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Posted by Umakasthuri Venkatachalam

A woman is strictly measured against a long list of unreasonable norms that govern her honour, of which almost none apply to men and most even sound absurd when thought of in relation to them. When she falls short of them, the Indian society in general perceives any wrong against her, a well deserving punishment and as something she had brought upon herself. A drunk woman never evokes the same empathy/sympathy when raped as the “good woman” or the ‘ideal victim’ does. 

While it is true that Drishyam is a nail biting murder mystery, the movie is very problematic and it needs to be understood why the movie’s massive success is worrying. While the logics of the plot were largely analysed and praised for after its release, the regressive social norms it propagates, meanwhile, were overlooked.

A woman loses the right over her body as it is looked upon as a repository of the family honour and is therefore controlled by the male in the family. Control is exercised over her sexuality through numerous rigid rules of monogamy and prohibition of inter caste and inter religious marriages. There is a strict prohibition on the marital choices of women. Violence against them is common when they transgress it. Honour killing continues to remain common in India. A woman in a relationship before marriage is often tagged as a ‘loose woman’ and is shamed and punished for her personal choices. Tamil cinema mostly only strengthens these notions and hardly ever questions them. It continues to further the idea of ‘good woman’ and ‘bad woman’. Bad women are usually either tamed to become an acceptable ‘good woman’ or rightfully meets her tragic end.

Also read: My Life Your Honour?: On Women’s Bodies, ‘Safety’ And Honour

Though there are numerous ‘taming of the shrew’ movies in Tamil cinema, Padayappa (1999) featuring Rajinikanth clearly distinguishes the ‘good woman’ and ‘bad woman’. Neelambari, a foreign educated, bold, passionate woman is villanised for transgressing the gender norms. She is portrayed as a vengeful, arrogant, heartless woman in order to justify her tragic ends. Vasundhra, the heroine is the ‘good woman’ who is nothing but naive is idealised and rewarded with a ‘happy’ family life. The hero lectures on how a woman ought to and ought not to be throughout the movie. 

A supervillain for a superstar Rajinikanth Darbar Raghuvaran Ramya Krishnan  Thalaivar Rajini- Cinema express
Padayappa (1999) featuring Rajinikanth clearly distinguishes the ‘good woman’ and ‘bad woman’. Neelambari, a foreign educated, bold, passionate woman is villanised for transgressing gender norms. Vasundhra, the heroine is the ‘good woman’ who is nothing but naive is idealised and rewarded with a ‘happy’ family life. The hero lectures on how a woman ought to and ought not to be throughout the movie. Image Source: Cinema Express

Jeethu Joseph’s 2013 Malayalam thriller Drishyam is a blockbuster film which earned widespread positive reviews from critics as well who praised it for its excellent performance, screenplay and direction. Drishyam won numerous prestigious awards which includes the Kerala State Film Award for film with popular appeal and aesthetic. Between its initial release and 2015, Drishyam was remade in four different languages – Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. It was a commercial success in all the languages.

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While it is true that Drishyam is a nail biting murder mystery, the movie is very problematic and it needs to be understood why the movie’s massive success is worrying. While the logics of the plot were largely analysed and praised for after its release, the regressive social norms it propagates, meanwhile, were overlooked.

Drishyam (2013, Malayalam) narrates the story of Georgekutty, a local cable tv operator and his family that strives and eventually succeeds in concealing a murder. Anju, George’s school going elder daughter, when blackmailed by Varun for a sexual favour with a nude video of her bathing, is terrified and confides in her mother. The equally devastated mother begs the blackmailer in tears appealing to his conscience. She addresses him as ‘mone’ (dear son) asks him if he hasn’t got a mother and a sister. She tells him that it would destroy her daughter’s future and the entire family will have no other way but to die by suicide if the video is leaked. When he stubbornly refuses and retaliates by asking her to have sex with him instead, the situation goes out of control and they accidentally kill him.

Download Plain Meme of Roshan Basheer In Drishyam Movie With Tags samsaram,  varun prabhakar, krooran
Rani addresses him as ‘mone’ (dear son) asks him if he hasn’t got a mother and a sister. She tells him that it would destroy her daughter’s future and the entire family will have no other way but to die by suicide if the video is leaked. Image Source: MalayalamPlainMemes

When Rani tells her husband Georgekutty all that had happened, he comes up with an elaborate plan to save his family from the law. The audience is relieved when the family dodges out of the murder case with its honour intact as the video is destroyed and the secret is buried safe with the blackmailer. While Drishyam seems to portray an understanding and supportive family that stands together in a crisis, it does nothing to question the notion of honour of a woman, and instead has only strengthened the dangerous existing narratives.

Also read: Managing Women’s Body: Is Change Threatening For The Society?

While Drishyam seems to portray an understanding and supportive family that stands together in a crisis, it does nothing to question the notion of honour of a woman, and instead has only strengthened the dangerous existing narratives.

Why did the mother have to beg the perpetrator, why didn’t she tell her daughter that it is him who should be ashamed and why did she believe that there is no way out of it if the video is leaked but for the family to die? Why is a woman’s body tied to her family’s honour? These dangerous ideas that were projected in Drishyam only add to the huge heap of other such ugly cultural conditioning that makes the woman feel trapped. The huge box-office success of Drishyam and its multiple successful remakes only reflect how much the Indian society is still immersed in such problematic narratives. 

Cinema which possesses immense power to positively change the narratives of the society, unfortunately only succumbs to the ugly existing ones and plays safely within the existing social norms to ensure good monetary returns. Anything that could possibly upset the audience is hardly touched upon as it would mean a huge threat to the box office. Drishyam is an example of just that.


A student of MA English and Literature from Madras Christian College, Umakasthuri now works at a women’s college in Nagapattinam and loves to read feminist works.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. You are over biased with your work related to feminism. See the problem in a different perspective. All animals survive based on groupism and groups survive using culture. There is no right or wrong in a culture, it’s what the group chose. If you point certain practice is wrong that may dilute the culture and the groupism and that leads to extinction of race.

  2. What a load of bs. Any mother would say the same thing if their daughter was in trouble. She said their whole family would commit suicide to scare the guy. Even I would say the same thing if the guy approaches my daughter and I would also try to snatch the phone and even break it. So this article about the movie drishyam is a load of crap. There are still many issue and other movies you can concentrate rather than digging up hit movies and trying to tarnish their name. What I saw in this movie is the father and the mother protecting their family at any cost . And I am not trying to justify the murder they did.

  3. Well the write tried to bring out awareness about an existing issue, but he/she has failed to point out exactly as to what it ment by “it does nothing to question the honour of the women and instead strength it”..

    When writing a piece, dont just write for the sake of writing..

    What was it that the author intended to convey from the film or what section of the movie was regressive is not clearly mentioned.. Rather wrote an ambiguous article just to cater to the hysteria…

    Its is clearly understandable the intention to exploit a woman by the antagonists(varun), but where did the movie get wrong about woman’s body and honour in it?

    Was it the protagonist trying to cover up the commited accidental crime?Or was the author suggesting that such coverup should have not by the protagonists rather should only done by the aggrieved woman..

    What is it it that you are trying to convey?

  4. Dont forget, the Bolly Wood is under heavy influence by the money providers that make the women to act with less clothings, Hindu religion shown depreciated and insulted and the poor slave type of indian actors. Shame. The slave attitude is in their blood, act and behaviour. Hence the influence over runs them. i e Sahab, , Sir, Naukari and disrespectful looking down language. Oh yes, there are a lot the Indian Films have to bring in changes that will then make the India Image more proud. Thimk and Thimk again. Bring India up….

  5. Because the whole point was this was based on a realistic portrayal of an Indian family, not an idealistic feminist one. It’s sad to think about, but all her reaction in the movie are what most rural Indian women would feel.

  6. A movie is an entertaiment to brighten ones heart and mind and also carry if possible a subtle message to ponder about. So many movies are taken in and out and need not go on preaching to people who could be assumed dumb on the social values. Just because the movie was hit as it should be for many reasons, comments like yours is like an exercise on criticism on pros and cons as if meant for clearing an exam paper. Remember movies are mostly for entertainment and does not preach morals and there is always a censor board if they the producers have crossed the limits on social norms.

  7. This film portrays an average Kerala Family. The parents are school/ high school dropouts. You can’t imagine such people to be highly progressive/ഫെമിനിസ്റ്റ്. I thought this film did justice to how such a family would react to such a situation. I agree with the rest of your points, progressive/strong women were generally shown in bad light in the 90s 00s movies.

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