She enters the room, unaware that a man has sneaked under her bed. After drawing the curtains, she undresses, and the man gets a peek of her in the nude. Overwhelmed, he walks out in a daze as the landlady shouts after him. He reaches his apartment, still in a daze, and describes her at length to his equally curious friend. It’s a much celebrated cutesy, romantic scene from the Priyadarshan film, Vandanam, where Mohanlal plays that guy under the bed and looks adorable and endearing as well.
Now picture this in real life. Imagine a guy hidden under your bed, watching you while you undress, following and pestering you at work, while you are travelling and at home? Imagine him blackmailing you for an intimate hug in office and even getting away with it? And imagine him singing his heart out as he follows you everywhere like a lovesick puppy? It’s one of the most celebrated instances of stalking being glorified in Malayalam cinema.
While romantic comedies/dramas have always been about happily-ever-after-endings and intense, heartfelt romance, the truth is that a lot of it shows creepy, problematic behaviour that makes women think that doggedly stalking them is part of legitimate wooing. It also speaks about the wooing tropes that have been the norm since ages—stalking, denial, agreeing, courtship, chocolates and happy ending.
For the longest time, a hero (and they make sure he has the chocolatiest face ever) pursuing a heroine was deemed charming and romantic—in fact, the narrative was incomplete without the token stalking. It was as inevitable as the foreplay before the consummation scene.
In the Rajeev Ravi directorial Annayum Rasoolum, a spin on the bard’s Romeo and Juliet, Rasool, a local driver, falls madly in love with Anna, a salesgirl, at first sight. As is the case with most love stories on screen, his courtship begins with methodically stalking her everywhere—right from the instance when she boards a means of transport, paying unexpected visits at her place of work to finding her home. For someone in the throes of their teenage or young adulthood, the staging might seem achingly “romantic,” more so as it’s Fahadh Faasil with his large hurt puppy eyes playing the part and a director like Rajeev Ravi helming it.
Take away those rose-tinted glasses and in all likelihood you will see a stranger staring at you unblinkingly from the other side of the wall, as you are about to take out the dry clothes at night. His eyes are unwaveringly directed at you, as you are trying to display some saris to the customers at your workplace. Or you will feel that uncomfortable gaze as you are hurriedly getting on the boat.
Men are entitled to woo and women to be wooed and the other way around makes the women undesirable. Indian cinema has been going by this archaic patriarchal definition of romantic courtship for ages. But this obsessive lover isn't exclusive to our industries. Remember The Notebook which had Ryan Gosling pen a letter for every day of a calendar year for his ex? That would be 365 letters! Though she never received it, it’s an unhealthy and bizarre way to showcase love. Wasn’t Tom Hanks stalking Meg Ryan in arguably one of the most loved celluloid romances of all times, You’ve Got Mail?
In Thenkasipattanam, Dileep’s character tenaciously stalks Kavya Madhavan’s character all through her college life and when she quits to avoid him, he follows her home and even manages to get employed at her brothers’ company. The scene where he jokes about biding his time for her to say yes turned out to be an effective cover-up of the situation.
Ranjith’s Mayamayooram has the hero follow the heroine everywhere, secretly taking her pictures at a public function and mailing it to her, playing hide and seek and eventually winning her over.
Chithram’s hero also fervently pursues the lover, till she agrees. The most problematic case occurs in Shaji Kailas’ Kilukkampetti, where the hero who is an architect, opts to turn into a househelp at the heroine’s home to woo her. From befriending her daughter, to feigning to be this innocent illiterate man, it’s a situation that is positively hazardous if it happens in real life.
In Fazil’s Manathe Vellitheru the hero stalks a celebrated singer, day in and day out, and is shown as someone with psychological issues. It’s the only instance when it's shown as a problem.
The positive side is that in stark comparison to Bollywood (Sultan, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Badrinath ki Dulhania, Raanjhanaa, Tere Naam, Wanted, Saawariya) and Tamil films (several), Malayalam cinema hasn't really had quintessential stalker films which glorify the obsessive madness of a stalker, and nor have these films tried to create empathy for the stalker by trying to cover up the criminal repercussions of their violence. However, though stalking has been shown in "fun", "harmless" doses, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that even that “harmless fun” is perceived romantically among impressionable young minds.
From 2014, stalking has been deemed a form of violence against women under IPC Section 354D and is punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term up to three to five years. Taking all these into consideration, it is high time stalking doesn’t get portrayed as a wooing tip but just as the condemnable act of crime that it is.
This article was first published on Fullpicture.in. The News Minute has syndicated the content. You can read the original article here.