Njan Marykutty Review: Jayasurya shines in this uplifting, myth-busting film
An realistic take on the life and struggles of transgender people
Before I discuss this film, I would like to make an admission. I used to have a fear of transgender people when I was a child. Whenever I saw them on trains, I prayed they wouldn't come near me. But after I grew up, and upon reading and learning more about them, I came to the realisation that they're no different from you and me. All they want, is to belong to the opposite gender -- and what's wrong with that?
Let’s first acknowledge the fact that in a place like Kerala, where mass entertainers featuring macho heroes are grandly celebrated, most conservative macho heterosexual men would approach a film like Njan Marykutty with a mild trepidation.
Director: Ranjith Shankar
Cast: Jayasurya, Jewel Mary, Innocent, Suraj Venjaramoodu
When we first see Marykutty, she is shunned by everyone around her, except for her mother, a benevolent priest (Innocent), an open-minded local RJ (Aju Varghese), and a sympathetic district collector (Suraj Venjaramoodu). Everyone else sees Marykutty as an outcast for choosing to abandon the much-desired life of a man in an extremely patriarchal society. One of the film's most powerful scenes has a female government officer insulting Marykutty by saying, "My biggest regret is that I'm not born a male...and then comes a character like you." To this, Marykutty strongly retorts: "That's because you don't know the value of a woman."
The best thing about Njan Marykutty is, undoubtedly, Marykutty, so convincingly and passionately played by Jayasurya that there were multiple moments where I had to remind myself that a man was playing the character. The film busts many of the cliches and myths that are usually associated with films about trans women or effeminate men. This is not a comedy like Mayamohini, Chanthupottu, or Avai Shanmughi; this is not an insensitive mimicry artist's portrayal of a trans person. Jayasurya is not 'playing' a woman; he lives the character.
Marykutty is a strong, educated, and an extremely sophisticated woman who doesn't need long, fiery monologues to convey her personality to others. It's in her eyes and in the way she moves. This is a woman who is fully confident in herself. For a brief period, Marykutty is seen working as an RJ who takes the calls of depressed men and comforts them. But they are unaware of the fact that the person on the other end of the line is a trans person. Maybe they would respond differently if they learnt this fact.
And Marykutty doesn't have a female voice yet -- it takes years after surgery to develop a female voice, it is explained. The film also doubles as a mini textbook on trans people. For example, it brings up a lesser known fact -- that it's possible for heterosexual men to feel sexually attracted to a trans woman. Marykutty's personal attorney desperately hopes to be in bed with her some day; and in another instance, a police officer makes a remark on the shape of her back.
It's possible that this film was inspired by the life of Tamil Nadu's Prithika Yashini, who became the first trans woman to become a sub-inspector. Marykutty aspires to be a police officer, and has the acumen and personality to make a good one. But obviously this is a massive challenge considering the fact that the local police see her as a threat to both their masculinity and their fraternity. "I can't even imagine saluting her," says one officer. There is a despicable sub-inspector (Joju George) who makes repeated attempts to humiliate and demotivate her. They constantly refer to her as "this thing". There is an intense pre-interval scene inside a police station that is reminiscent of Peter O'Toole's iconic torture scene from Lawrence of Arabia. It's one of the film's most emotional moments.
But Marykutty being the resilient fighter that she is, decides to hit back with all her might. Is this a feminist film? Marykutty would disagree. She would say this is a "humanist" film. During one particularly empowering moment, she says, "This is neither a man's world nor a woman's world. This is the world of ability." This is a film made for everyone. Remember the feeling you got when you saw Sylvester Stallone's Rocky for the first time? That's exactly the feeling I got from Njan Marykutty. In this age of excess negativity, we need more films like this.