The Malayalam movie Bheemante Vazhi (2021), directed by Ashraf Hamza, was one of the many under-rated Malayalam films of 2021. The film carries many progressive and need-to-be reflected elements, especially pertaining to the females. Politically, they were missed by the movie raters as well.
The movie deals with the efforts of the locals led by Sanjeev (title role played by Kunchako Boban) to widen their narrow lane to ease their routine difficulties in times of emergencies. The process requires the active collaboration of all the dwellers and their final fight with the rich landowner, Oothampilly Kosepp (played by Jinu Joseph).
The place appears to be a utopia in many respects and is lighted through the character of Sanjeev, who moves the plot. Sanjeev is a reputed young man of the place. All the dwellers of the place know and respect him. This publicity is exploited by the local councillor, a woman called Reetha, to make the road a reality, thereby adding to her political reputation and her chances of winning the nearing local election.
Sanjeev is an unmarried man who enjoys his sexuality without attaching emotions to it. He has a sexual relationship with his neighbour, Blessy Paul (played by Vincy Aloshious), a young woman, until her marriage. Though the relationship is continued for a long while, Sanjeev does not reciprocate Blessy, who develops a love for him. Understanding his lack of feelings for her, she moves on to another life without disturbing him. First time in his life, he feels sad about seeing Blessy in her material attire. He thinks women are tactful in dealing with sexual partners, which he shares with his friend, Maharshi, who calls Sanjeev ‘empty’.
Later, Sanjeev develops an open relationship with Kinnari, a railway engineer. She develops a love for him but realising this, Sanjeev breaks up this relationship. Sanjeev seems different in navigating his feeling toward women until he sees Anju, a widow fighting Koepp. This becomes an epiphany for Sanjeev, who may be, for the first time, seeing a woman fighting and overpowering a man.
Before this event, Sanjeev never had an attraction for Anju, who was seen as a mild and submissive woman who looked after her mother-in-law after the death of her husband. Anju emerges only at the very end as a much bold character, and she was purposely veiled from the public view to give a twist to the story. Sanjeev, who was attracted to young women, becomes conquered all at once by this sight.
Anju is physically masked by the script writer by giving her very soft verbal and non-verbal language throughout the movie. She is also purposely chosen to be an ordinary middle-aged, fat woman with no peculiarities other than her karate classes. This is done to consciously background her from the rest of the characters as well as to highlight the fact that love and marriage can also happen based on the abstract space where only character and personal strength matter. Anju is purposely contrasted with the young, sensual and unmarried Kinnari throughout the movie to showcase this idea.
The movie also consciously addresses the question of ‘whether sex is a promise’.For instance, Blessy’s relationship with Sanjeev was enjoyed by both parties without regret as a part of life. Though Blessy hopes for more, she duly understands his incapacity to provide her with what more she wants. Blessy, therefore leaves him for her lover, whom she marries.
The two, Blessy and Sanjeev, maintain their friendship and respect each other. Similarly, in the case of Kinnari, she too understands this, but she leaves Sanjeev painfully. To Kinnari, sex is a promise for a lifetime or for marriage. Sanjeev, through his disposition, tries to teach her just the other way round.
There can be many love relations that cannot culminate in marriage or any other kind of relationship. Therefore, the scriptwriter treats sex only as a device for pleasure and not as a bond for a lifetime.
The movie also further develops the idea of whether sex is a promise for a lifetime. The very first visible discourse around this was showcased in the much applauded Malayalam movie Myaanadhi (2017). In the said movie, the title character of Aparna (played by Aishwarya Lekshmi) strongly continues with her dream of becoming an actress even when it means separating from her lover. There she equates sex to a form of expression of fondness and love without the crushing chains formed by society.
In Bheemante Vazhi, the male character Sanjeev communicates the same idea to the female characters of this movie. Blessy accepts this fact and moves on, while Kinnari, though a modern girl in her outlook, becomes distraught on hearing this from Sanjeev. But later, she too acknowledges the fact and tries to move on.
There is another overlooked point which is never foregrounded at all; that is, the movie, through its idea of free sex, deconstructs the ideas around virginity. It emphasises only the potential of the character and individual freedom. This is exemplified in the climax when Sanjeev marries Anju, an ordinary widowed woman. Here, the acts of the character Anju as a person captivates Sanjeev, not her physicality or sexuality. Therefore, the movie builds a new foundation for the Malayalam audience. This one is not of power and control but of individual potential and humaneness. Movie of this kind, though slow, efficiently operates on the mass consciousness to give up the old rigid notions and encourages new thinking much needed in our times to hasten our move towards modernity.
The female characters of this movie are another important element. The movie readily provides capable, educated and independent women who can live on their own without the need for male support. Anju, Reetha, the character of the lawyer, etc., form part of these. Blessy, in the opening scene, consults Sanjeev for her admission to the MSW course though she has a good job.
To Sanjeev’s queries about why she is seeking admission for a new job, she says, “I want to serve the word”. This comes as a surprise not only to Sanjeev but to the audience as well. A woman with a good job taking extra pain to serve the world is an unusual element. Just like the many scenes of the movie, this one too might have escaped the eyes of a male critic as an ordinary ingredient for the opening scene. But the implications it offers are much more the invisible labour of women in society for its smooth running.
The character of Reetha is also notable in that she conveniently uses her persuasion and tactics for her will (or she conveniently uses her feminity as a skill). She enjoys the company of men as well as drinks. For the Malayalam movie industry that is not yet free to portray such female characters, this movie tries to break the glass ceilings of female interests. It tries to show women as they are, not encircle them within the social order established by patriarchy.
With these characters, they try to emphasise individual freedom, which we all lack to varying degrees in our society. Individual freedom also includes our sexual freedom and to remain and maintain the same reputation as always, irrespective of one’s choices in life.
As said earlier, the movie is more or less set in a utopian land where these individuals enjoy limitless freedom to do as they like without collecting much scrutiny from their society. Thus, it evidently mocks our society that operates by surveillance, shaming and suppressing were not the decision of the individual but of some invisible yet strong ideological rules.
And the title refers to how Sanjeev, the title character, foregoes his internal conflicts to accept his feelings, just like the widening of the lane, which adds to the available opportunities at hand.
Vidhupriya is an independent researcher, currently pursuing a Bachelor of Education. She is a Post Graduate of English Literature and Language from the Institute of English, Kerala University. She can be found on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Featured image source: Times of India