Birth Pangs of the Malayalee Moral Police

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KOCHI ~ In God’s own agitated country, there is now one more strange form of cultural policing at work. Conservative Malayalees are trying to ensure that a movie scene that shows a real birth delivery is not screened. 

Shwetha Menon, a former Miss India runner-up and an award-winning film actress, recently gave birth to a baby girl at Nanavati Nursing Home in Mumbai and the delivery was shot on camera for her upcoming Malayalam film Kalimannu (Clay). For the filmmakers, the hard part is what followed.

Mahila Morcha, the BJP women’s wing in the state, has said it would not allow the screening of the film because “it is an insult to motherhood”. G Karthikeyan, Assembly Speaker and former cultural minister of the Congress, too, said it was “immoral”. In a television interview, he went a degree cheesier than the BJP and said that the director and actress would also shoot “the acts that lead to a woman’s pregnancy”. Liberty Basheer, president of Film Exhibitor’s Federation (FEF), also declared that his organisation would not facilitate the film’s screening. This makes it tough for the director Blessy to screen the film since 350 theatres in Kerala are attached to the FEF.

For many cinema viewers in Kerala, a delivery shot live on camera is not new.  Thousands who flocked to the many film festivals hosted by Kerala have watched Nine Months (by Hungarian director Marta Meszaros) and Tin Drum (by German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff), which have extensive shots of childbirth. They have been shown in Kerala’s cinema halls too. “Screening of such foreign films at festivals is a different matter. They are meant for a different category of audience,” says Basheer.

In 1994, Shwetha became famous in Kerala when she emerged as second runner-up in the Miss India pageant (Sushmita Sen won that year and Aishwarya Rai was first runner-up). In 2001, too, she had shocked conservative Malayalees as a model in an advertisement for condom brand Kama Sutra. Neither she nor Blessy wanted to comment on the issue.