Women seeking vengeance to end the cycle of violence is a common theme that is adopted by the film industry across the globe. There has been a significant rise in the number of feminist films that showcase an avenging woman. While such films are much appreciated to start a dialogue on violence against women (VAW), the storyline of vengeance by women is often mirrored by masculinist characteristics. One of the recent Malayalam films, ‘Rekha’ is built on a similar theme where a strong female character goes on a mission to avenge the deceit that she experienced in her life.
Jithin Issac Thomas’s film, ‘Rekha’, released in 2023, stars Vincy Aloshious and Unni Lalu as Rekha and Arjun, respectively, with Rekha being the protagonist of the film. The plot revolves around an unexpected turn in Rekha’s life at the hands of Arjun, with whom she was romantically involved. Arjun is one of the main characters in the film who is criticised for being unemployed by his relatives. He is seen helping his father at a tea shop, where Rekha and he would secretly meet at times.
In the first few scenes of the film, Rekha’s mother is seen agitated with her laid-back behaviour and exclaims, “I have never seen a girl like her anyway.” The quarrels in the family revolve around Rekha’s mother being agitated about her daughter lacking feminine attributes and being feisty.
Rekha is portrayed as a woman with incredible physical strength, which leads people to nag her about marriage prospects. The film showcases Rekha’s character as a woman taking control of her own agency, as she refuses to marry until she gets employed. In an attempt to find love, she befriends Arjun, with whom she starts developing romantic feelings. Although Rekha is shown as feisty, one cannot ignore the societal expectations of women embedded in the story. Rekha feels pressured to be in a relationship because her friends are in romantic relationships, conforming to the status quo among her friends.
The character development of the protagonist, Rekha, is showcased as she sets out for revenge for the loss she incurred. The change in cinematography is noteworthy as the film unveils the deceit that Rekha underwent from a budding romantic relationship that she had longed for. The riveting and dynamic performance of the film’s cast engages the audience, allowing them to unravel the storyline in one sitting.
In the later part of the film, Rekha is wronged and deceived by Arjun. As Arjun starts displaying traits of obsession and violence, she sets out to seek answers for her loss. In her quest for answers, she travels to Ernakulam (where Arjun is said to be residing) to seek revenge. In the final scene, Rekha confronts Arjun, and their argument turns into a physical fight.
In the end, it’s interesting to note how Rekha responds to the deceit and violence that she experiences. She ends up exerting her physical strength towards the perpetrators. Rekha who is physically strong due to her sports background, is able to fight back for herself. She was able to avenge herself by overpowering her male counterparts. The question is should violence be responded to with more violence?
In another recent Malayalam movie, ‘Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey’, the female protagonist is also ending the cycle of violence that she experiences at the hands of her abusive husband by attaining physical strength as part of learning Taekwondo (a martial art form). It was her first step to escape from the torturous life she experienced at the hands of her husband. The physical strength of women to deal with the violence that she experiences gains attention in the above-mentioned narratives.
Even though the dominant narrative in the films in which men take revenge is about physical strength, one can also see films with multiple means of revenge that are not limited to the physical strength of the male protagonist. However, when it comes to women seeking revenge in the films, the entirety is based on physical strength mirroring violence led by men. In feminist films why does revenge bottle down to the physical strength of women?
The narratives that present the alternative ways through which women respond to abuse/violence that they face are missing. Often the collective wish of the population especially in the cases of rape is that the perpetrator should be physically dealt with. The narratives in movies around the theme also fall into the same set of consciousness and stress on women avenging through violence. Furthermore, it is imperative to open more dialogue on the means of women resisting rather than attaining masochistic abilities embedded in patriarchal structures to combat violence against women.
It is refreshing to watch the rise of feminist films in an industry which is rooted in patriarchal structures. However, it is time that the dominant narratives around avenging women move beyond violence as they inherently reinforce the patriarchal structures of violence.