Puthiya niyamam (new law) is the new generation Malayalam thriller starring Mammootty and Nayanthara in lead roles. It talks about the one topic that is used (or misused) by the media and the society for sensational purposes, i.e. Violence Against Women or VAW. It follows the traces left by 2012 cult film 22 female Kottayam, and like that inspite of trying it’s level best to hold on to the feminist tag, Puthiya niyamam magnifies it’s, unintentional, anti-feminist message.
Vasuki Iyer (Nayanthara) is a kathakali artist who shares a loving relationship with her husband Louis Pothen (Mammootty), a television critic and a divorce lawyer. Vasuki is shown as anti-social introvert who keeps brushing her husband and daughter away with her straight face. Later, it is revealed that he she was brutally raped by 2 young men and a cloth presser. She is confided by DCP Jeena (Sheelu Abraham) who promises her retribution in the form of revenge.
A still from puthiyaniyamam
The reason why I spoke briefly of 22 female Kottayam is because of the resemblance of the plot, structure, and overall tone. Also, the film itself is mentioned now and then for Vasuki to get her motivation. We have a woman who is thirsty for revenge but at the same time, she chose to remain quite because of the social aversion she might face (as mentioned in 22 fk). The society, in general, sees women’s body as a vessel that needs to be conserved (overprotected) all the time. Just like their general attitude towards a sexually independent, a woman who is sexual assaulted is seen as a damaged vessel and thus the social aversion, because of which rape is considered as one of the worst crimes that could happen. Now the question is, is it really?
A movie like Puthiya niyamam with a strong female character, extracting revenge against her rapists by killing/ making them kill themselves will garner applause from women and family audience. In a male dominated industry where hypermasculine films are currently making their progress, a character like Vasuki is very rare to find. But, at the same time, they highlight everything that’s wrong in so-called feminist film scenario while doing their story-making process. The lead character who extracts revenge on her own instead of going to her macho savior and it is only feminist friendly element. But the message it depicts makes it more anti-feminist when analysed closely. Vasuki describes herself as a damaged vessel whose life will never be the same as someone else entered her by force. Rape is painful and traumatic, no doubt about it, but the society’s general attitude towards this crime makes one a victim than a survivor; with their victim blaming/slut shaming attitude. Because of this, the survivors are forced to endure their pain in silence. As per the film, Vasuki’s deeds in a way concurs with the whole idea of victimization and thus the only form of retribution she can get is if the perpetrators are killed.
A film is a medium that watched, worshipped, sometimes considered as life or inspiration by the mass and therefore, they should provide a better message. The best way in which the filmmakers could pay tribute to the sexual assault survivors is by stopping this whole process of victimization. Firstly, killing the rapists is not practical in real life, secondly, murder is also a crime as bad as rape, thirdly, the survivors are not the ones who lose their dignity and it is just sad that the filmmakers in general never agree with that aspect. Vasuki works on trapping her assaulters one by one, in this process, she helps in humiliating another woman (related to her) in a very traditional manner. Of course, she is just a collateral damage because of her association with Vasuki’s rapist. Revenge is not a straight line, it is an endless circle where another person with the need for vengeance is born, so if this woman finds out about Vasuki then she will probably extract her revenge against her. And the whole categorization of women as “sister/daughter/wife/mother” is another fault; feminism talks about woman’s right to autonomy and, how she should be respected as an individual. So, films and stories that deal with VAW can be considered feminist friendly only as long as the survivors get justice and instead of cold-blooded revenge.
The movie also tries to raise a message or two against the usage of drugs like Marijuana and LSD, indirectly blaming it for corrupting the minds of the young men thus making them lascivious. As a person, I am dead against the usage of drugs and excess alcohol, but scientifically there have been many studies that stated that Marijuana might be safer than cigarette and alcohol. It would have been more convincing if those boys were drunk than “stoned”. It is the mindset that makes an individual who he is, the misogynist sadistic mindset is born from a much bigger problem in India than the crime itself, the rape culture. While, Puthiya niyamam irrevocably talks about the “new law” that is needed for women’s safety, i.e. capital punishment for her rapists, the real issue that needs to be considered is the mindset that excuses rape as a “normal” phenomenon.
Puthiya niyamam is just a rape and revenge film that can entertain the audience members. The pacing is very slow but then build up is good enough for the adrenaline rush the climax creates and there’s an unexpected twist at the end, one of the reasons why it received applause from the audience (especially from Mammootty fans). For once a woman is allowed have her play in a superstar starrer film with a theme like this, though one might think “why is Mammukka cast in this movie other than to just nag?“. The final act as expected is his. Mammootty stuck to his controlled acting and delivered exactly what we want to see. Vasuki was indeed a different role for Nayanthara and she pulled it off well, although at times she seemed out of character with her stereotyped expressions. The rape scene was uncomfortable to watch and it works as a stab for the audience. The camera works, editing and tone resembled 22 female Kottayam with occasional flashbacks and slow motion during the rape scene. The pacing fastens after that and the scenes that follow creates the adrenaline rush, and satisfaction in the minds of the general audience. Puthiya niyamam is a good one time watch thriller with ample suspense, but it is cringing when analysed from the feminist point of view.
Featured image: screenshot