FYI Balachandran Menon: Women ain't in your '80s films, it's ok to discuss masturbation

Balachandra Menon's cinema is well-known for chauvinistic lines and sentiments, but he appears to believe that he's been "respectful" towards women all along.
FYI Balachandran Menon: Women ain't in your '80s films, it's ok to discuss masturbation
FYI Balachandran Menon: Women ain't in your '80s films, it's ok to discuss masturbation
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If only, the therapists and marriage counsellors of this world had earlier thought of consulting Balachandra Menon, so many divorces could have been avoided, so many heartbreaks prevented. Balachandra – actor, writer, filmmaker – has revealed a simple solution, hitherto known only to him, to end the problems that happen between man and woman.

Of course, he does not really believe that there has ever been any problem, but just in case there is, it can be solved with – hold your breath – a ‘nottam’ (look) and a ‘kallachiri’ (naughty smile), he writes in his Facebook post in response to newspaper articles on subjects like masturbation and menstruation.  The line sounds straight out of one of the many “family dramas” that he had scripted in the 1980s.

For the uninitiated, BC Menon is the man behind the 1980s films that often got labelled as ‘family drama’. They would have love, relationships and invariably a man telling a woman how to be the ideal wife. In the 1983-released Karyam Nissaram, Balachandra's character tells his 18-year-old new wife (Poornima), that women of the house should not be sleeping after 6 in the morning, but men can, ‘cause it is the women who bring ‘aishwaryam’ – prosperity – to a home. The movie also tries to show the overly proud Manikyamangalathu Ammini (Lakshmi) her place, to be the obedient wife to her husband (Prem Nazir). In Prasnam Gurutharam, he gets the till-then-meek character of Prem Nazir to suddenly turn bossy the moment he begins a new relationship, asking the woman he loves (Jayabharathi) to sit down and when she doesn’t, tell her “I like a woman who does what I ask her to do.” In April 18, Shobhana’s first movie where, as a 14-year-old actor she played Balachandra's grownup wife wearing saris, the husband gets the young wife to change the sleeveless blouse she happily wears into something he thinks is "modest".

In every one of his movies, he has written such obviously chauvinistic lines that were, in those days, supposed to be subtle references on how to lead ‘happy family lives’. And which were celebrated as such, too. Perhaps the acceptance of this line of thought from 30 years ago made him seriously believe that he really was a pro-woman man, and that the movies he scripted and made conveyed this “liberal take.” In his Facebook post, he writes that the movies he has made so far are a proof of the respect he had for women (!!).

But three days ago, this "respectful" man read a newspaper story he found very disturbing. It was Women’s Day and women were talking of – he would have rubbed his eyes and read again – there it was - masturbation! In public. “What is the meaning of this? By choosing this topic on Women’s Day, by deeply analysing something that people handle privately in a public space, will women become equal to men?” belligerent Balachandra asks.

The poor man really believes that that’s what these women are trying to do – become equal to men – by discussing masturbation. They can’t just be talking about masturbation because they want to – no, every action, as long as it is not what Balachandra prescribes for the ideal woman, must have ulterior motives as these. And obviously he also thinks that’s the only thing men do – dissect masturbation when they come together to talk. So obviously, if a woman talks about masturbation it is only to be like a man.

Imagine his shock then, when somewhere else, he heard people were celebrating another topic he had always thought was adorably whispered only among women’s ears – menstruation. “Using Swami Ayyappa as a reason, something as harmless and biological as menstruation has been politicised and even turned into a phenomenon called Arpo Arthavam!” he exclaims, and you can nearly hear the '80s Balachandra speaking that line as one of his characters. Or perhaps he would get Prem Nazir to say this line, much disgusted with it all, when his young daughter (Poornima or Ambika or Shobhana) went out to support it. 

He blames a writer, without naming anyone, for starting it all with a line comparing the red of menstrual blood to the sky at sunset. A topic which was whispered among women found a place among intellectuals through this work of literature, Balachandra writes so "innocently". That writer, what was he thinking! One little line and look what it’s done to Kerala. Why was no one asking Balachandra how to deal with these things? He would have told the writer to turn that line around a bit, and use it to tell the women of the house to have adakavum othukavum (be reserved and discreet) during those days and every other day. Turn invisible too if possible, he might add another line.

Balachandra then goes on to write the ultimate line. Women should not lose ‘Bharatheeya sthreekal than bhava shuddi’ (the purity of Indian women) by falling into the traps of those who find masturbation and menstruation as topics of discussion. “It is women who make themselves products," he says. He has not even spared the magazine cover that “tried to make some business by featuring a woman breastfeeding”. He should know all about it, for he too had once worked for a magazine, one that was infamous for its gossip columns.

It is after this generous offering of wisdom that Balachandra goes for the jackpot – there are no problems between man and woman, that can’t be solved with a look and a naughty smile. “You don’t need to go to the family court when the wife says, ‘Chettan (husband) does not have the same love anymore’. All you need to do is give her more consideration and love.” Clap, clap. It was so easy. The man just has to love more, that’s all it takes. Balachandra must have found it so incredible that people didn’t know something so simple. It needed him, who had been on a break from Facebook, to come back and write this long note.

If this goes on, he fears, this evil media might force women giving birth to share their “sweet experiences” right at that very moment! There’s nothing wrong in women being shy, Balachandra knows. “I doubt if there is any woman without shyness. Why else does the court hear some cases ‘in camera’? Why is a woman judge asked for?" he demands to know.

That’s right, he's not above making a sly reference to the woman actor who was assaulted two years ago in a moving car, and who had requested for a woman judge for her case. One of the accused in the case is another actor – Dileep, who had, after the assault, commented that the survivor should have thought of the company she was keeping, with the likes of Pulsar Suni – the prime accused. A victim blaming sentiment you'd easily find in a Balachandra Menon film. Ah, if only these displays of male entitlement and violence could be solved with a look and a naughty smile!

Cris is a journalist who likes to say she is a writer and troubles her editors with longish features on just about anything. Views expressed are the author's own.

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