Trigger Warning: Rape
As a profession, the role of teachers was a highly revered and demanded one in the past which bears no resemblance to its modern status. The security and status it endows upon women has always attracted them to this role in particular. A teacher is supposed to enlighten the young minds, expanding their horizon to develop their immediate and distant environments after transforming themselves. But the recent news incidents hugely undermines the traditional position it enjoyed and largely reflects the changed attitude of society towards it. The Malayalam film The Teacher (2022), the second directorial venture of Vivek foregrounds these changed attitudes and their irrevocable repercussions on the profession and largely on women.
The Teacher (2022) almost went unnoticed and undiscussed though it carried relevant themes and contested elements for discussion. It narrates the gang-rape of a physical education teacher Devika by four school students and her revenge on the culprits. The act of rape disrupts her four year old marital life replete with the couple’s longing for a child and makes her think about herself.
Patriarchy and the perception of rape in The Teacher
The Teacher has boldly exhibited the take of patriarchy on rape through the characters of Sujith, the husband of Devika and his close friends. Though initially, the character of Sujith is shown in a positive light, he immediately loses his lustre on hearing about the tragic incident that occurred to Devika.
His immediate and long lasting impression is that of a man so deeply in-grained in the ways and workings of male-ruled society. Therefore, he all at once calls her a slut and blames her for the act though she narrates everything to him. Even for a second, he finds it hard to think about the beautiful years they had together or her mental state and thoroughly showers his “learned set of anger” towards her. These are followed by his advice of abortion and discouragement from filing a police complaint.
For these, he also seeks the help of his close friend Kevin who is no better than Sujith himself. Kevin is a flirt with double standards which Sujith understands only after sharing his marital discord. In short, Sujith is a careless individual who lives and goes by the taught ways of the world, taking in everything without a second thought. Therefore, neither his mother Kalyani nor his wife Devika is able to influence his inner arena of ideologies.
The Teacher: challenging gender stereotypes
In The Teacher, Kalyani, the mother of Sujith is a strong and confident politician and an individual with a clear thought process. She understands the problems of her people as well as her son. She breaks the stereotypes surrounding womanhood as well as those of a mother-in-law. Kalyani views motherhood as just one part of her whole but not her totality and mostly, she identifies herself as an independent free thinker. She strongly opposes the misogynistic behavior of her son and supports Devika to free herself from the clutches of Sujith, defying the expectations of the audience.
Through the narrative of The Teacher, one could see how Devika has and continued to break the shackles due to her gender. Her interests and motivation in life is that of choosing a path much different from the others of her age. Her intense admiration for karate, and her profession is just two among them. It is this way of choosing things satisfying her self that ultimately leads her to chase and punish the culprits which many women do not do. Besides this, she is a woman who takes staunch decisions and sticks to them despite its pressure, like the ones she takes for her future and her revenge.
The character of Mani is another remarkable feature in The Teacher and, it has both positives and negatives to it. It is positive in the sense that they could represent homosexuality, creating more awareness surrounding it while mitigating some misnotions connected with. But the creators of The Teacher could have given the character of Mani, a different angle to bring in situations that could treat homosexuality as a regular part of life.
There are also indications to show how Mani is exploited as well. The negative representation of Mani comes in when the young culprits are harmed by Mani. Here too, the viewers are given freedom to decide on their own whether he abuses them sexually or physically harms them, in the scene where he is shown to remove the pants of one of the culprits who screams out for help. This could have been avoided or more clarity could have been given as to what happens to them.
Drug and sexual abuse among the youth
There are numerous reports that abound in the news of drug and other substance abuse among the teenagers which continues to grow quite rampant without control. This film vividly captures how and why these habits are dangerous and how it induces them to not act their age. Thus, their addiction for adventure and pleasure often comes at the expense of others. The gang rape of Devika after drugging her by the young teenagers is a shocking and pathetic sight of moral degradation. But what use is talking about moral declination when the mental development and the normal order of thinking is heavily disrupted by substance intake?
Sexual abuse among the youth is another major theme dealt in The Teacher. How the youngsters move after pleasures and end up in horrific situations is dealt through some instances in the film like the issues surrounding the marriage function, one of the culprits’ relationship with a girl, and through the sexual abuse of Devika.
The Teacher calls for a society with safe upbringing and respectful relationships among its members. It is an essentiality not just in terms of teacher-student relations but also in terms of spousal and other familial relations.