Kerala: May 11, Delhi: May 25, 2018
Aparna Balamurali, Askar Ali, Kavya Suresh, Baiju, Kochu Preman
When we first meet her as a teenager, the heroine of Kaamuki has just one preoccupation: she wants larger breasts so that lecherous men will stalk and harass her.
Yes, you read that right. This is not about a pubescent kid’s increasing awareness of her changing body, nor about a girl’s new-found interest in boys, or even an immature young woman’s desire for male attention. Let me say it again, slowly, so that it sinks in: Kaamuki’s leading lady Achamma Varghese a.k.a. Achu w.a.n.t.s. l.a.r.g.e.r. b.r.e.a.s.t.s. s.o. t.h.a.t. l.e.c.h.e.r.o.u.s. m.e.n. w.i.l.l. s.t.a.l.k. a.n.d. h.a.r.a.s.s. h.e.r. She does not consider it stalking or harassment, of course. She has far more positive nouns and adjectives for such obnoxious male behaviour. And the film’s attempt through that entire segment is to draw laughs from the audience courtesy the young woman’s desperation.
It goes without saying that writer-director Binu S’s Kaamuki (Female Lover) belongs to the Omar Lulu school of crude, deeply disturbing cinema. It is politically incorrect and insensitive not just on the gender front, as you will learn later in this review. In fact, it is deficient in pretty much all departments: it lacks focus, it jumps from theme to theme, it is heroine-centric in the opening half but relegates Achu to a supporting role in the hero’s existence post-interval, and it is brimful of clichés about Kerala college life.
At first it appears that this will be a comedy about a girl who is burdened with the old-fashioned name Achamma in the modern world. Next it heads in the direction of being a comedy about a girl from a conservative home – the same Achamma – anxious to catch the eye of a man, any available man, leery ones included. Finally Kaamuki rolls around to being the tale of a boy who is blind but does not want his disability to define him.
The latter gentleman is Hari, Achu’s collegemate when she enrols for a post-graduate degree in social work, and soon the object of her affection. Her initial encounters with him and his best friend Jaffer at their college in Kerala’s Kalady town are designed to play to the gallery with the widely perpetuated notion that sexual harassment is usually a figment of women’s imagination as a result of which paavam men constantly get into trouble for things they did not do or intend.
Having spent Kaamuki’s first half wincing at the light-hearted tone Binu S. adopts while portraying men – including teachers – flinging words like “piece” and “item” around to describe women in Achu’s college, casually hounding these women and worse, I spent the second half shuddering at his idea of what it takes to move an audience to tears at the travails of a sightless man.
In a scene that puts in the shade everything that passed before it in Kaamuki, a father’s proprietorial attitude towards his daughter prompts him to test a blind man’s husband-worthiness by challenging him to locate the girl in a crowd without any help. She allows it to happen. The gathering too allows it to happen, convinced no doubt about a man’s ownership rights over his daughter. And it does not occur to the couple that the decision to be with the boy should be the girl’s and hers alone.
The hypocrisy and muddled nature of Kaamuki, and the lack of intelligence in India’s film Censorship system are particularly glaring in two scenes in which the following words flash on screen: “Violence against women is punishable under law.” Whether the declaration was voluntarily placed there by Binu S. or forced on him by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), it illustrates Indian society’s twisted understanding of “violence”. The line first appears when Achu’s father hits his other daughter for marrying a man of her choice; and later when a male collegemate attempts to intimidate Achu, only to be punched by Jaffer.
It seems not to matter to anyone involved that before Achu’s Dad struck her elder sister, considerable time in the film had been devoted to trivialising sexual harassment while Achu longs for her breasts to attract random lewd men. While the father physically attacking a daughter elicits these words of censure on screen, what is one to say of the romanticisation of that later scene in which the same father denies another daughter her agency and is cruel to the man she loves? Or the fact that Jaffer, who seeks to protect Achu from a sexual predator, is predatory towards other women? For the record, this horrific film has been awarded the mildest available CBFC rating: U, which means it has been deemed fit for viewing by children.
If this were a non-descript venture it would be a separate matter, but Kaamuki has the redoubtable Aparna Balamurali playing Achu. Ever since this young star sparkled as Jimsy in the memorable Maheshinte Prathikaram (2016), I have been silently willing Mollywood to give her the central role in a quality film worthy of her, longing to see her in a heroine-led film about her character’s prathikaram, her swargarajyam, her suvisheshangal, her premalekhanam, her Edanthottam – the sort that tends to orbit men and routinely falls into the laps of male actors who are as talented or far less than she is.
No doubt the trailer and first half of Kaamuki revolve around her, but a woman-centric project such as this is as harmful to women as a male-centric film with the same mindset, since the director and indulgent audience members in the case of the former are likely to use the importance given to its heroine as a defence against charges of anti-women prejudice (just as the mere decision to have a blind man as the hero might be held up as a shield against criticism of this film’s horrendous treatment of disability). No Binu S., making Achamma dance in a mundu or getting her to say she wants a man for fun and not for love – “You mean premam? Athu okke veliye thalavedneyaa (That stuff’s a big headache). Only entertainment.” – does not absolve you of your misogyny.
Aparna Balamurali, how could you degrade yourself by signing up for Kaamuki?
Rating (out of five stars): -10 Stars
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost:
Posters courtesy: IMDB