7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

This is a list I have been struggling to put together for months now, constantly adding and removing names, wondering whether the actress did justice to the role, whether the role gave the actress enough scope, and whether anyone looking at this list would call it a curation of cliched choices.

That is exactly what I do not want this list to be, wich is why I have tried really hard to omit the obvious names. Hence, Ganga from Manichitrathazhu, Maya Vinodini from Ente Suryaputhrikku, Ammukutty from Aalkoottathil thaniye, and Kuttyedathi are missing even though they certainly deserve to belong. (Here‘s another list I found that has some of the most popular names).

Kanchana [Thalayanamanthram]

Writer: Sreenivasan

Played by the indomitable Urvashi, this is one of my all-time favourite characters. A little manipulative, a little naive, greedy for life’s little luxuries, yet unthinking of the price she would have to pay for it all… Haven’t we all encountered a Kanchana, or at least a version of her, somewhere in life?

To me, the song Mayaponmane perfectly brings out her delightful, thoughtfully sketched character.

 

Pooja [Om Shanti Oshana]

Writers: Midhun Manuel Thomas & Jude Anthany Joseph

The bubbly, yet vulnerable Pooja is a character that must surely have been written with Nazriya in mind, and indeed, she pulls off this role with ease and elan.

What I love most about Pooja is the fact that she has spunk. She decides what she wants and goes all out to get it. She has opinions and no qualms about voicing them. She is unpretentious and funny. Moreover, she is not slotted into a category or oversexed into a tomboy or worse, a girly girl.

Her exchanges with her dad, played by Renji Panicker who seems to have discovered the actor in him fairly late in life, are hilarious. This song tells you quite a lot about her.

 

Gayatri [Artist]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a character written by Paritosh Uttam in his novel Dreams in Prussian Blue

This name came to me fairly late during the making of this list and I was surprised myself that it did. But here it is, and after much deliberation, I believe Gayatri deserves to be here.

This movie makes you wonder: what would you do for love? Not the heroics and histrionics that accompany the battle to win social acceptance for a relationship, but the rags of love that you need to pull together to face each day after you embark on such a relationship.

Gayatri is a a girl who walks out of her ordinary life allured by the vivid, colourful possibilities of a life with her artist lover Micheal. But she has no idea what is about to hit her and eventually succumbs to the relentless demands of everyday existence. Ironically, the very thing that she tried to escape from. .

 

Kalpana [Arike]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay

Kalpana’s is an elusive character – you can never put a finger on what she is really thinking. While she is in a relationship with Shantanu, when she fights her family for his acceptance, when she is in the car with Sanjay and they spiral towards that accident, when she inexplicably changes her mind about Shantanu afterwards…all that time and you keep wondering who Kalpana really is and whether she is capable of truly loving anyone.

The movie reminds me of the mythological story of Ganga and Shantanu. Ganga torments Shantanu with her beauty and her promises and her utter refusal to answer any questions about herself or her actions. She is a celestial, a woman of mystery, who leaves him bewitched and bewildered until the very end.

Samvrutha Sunil is a truly beautiful and talented woman who got very few good roles: I am glad that she got this one before she took a break.

 

Sethulakshmi [5 Sundarikal]

Writers: Shyam, Pushkar and Muneer Ali, based on a story by M. Mukundan

This short film is the most haunting one I’ve ever seen, so much so that I feel quite unable to watch it again, afraid of the emotions that it will let loose. All credit goes to little Anikha who brought Sethulakshmi alive on screen. For a child of her age to even grasp the turmoil that the character is going through is a big deal. But Anikha takes the performance to another level with her micro-expressions, like the quivering of a lip or the hunted look in her eyes.

This uber-talented artist transformed what could have been a mundane, crudely tragic story into something stunning that leaves you  speechless, throat choked up, hand springing to your mouth. I am sure we can look forward to many great things from Baby Anikha.

 

Meera in Mannar Mathayi Speaking

Writers: Siddhique-Lal

I am pretty sure this is one name nobody would have expected to find here. Not surprising, given that the Meera I am talking about is a role played by Geetha Vijayan and lasts barely a few minutes. (In case you’re confused, Vani Viswanath’s character was called Diana and she is merely pretending to be Meera). After her debut in In Harihar Nagar, Geetha Vijayan has sadly been relegated to vampish roles. This is one of the few that she has performed brilliantly and which went unnoticed.

‘Timid rabbit’ is a phrase that is bandied about by romance novelists, but in this one scene, she brings to life a woman paralyzed with fear and with the drugs she has been injected with, staring a horrendous death in the face, yet unable to take one step to save her life. The piteous expression on her face as she takes doddering steps towards the door while Diana screams at her to move, move, to escape, will never fade from my mind.

Watch from 1:40:57 to 1:42:20 here.

 

Ammini [Aranyakam]

Writer: MT Vasudevan Nair

 

I had to Google to find out who the creator of Ammini was and am certainly not surprised that it is MT. Ammini is a dream child, the girl the teenage version of myself most resembled, the ‘vattu pennu’ that my father was afraid I would become. She wanders through the forest, wide-eyed, a thousand stories and fantasies flitting about in her mind, choosing her own company over others’ and eventually succumbing to the allure of an adventure, a mystery. She is a romantic, admiring without understanding, rebellious, yet in the end, defeated, left bereft.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

  1. Dear Gowri,
    I have often marveled at an actor’s ability to breathe life into a character that is conceived in the mind of a writer. Like Lohithadas once remarked, a true actor is born from the experience of life. It is only when life has permeated the senses that one is able to get into the skin of a character. I have watched most of the films you have listed here, and these films are evidences of how cinema must engage an audience through the depth of perception. I would also like to add a few other characters here- Jo Mol in Ennu Swatham Janakikutty, Amala in Ulladakkam, Shanthi Krishna in Chakoram, Manju Warrier in Kanmadam (in most of her old films actually), Shobhana in Innale, and ‘Shaari’ in Deshatanakkilli karayarilla.
    Your blog is a treat!

    1. Thanks Vidya! Both Karthika and Shaari have done a brilliant job in Deshatanakkili Karayarilla – it’s a haunting movie that was way ahead of its time. You watch it once and the marks it leaves on your heart never fade.

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