Abuse as love: How viral Malayalam short films glorify toxic relationships

The hundreds of comments below these videos reveal that patriarchal ideas about love and romance are still popular.
Poster of Malayalam short film Neeharam Peytha Raavil
Poster of Malayalam short film Neeharam Peytha Raavil
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A short film, Neeharam Peytha Raavil, is the hot subject of discussion among Malayalis on social media platforms. The film has garnered two million views so far since its release a couple of weeks ago. The story begins on the first night of a couple, with the wife behaving rudely with the husband and telling him that she was not interested in getting married since she wished to complete her studies. She also tells him that he'd not tried to speak to her at least once before the wedding. She demands a divorce and blames him for destroying her life. The husband claims that he fell in love with her at first sight and could not talk to her since he was busy with the wedding preparations. He wonders if she was in a relationshop previously or has mental health issues since she spoke so frankly.

The audience may believe at this point that the film shows the woman as an independent and bold person. But that's not how she's characterised. She is shown to be a 'loosu ponnu/pennu' the very next moment. She asks the husband to sign a blank paper, asking him to drop her home the next morning. The husband is made to sleep outside the room, but she wakes him up and asks for a chicken burger childishly. Oh so innocent, we're meant to think.

After this, the couple goes for a ride on the husband's bike and eats from a roadside shop. But once they're done with the meal, the wife does not find the husband around. She's scared since she doesn't have any money with her and runs away. When she finds her husband, she hugs him tightly. They spend the night roaming around together, and she falls in love with him.

Discussing the film, popular YouTuber Vivek Balachandran of The Mallu Analyst channel, points out how patriarchal the premise of the story is.

"The marriage is decided without the woman's consent, just by speaking with her father. She's made to get married immediately and drop her studies. The reason given for this is that the man fell deeply in love with her at first sight. Do you find this romanticisation unbearable? There is more to come," he says.

He further says that the film makes viewers doubt whether the woman is a 10 or 12-year-old, slamming the supposed "cuteness overload". For the man, his silly wife is nothing more than a new toy, Vivek points out. In the climax, when the husband feels sorry that he'd destroyed his young wife's dreams, she consoles him, saying all that she had spoken about during their first night was just foolishness. Her desire to study and enjoy college life were ridiculous ideas, she claims. "You decide everything and that decision will be mine too," she declares.

Though mainstream Malayalam cinema has increasingly become conscious about patriarchal representations and storylines, a section of the audience still believes such toxic relationship stories to be 'true love'. Hundreds of viewers have commented below the video, stating that they desire such a wife or husband.

Gayathry Babu, another popular vlogger, has criticised the film, too, and pointed out that the subtle messaging in it is even more dangerous than what is obvious.

"The woman character has no mind of her own. She's so innocent. It's the same centuries-old cliched character we can find in any movie or serial. A woman who goes out without her wallet. The moment she finds that her husband is not around to pay, she's scared and runs away without speaking to the shop owner," says Gayathry, noting that the woman is shown to be incapable of managing anything. She further asks why we can't stop glorifying such stereotypes.

But Neeharam Peytha Raavil is not the first regressive short film to have been celebrated like this. In fact, there is a whole genre for such films and videos, called 'Kalippan and Kanthari', featuring a short-tempered man and his girlfriend who's madly in love with him and obeys every word of his.

In another video made a while ago, YouTuber Vivek analysed the characteristics of the Kalippan. He's a man who's always grim before his girlfriend, and Kanthari would feel that her world is in his hands. He's possessive, has all her passwords, and abuses her when she takes a photo with another male.

A TikTok series Kalippante Pennu that went viral and also has more than a million views on YouTube, had glorified the anger of a boyfriend who dominates his girlfriend in all ways. In these videos, the man was found shouting and insulting the girlfriend for instances such as travelling on a motorcycle with her male colleague, not informing him before going somewhere and making her beg him for forgiveness. Finally, it is shown that they get married and lead a happy life with their daughter.

In short, it is the unapologetic glorification of an abusive relationship. Though many comments below these videos have pointed this out, it continued to be popular among young people. In another short film, Randu Chaya Oru Chiri (Two Teas and One Smile), which was released around 10 months ago, the boyfriend who is stressed out because he did not get a job, shouts at his girlfriend when she's in a difficult situation, using cusswords. He is abusive towards her but is patient towards the men who bother her in her predicament. We're also told that she has given him all the passwords for her social media accounts so that he can always monitor her. At the end of the film, the woman rests on his shoulder, and he declares that he keeps the passwords out of love.

Though the film became a hit with the audience, in the comments section, it's possible to see the repercussions of romanticising such toxic relationships. Many young women have shared their experience of being with such a 'Kalippan'. Some even recalled how these men threatened them when they wanted to call it off. Others also wrote about how such possessive and dominating men could even indulge in acid attacks.

The virality of these videos shows that despite debates and discussions on gender equality, there is much to be done to change conventional ideas of love and romance that continue to be popular in society. 

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