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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Exploring Queer Identity in the Malayalam movie 'Mumbai Police' (2013)

Malayalam literature reflects the spirit of accommodation and has over
the centuries developed a tradition which, even while rooted in the
locality, is truly universal in taste. It is remarkably free from the
provincialisms and parochial prejudices that have bedeviled the
literature of certain other areas. Legends and folklore have often
taken the place of historical facts and chronology has been
consciously or unconsciously tampered with. Malayalam movie industry
There is much archival evidence on the role Indian cinema played in
the last 100 years to break taboos and create tolerance towards the
transsexuals, transgenders and homosexuals. In spite of its interest
in same gender relationships and transgender behaviors, Indian Cinema
industry is still a powerful ideological apparatus that criticizes
'non straight' subjectivities and pleasures. The cinematic
representations of queer relations in Deepa Mehta's Fire (1997), Karan
Razdan's Girl Friend (2004) and Tarun Manukshishi's Dostana (2008) are
not essentially queer in the sense that it victimizes or mocks its
characters in the 'regime of the normal'. (Michael Warner: 27) While
filmmakers were trying to step outside the beaten track of traditional
Indian themes, there was no allowance for portrayal of same sex, a
subject that was still taboo in a country where the discourse on sex
itself is bound by moral restriction.
Indian film industry has flourished over the last 100 years. Rooted to
reality subjects, a comparatively lesser interest in larger than life
heroes and histrionics, subjects with social relevance filmed without
frills and flavours and a film-literate public who applaud good work
are something which only Malayalam films can boost of. The tradition
of compulsory heterosexuality determines and distort the narrative
dynamics of 'non straight' movies in India. Cinema in Kerala, though
one of the most acclaimed film industries in the country, is not an
exception to this homophobia. In Malayalam it is difficult to have
straight queer movie that celebrates a difference. The Malayalam film
makers in general dared not to break images of heteronormativity that
come as a continuation of an age old oral and visual tradition and
with which the audience are easily identified. In the last twenty
years the queer identity has come to be taken more seriously in arts.
Books had men declaring their sexual identity in no uncertain terms
while cinema struggled to strike a balance between the morally
acceptable lines the makers still complied to with the changing times.
The depiction of homosexuality in Malayalam cinema has always been
timorous. One of the earliest film dates back to the 1978 film Randu
Penkuttikal (Two Girls), directed by Mohan. The film was inspired by a
lesbian novel Randu Penkuttikalude Katha (The Tale of Two Girls), and
shows a close relationship between two girls. But, it ends with both
marrying men, and one of the characters dismissing their relationship
as "just a phase". In 1986, Padmarajan made a film that hinted at a
lesbian relationship between the lead characters, Desadanakili
Karayarilla (Migratory Birds Don't Cry). The leads were two runaway
school girls, one of whom dressed like a boy. The sight of her
friend's proximity to a man causes the girl emotional distress.
However homosexuality is just an under-current in the film. The first
Malayalam film that probably addressed lesbianism openly was Ligy J
Pullappally's 2004 movie Sancharram (Travel) but it was confined to
art circles and never really came into the mainstream.
Mumbai Police is a 2013 Indian Malayalam Crime thriller film written
by Bobby-Sanjay and directed by Roshan Andrrews. It features
Prithviraj, Jayasurya and Rahman in the lead roles, and is distributed
by Central Picures. Roshan Andrews's Mumbai Police is a movie that has
scores of non-straight potential homosexual deposits. Though it is
impossible to have a 'public queer' movie in a homophobic society like
ours we can trace queer dynamics in these movies. A queer
interpretation foregrounds the potency of cinema in remolding
subjectivities, desires and pleasures in multicultural contexts. It
helps us to perceive the ways in which patriarchy and its allies
negotiate with the potentially disruptive instincts, striving to
maintain a normative order that compliments their agenda. Hence queer
analysis is not one that attempts to look at things from a different
angle, but one that seeks to demolish those very angles that
perpetuate hetero-patriarchal visions. So by targeting the deep text
of the movies, the paper attempts to tease out the queer implications
that run silently through this gustatory narrative and to foreground
the fact that queer tastes of 'Malayalees' have been suppressed in
the unconscious layers of the text that apparently proclaims the
'divinity' of the straight heterosexual coupling.
The plot of the narrative is as follows: The movie opens with ACP
Antony Moses (Prithviraj) getting into an accident which causes him, a
partial memory loss. Before the accident, he had solved the murder
case of his friend, Assistant Commissioner Aaryan John Jacob
(Jayasurya), who was killed during a gallantry awards ceremony. Antony
gets into the accident while talking to his senior officer and
brother-in-law Farhan Ashraf (Rahman) Commissioner of police. He tells
him that the case is solved but before giving the name of the
murderer, accident occurs. After the treatment Farhan tells Antony,
about his past and the tragedy occurred to their friend, Aaryan. He
reassigns Antony Moses, back to the case. After the accident Antony
Moses faces many issues because of his memory loss. He tries to
complete the investigation with his clever ideas and implementing it
with finesse. . Antony re investigates the case during which he finds
out the murderer.
The story takes a twist as Antony Moses discovers darker sides of his
own personality and the strength and integrity of the friendship he
shared with the 'Mumbai Police' group, which is concreted by a
personal video taken by the fiancée of Aaryan, just before the award
ceremony,in which Aaryan rehearses his speech for the ceremony. This
video causes a visible change in him and he delves deeper into the
investigation with more personal desire for the truth.
It is then revealed in a shocking scene that Antony is in fact
secretly gay, and had a seemingly sexual relationship with another gay
man who happens to be a pilot for an international airline. The memory
impaired Antony rebuffs his sexual advances and breaks down knowing
the truth about his sexuality and violent personality with criminal
tendencies which was a mask to his sexual orientation (which would be
regarded as being especially shameful in the police force). It is then
shown in a flashback that Aaryan was a witness to one of his sexual
affairs and threatened Antony and his lover that he will do what is
necessary according to protocol and breaks their friendship. A
distraught Antony then plans an elaborate scheme to murder Aaryan at
the awards ceremony before he supposedly discloses the shameful truth
about Antony. After the murder he takes up the investigation charge
and finally comes to the conclusion that he himself was the murder.
Actually Farhan was making use of Antony to get all the evidences by
himself so that he can arrest him. In the end it is revealed that only
because of the reason that the truth about his sexuality (gay
identity) of Antony was revealed, he killed his friend.
In a fleeting scene, swathed in darkness; this movie has thrown a
shaft of light on an issue that is often ignored in our society. Thus
the director has tried to explore a different dimension in this film.
The climax of Mumbai Police is a hazy shot of lovemaking between two
male actors. The act leads to the murder of a police officer, a twist
on which the entire tale hangs. The film, the scene, and the character
of Anthony Moses have sparked quite a bit of discussion since
Malayalam cinema has never before portrayed a hero as gay. Heroes in
mainstream Malayalam cinema have always personified macho perfection.
They thrash bad guys, and romance beauties. So a gay character is
quite a significant character.
Since normative vision of heterosexuality gets a comfortable
popularity and an easy acceptance in the usual discourses of Malayalam
cinema, no one dare to picturize a queer theme. But those texts which
are apparently heterosexual in nature and pander to the audience's
need for heterosexual romance curtain an unconscious that is directly
opposed to such an interpretation. Mumbai Police by Roshan Andrews is
such a text that reveals this kind of opposition between its surface
and its unconscious queer desire. Prithviraj breaks the typical 'hero'
mold and challenges sexual stereotyping. Queer theory also aims to
examine hitherto unheard of voices, suppressed narratives, as well as
the development of counter-hegemonic queer discourses that talk about
same sex and other perverse desires and subjectivities. Sanjay, who
scripted the film with his brother Bobby, says they were not trying to
break a new ground and the film is based on the Freudian theory that
any person who exhibits extreme manliness is hiding something, and the
moment there is danger of his secret being revealed, he will go to any
extent, including murder. With the upcoming of this movie it is clear
that Malayalam film industry is no longer closing its eyes to an issue
that always existed in our society.
The title of the movie has no significance to the actual sequences of
events. Here through the language of film the director has tried to
establish the queer identity of the character. In the last segments he
really shows the problems that the protagonist have to face in his
later life, once his identity is revealed in front of the society. He
clearly mentions how society will respond to his hidden identity.
Queer theory rejects the idea that sexuality is something determined
by biology. In this movie the sexual power is embedded in a different
level of social life but the director himself finally concludes that
this identity is not something that is accepted by the society.
Society isolates him and he is a stranger in the normative society.
The suppressed narrative of Antony Moses is the hidden secret that is
revealed in the climax. The main character is a 'heterosexual queer'
in the sense that he go against the hetero- normative scripts by
challenging conventions. Thus this movie tried to deconstruct the
understanding of 'queer identity' and the mainstream Malayalam movie.

Prepared by Dhanya Zacharias, 1324128 (I MA English)

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory An Introduction to Literary and
Cultural Theory. 3rd. New Delhi : Viva Books, 2012. Print.


Anonymous said...

I m confused about the timing when the the video was shot. I mean when was the rehearsing speech shot in the film? Is it before knowing the sexual identity of the male lead or after?

Anonymous said...

The timing is nowhere mentioned in the film!?