Kerala is a state where politics is part and parcel of everyday life and not surprisingly, members of the Malayalam film industry have often expressed their views on current affairs unlike their counterparts in other states.
However, the opining and involvement did not extend to issues which are typically seen as women's issues - like gender-based violence, misogyny, or patriarchy. Now, however, there is a growing band of female stars in Mollywood who are speaking their mind and getting heard.
Malayalam cinema has traditionally had realistic female characters with substantial story arcs - this is not to deny that the industry has produced its share of regressive cinema but in comparison to other Southern industries, the average fare has been better. But it's only in recent times, with female actors like Manju Warrier who are able to shoulder a film entirely on their own, that expressing views on such issues have become more common and acceptable.
Social media, too, has served as a facilitator for this, considering many stars today take to the platform to express their views candidly without fear of being misquoted or having their words taken out of context.
The alleged rape of a popular Malayalam star sent shockwaves across the industry but for a change, the narrative was not about victim blaming but overwhelming support. Nobody was more forthright about the issue than the survivor herself. Despite being a celebrity, she came forward to file a complaint and has since gone back to work without allowing the incident to define her life.
In an interview given to Vanitha magazine, she explained why she'd decided to come forward and her courageous words will serve as an inspiration for many more women who suffer sexual violence in silence.
Here's a look at some other bold female stars of contemporary Malayalam cinema:
She dropped off the silver screen once she married co-star Dileep but fifteen years later, Manju was back with a bang. Setting aside her troubled personal life and cruel rumours, Manju's comeback film How Old Are You? was a harbinger for changing times in Mollywood.
Since then, Manju has done films like Rani Padmini, Jo and the Boy, Vettah, and C/o Saira Banu in which she played central roles. Rani Padmini, especially, was special because it revolved around female friendship and was a fun road trip film that offered many an insight. After Vidya Balan walked out of Kamal's Aami, based on the life of Kamala Das, Manju took up the role without fearing backlash from the right wing.
Manju has been vocal on social media, expressing herself freely whether it was on Fidel Castro's death or gender-based violence. In her interviews and speeches, too, she has not shied away from discussing feminist issues.
Among the quickly rising younger stars is Parvathy for whom 'candour' seems to be another name. Though it's been over 10 years since she made her debut in Out of Syllabus, Parvathy has acted only in a handful of films. However, she has left her mark in all three industries she's worked in so far - Malayalam, Tamil, and Kannada.
Experimenting with different looks and picking scripts where she has a significant role to play, Parvathy has proved her versatility across films of various genres, Take Off being the latest in the list.
Her recent appearance on a talk show where she spoke frankly about a wide range of issues from gender stereotyping to sexual harassment in Mollywood was refreshingly honest. Parvathy had earlier spoken about not wanting a caste name attached to her (she used to be called Parvathy Menon) and it is good to see the actor's continued engagement with sociopolitics.
Rima Kallingal has always been candid about her views. Manju's co-star in Rani Padmini, Rima has taken a stance on many issues. She's quite active on social media and comments on current affairs - from berating the media for insensitive coverage to increasing moral policing in the state and other instances of intolerance.
Rima is among the rare breed of female Malayalam actors who have not stopped acting after marriage and has clearly explained her stance. She also got married without wearing any gold jewellery as a protest against the dowry system. Her husband, Aashiq Abu, and she donated money to poor cancer patients instead.
Perhaps best known for 22 Female Kottayam, in which she plays a rape survivor seeking revenge, Rima's unconventional views and frank words are a sea change from the usual diplomacy in which celebrities seek to couch their statements.