I watched a 2019-Malayalam movie called ‘Kettyolaanu Ente Malakha’ on some OTT platform, a few months after its release. I watched it mainly because of the positive reviews showered on it for talking about a taboo topic – marital rape. Especially since some of these reviews came from people who do not take such a topic lightly, I was pretty excited to see what the makers had done with the theme. I have to say that my reaction was nothing less than utter disappointment, to such an extent that after delaying it for close to two years owing to my pregnancy and the subsequent rush, I still feel guilty about not writing out my disappointment. While a lot of people wouldn’t agree with me on this, as you will see from the ratings and reviews in general, I still feel it will be unfair if I don’t call the makers out for what they did with what should have been a bold theme. As I always say, better late than never.
A quick (my version of quick, I mean) summary of the movie is enough to prove my point: ***SPOILERS AHEAD, BIG TIME***
- Guy doesn’t want to get married because he doesn’t have any idea what sex is. He is also pretty much a jerk about people being in love.
- Guy decides to get married because his mother is old and needs someone at home to take care of her, and his entire family is forcing him to take the plunge.
- Girl decides to marry guy despite him not looking at her face and never talking to her even once before the wedding.
- Guy keeps stalling ‘alone time’ with girl to avoid having sex and girl finally wonders if there is something wrong (about time Sherlock!). Confrontation goes south though because guy lies that ‘aaal iiis well’ and runs away making excuses every time she tries talking to him.
- Guy listens to local assholes talking about how overpowering one’s wife in bed is machismo and has a light-bulb moment, thereby deciding to go ahead with this foolproof plan.
- Guy finds girl asleep in bed, does the deed despite her screaming – literally covering her mouth to stop her from screaming, pinning her down and raping her while inflicting bruises and cuts not just in her private area, but also visible ones elsewhere, which you see for the next couple of scenes… so much so that girl lies unconscious afterwards.
- Guy is happy with his performance until he finds girl not responding, lies to his mother about how the girl had complained of some uneasiness before and how she isn’t responding now, his entire family rushes into the room and sees what he has done and guy is beaten up by mom.
At this point, I sincerely believed that the movie would do justice to the theme in the second half and would move from a typical “simple village story” to a bold, possibly dark and disturbing, or at least somewhat realistic portrayal of a rape victim’s journey, especially when the rapist is her husband. That was where I went wrong, as you would see in the second half.
- Girl gets treated in hospital. Doctor lady yells at guy, threatens to inform the police and then leaves it at that because the priest at the local church, who is FYI also girl’s uncle and the one who got her this wonderful proposal, requests her to forgive guy for just this once.
- Girl comes back home, talks angrily to guy once.
- Girl’s NRI brother is enraged and tells her over the phone that she has all his support and…. yes, you guessed it – leaves it at that.
- Guy continues being an asshole, has no idea what he did wrong despite her openly visible wounds, talks shit about the doctor who yelled at him and goes about minding his business with a smirk.
- Local people make fun of guy. But family members, close friends and even the priest “uncle”, who by the way had told him before the wedding that people simply learn about sex on the go in a marriage, feel bad for the “innocent rapist”, who committed a “mistake” out of ignorance. (Cue to the justification for marital rape given by the makers – lack of sex education)
- Guy’s family is all nice to girl and…. yes, you guessed it again, keeps trying to get her to stay with him, because apparently “He’s an amazing guy at heart. Innocent and shit, you know.” Fine print: “Despite the fact that he raped you hardly two weeks ago.”
- Guy has his moment of epiphany when his friend and wife laugh about what a “kid” he is for not knowing how to go about sexual intimacy in marriage, and his friend gives him a “gem of wisdom” about how no animal ever overpowers its mate. (A simple Google search on “sexual coercion in animal kingdom” would have been enough to prick the writers’ bubble.)
- Guy apologizes to girl. Girl says she wants a divorce.
- Guy turns into a saint and has a constipated smile plastered on his face all the time to make it doubly clear to us that he is now a good guy who is in much pain deep inside. He is also a spokesperson now for lovers who elope. Girl is confused.
- Guy’s family gets angry if anyone mentions his (true) history of raping his wife and fights with them. Girl feels bad for guy.
- Guy wins award for pathbreaking agricultural work. Local people are now proud of the guy who till the day before was a “rapist” for them. Guy gets standing ovation from everyone. Girl is happy and congratulates guy, shaking his hand with a wide smile.
- Guy goes to drop girl off at her home and is showered with love by her unsuspecting relatives. Girl’s heart aches for guy.
- Guy tells girl he would leave early the next morning and free her forever.
- Girl is heartbroken and cries – verbatim – “Ichaya, have you decided that we should separate? I was not comfortable earlier. Now I am okay.”
- Guy confesses his undying love for girl, girl locks the bedroom from inside symbolizing her rediscovered trust in him, guy asks for permission to hug her symbolizing his newfound goodness.
- Guy and girl have sex right away.
- Guy and girl have more sex in the happily-ever-after montage during end credits.
- THE END.
Not much needs to be said about what is wrong with this movie after this synopsis. But just as an add on, let me go ahead and write out my frustration here.
If the makers wanted to come out with yet another “guy meets girl, they have some trouble and then they live happily ever after”-styled feel-good movie with all the “goodness of a village and the simple, lovable people there”, they should have just done that. They shouldn’t have taken up a theme as humongous as marital rape. In fact, they shouldn’t have taken up any theme which dealt with a huge, especially sexual, atrocity towards a woman, if their way forward was to go back to the “girl and guy live happily ever after” cliché with the very same guy who committed the atrocity and make it a “simple, family movie with its heart in the right place”.
By looking at the barely two and a half scenes-worth of “mild discomfort” on the victim’s face that they have tried to portray as the misery of a rape victim, I couldn’t help but wonder if the makers have any idea of what sexual assault is and the kind of unimaginable trauma it causes in the victim. There is absolutely no realistic portrayal of the victim’s emotional plight anywhere in the script that can touch your mind even a little, and you know that has nothing to do with the minimal acting skills of the lead actress. It is only because the makers have done something far from even skimming in touching upon that area. And then they say marital rape is the USP of this movie. *Slow clap*
In addition to this “injury”, they add “insult” in the form of showing the victim wanting to be with the very guy who raped her, going and telling him she doesn’t want to be separated because she is over her “discomfort” now – all because he was an innocent lad who didn’t know anything about sex, made an honest mistake out of his ignorance, but is still a guy any girl would be lucky to be with. Wow! If you thought “Not all men” posts as a blanket response to genuine issues women face can get on your nerves, this movie has gone one step ahead and whitewashed a rapist with the simplest and, probably, the lamest reason they could think of – “He didn’t know what he was doing.” The audacity to make that claim and make an entire movie based on that claim – unbelievable!
What normal and decent human being wouldn’t know when he is hurting another living being, let alone, his own wife? What human being with the least of brains wouldn’t understand when another person is literally writhing under his weight, struggling with all her might to get away from him, so much so that there are extremely painful cuts and bruises on her body when he is finished with his display of “ignorance”? Lack of sex education is indeed an issue that needs addressing in our society. But this is not the “addressing” it needs. Because what is shown in the movie is not a mistake that happens due to lack of sex education. It is one that happens because of one person blindly ignoring the extreme physical pain of another. You don’t need sex education to tell you when you are hurting another person physically, forget mentally and emotionally, or when you are crossing all boundaries of decency and humanity in invading someone’s body without so much as a question. You don’t need sex education to tell you that you are being an absolute brute in almost killing another person. You just need to be a good person.
There were many people hailing this movie for daring to talk about a taboo subject that needs to be talked about so as to make a difference. But what I felt was very simple – if you cannot talk about it right, then don’t talk about it at all. Because if you do, you are sending out an even more dangerous message to the society in the sweet disguise of goodness and innocence. In effect, you are doing far more damage with your half-hearted effort and consequent over-simplification of an issue that is, in reality, a much bigger danger with a much more brutal reason behind it. To sum it up, a guy who can rape a woman is not innocent, ignorant or “good at heart”. Stop trying to sell that load of crap to justify vile men who rape their own wives!
Also published on Medium.