Ms. Representation: One of us
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week we talk about Sreeja of Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum
Joining the list of my recent favourite Malayalam movie women, in the line of (everyone’s favourite) Malar of Premam and the delightful Lichi (of Angamaly Diaries), is Sreeja. Played by Nimisha Sajayan in sublime form, Sreeja is the absolute no-nonsense, no-make-up protagonist of Dileesh Pothan’s new film Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. She reminded me of gal pals from my school and college days. A disarming smile, a simple bindi, and a watch on the left hand are her only accessories. Oh, and a chain. How could I forget! That is at the heart (or in this movie’s case, stomach) of the story. Along with Fahad Faasil (who calls himself Prasad), the charming ‘antagonist’ underdog you find yourself rooting for, and Sooraj Venjaramoodu, who plays the gentle well-meaning husband Prasad, Nimisha’s Sreeja is the core of this gem of a film.
Sreeja, at the very beginning it is ascertained, is the one moving the film. It is her actions, her moral arc that the film traces and that is what I thoroughly loved about Thondimuthalum… She is a delightfully independent-minded woman (and they are so rare on screen), who does what she thinks is right. When Prasad wrongs her at the beginning of the movie — spreading gossip about our unmarried heroine buying a pregnancy test from a medical shop — she shames him the way any of us would when wronged. There is nothing theatrical about it. She confronts him, and then, is so frustrated by him that she spits on the ground, a ‘thoo’ that we, or some woman we know, may have reserved for when someone crosses a line of decency they mustn’t. Just so natural, but so effective that it almost feels like a slap. Sreeja’s actions are that of a moral being. Her morality sets the bar higher for those around her.
An important service to women on screen from Dileesh’s leading lady is the divorcing of the ‘cuteness’ completely from the role. Even the meet-cute isn’t cute. It’s a spat that is settled only when Prasad apologises profusely and then buys her a lemon juice. He wrongs her, she fights back, he apologises, she accepts, and then she befriends him, before falling in love and marrying him. There are rules, her rules, and they must be followed before she can accept you in her world. Sreeja is the angry young woman. She will have her revenge or ‘sorry’, whichever she wants from whoever has wronged her, thank you very much.
Later, when she accuses Prasad (Fahad Faasil) of stealing her chain, and has made up her mind that she will not relent, we see this streak again and it keeps the plot going. She isn’t going to listen to her husband and settle with the thief; she isn’t going to let her husband lecture her on being careful with their wedding chain while a professional thief has made away with it; she isn’t going to not marry the man she wants to because of things like caste and her family.
She will do things on her terms and when she wants. Be it locking someone up behind bars or gifting him freedom.
Other women in the film appear briefly, her mother, sister, women at her in-laws’ home, a live stage singer (singing a beautiful number, ‘Aayilyam’), a cop’s wife reprimanding the cop for being too tough, but each of them is just as natural and just as real.
Before I go, I would like to congratulate Dileesh on a great joke about ‘feminists’ from a drunkard thrown behind bars by his wife and mother. I laughed out so loud.
(The writer is a city-based journalist and editor.)