The 2005 Malayalam film Chanthupottu showed the central character played by Dileep as a "cross dresser," a man who developed feminine gestures because his grandmother raised him like a girl. And ultimately, he discovers his ‘masculine self.’
The film went on to win Dileep the Special Jury award at the Kerala State Film Awards that year, besides becoming a blockbuster hit.
However, the discussions on how the film portrayed the queer community and painted them in a certain way to generate humour, did not see many takers.
On Thursday, Muhammed Unais, a gay man from Kerala took to Facebook to recount how the film that was high on anti-minority content went on to become a celebrated film, but wronged people like him.
Directed by Lal Jose, Dileep's film Chanthupottu released when Muhammed was studying in Class 7.
"It was may be because my gait and the way I spoke were different from the majority of boys, that some of my classmates and seniors teased me, calling me a girl. When the Malayalam teacher at my tuition class pointed at me and said that I am like the Chanthupottu in the new film, the whole class erupted in laughter. Even as everyone laughed gleefully, what I felt was a shooting pain in my chest. After that episode, I stopped going to the tuition class," Muhammed wrote in Malayalam.
The name Chanthupottu, however, reached the school the very next day, he remembers.
"Although that film – that was high on anti queer-minority content – went away from the theatres, the name Chanthupottu stuck with me. For me, it was impossible to spend each day. I wanted to kill myself, but my religious belief that taking my own life would land me in hell prevented me from doing so," he said.
Opening up about how the fear gripped him enough to even restrict his physical movement, Muhammed wrote:
"That was the time when I was the laughing stock during the day, and at night, I would stay awake and cry. I was scared to leave the house, I was scared to be with people. I constantly feared that I would be laughed at. There used to be a time when I would have lunch in the classroom and not go out to wash my lunch box. I would quietly shut it, keep it in my bag and wash my hands using the water from my bottle. When that suffocated me too much, I went to consult a psychiatrist in Class 9. I still remember crying my heart out to him in a closed room. The medicines I was given gave me strength."
The episode at his tuition class was not an isolated one and the repeated teasing from peers and teachers were proof of that.
"During my school days, male teachers have taunted me very often. In a combined class which had students I didn't even know, a male teacher walked with such feminine gait, saying that was how I walked. The class couldn't control their laughter. Such episodes made me feel like the earth shattered and I was going down in it. This is exactly what I saw in mainstream, popular films. To send the audience into a laughing fit, you showed male characters with exaggerated feminine gestures," he wrote.
Referring to yet another superhit film Action Hero Biju, in which popular actor Nivin Pauly played the role of the no-nonsense police officer Biju Poulose, Muhammed wrote about how this film, too, used anti-queer content as a tool to bring in humour.
"When the audience heartily laughed at seeing a person hold SI Biju Poulose's hand, that scene has also hurt several others. The role that such mainstream, popular films play in reinforcing certain attitudes and prejudices of the society, isn't negligible. I felt pity at hearing that Action Hero Biju, a film that is full of anti-queer, anti-minority and anti-women content was adjudged the best film. It is scary when Nivin Pauly said that the society needed such policemen like Biju Poulose and when our government agreed. These instances have created the thought in minorities like me, that we are living in a society that has no hope of becoming inclusive," Muhammed wrote.
The recent cyber attack against leading actor Parvathy, for saying that the media giant Mammootty's film Kasaba was sexist, is what prompted Muhammed to speak up on how mainstream films often reinforce societal prejudices.
He said that if the Class 7 boy had killed himself after Chanthupottu released, then he would not have been able to see the actor's and director's hypocrisy concretely exposed 11 years later. Eleven years down the lane, he wouldn't have been able to see a bold woman take on the big names and call out the sexism in their films, Muhammed said.
Addressing actor Parvathy, Muhammed went on to say that she had showed courage in standing up to all the men who were trying to prove their manliness and taking them on unabashedly by saying OMKV.
"You have already won. To live one's life boldly, this is the kind of attitude one needs. You are now speaking for all the minorities who were wronged in several mainstream movies. You are giving them so much energy and courage. You are a ray of hope!" Muhammed wrote.
While Muhammed's post has resonated with many on social media and is being widely shared, actor Parvathy also took note of his post.
"I salute you, Unais. You who braved through the toughest of times. I apologise on behalf of my industry for inflicting this pain. To you and so many others like you. This one goes out to all those who still claim cinema doesn't influence society. Please do not belittle personal struggles by calling them a minority. If you start looking around, you'll realise it's everywhere. Do the thing. Stop being so blind! " she said. (sic)
I salute you, Unais. You who braved through the toughest of times. I apologise on behalf of my industry for inflicting this pain. To you and so many others like you. (1/2)— Parvathy T K (@parvatweets) December 21, 2017
This one goes out to all those who still claim cinema doesn't influence society. Please do not belittle personal struggles by calling them a minority. If you start looking around, you'll realise it's everywhere. Do the thing. Stop being so blind! (2/2)— Parvathy T K (@parvatweets) December 21, 2017