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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 fiancĂ©e 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.


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