorant wife. So much so that it has become the legitimized way of marital life and not many find anything wrong with it. Women internalize that they should suffer. Such is the case of Elvis and his wife Malini until she crosses the threshold and walks free.
Ramante Edanthottam is a vivid portrayal of Malayali households where men get away with building the narrative of a foolish, ignorant wife.
I was absolutely enthralled by how the movie began. We see Malini clad in red saree on a video call with a man (seeming like a lover) who turns out to be Raman. The car Malini was driving meets with an accident and Elvis, a man shown to be brimming with love for his family, reaches the hospital and sees the video on her phone and gets perplexed.
I sighed, thinking, “how could you do this to your man who brags about a successful marriage story to his comrades over a drink? Malini, you’re the villain. You’re a bad woman. You breached the trust”. The scene took me and the audience through the typical patriarchal glance – the tendency within me to blame the woman.
I could make this writing about Malini, her realization of the possibilities of the self or about Raman as a good male in the maleness vocabulary. But all my attention was on the kind of man that Elvis is. Because I have seen way too many Elvis’ growing up. He is often disapproving of Malini’s kindness and takes her to be a fool who doesn’t know the workings of the world.
Elvis has a very easy way of trivializing the intensity of his actions. Everything is a joke. Flirting with multiple young girls on WhatsApp and having extramarital sex is just fun too. “Just like drinking a juice”, he says to his friend. When Malini refuses to have sex, he comments: “these Malayali girls are all the same”.
Elvis is a good father – in a narrow understanding of fatherhood. There is a visible trend in Kerala where once the kids are born, all the love and care suddenly get shifted to them. The wife is of course expected to love and take care of everyone. Elvis gives extraordinary importance to his daughter throughout the movie. Nothing wrong with it – as long as he loves Malini like before.
But Elvis’s love for his daughter is uncompromising, which fails to extend to Malini. His love for Malini occurs in the form of shouting at her for not taking care of their daughter enough, like it’s only Malini’s responsibility. When Malini wishes to resume dancing, he doesn’t easily concede. It requires the 7-year-old daughter to legitimize Malini’s desire.
I remember when I was young, I was down with food poisoning from the food bought from the hotel near our house. I heard my uncle slap my aunt for buying food from outside and not cooking. Both my uncle and aunt consider Kurien chettan’s hotel trustworthy and it wasn’t the first time we bought food from there. Yet he took the frustration out on my aunt because it is a legitimized way of mediating with the frustration. Beat your wife. Why? Because he ‘loves’ her.
When Elvis confronts Malini with the video and prevents her from explaining that they are just friends, Malini reaches the end of her patience and walks out. An entrance to a world she wished for. Elvis later comes to apologize and tells her that despite her being stupid to send in the divorce notice, he is ready to forget and forgive and that she just has to be meek and silent like before.
Elvis has a very easy way of trivializing the intensity of his actions. Everything is a joke.
When Malini doesn’t concede, Elvis says she has gone mad with feminism. With the decision to create two different, beautiful worlds for their daughter, she returns to the world of dance with a tearful smile.
Men, before easily calling your wife foolish, try to explore the other intellectual faculties in her. Remember if she doesn’t know something, it comes from a long history of patriarchy, of not being able to get a good education and looked down upon everywhere. Take a step back and try to understand.
Next time she asks or intervenes in business matters, don’t ward her off saying she doesn’t know. Maybe if you listen to what they have got to say once, you will know women have a brain too. All the Malayali women and other women who have been at the brunt of household male chauvinism, I urge you all to watch this with your husband after a Sunday lunch in your drawing room and make sure he doesn’t sleep off.
Anu is a researcher at ATREE, Bangalore. Anthropology and the mundane life intrigue her. She writes poetry, practices photography, theatre and dance. Long walks keep her life moving.
Featured Image Source: Filmi Beat