Pillai, Meena T. ‘“Camera Obscura” to “Camera Dentata”: Women Directors and the Politics of Gender in Malayalam Cinema’. BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies. Published ahead of print, 15 September 2020.
Abstract (edited): This article examines women directors in Malayalam cinema as historical subjects, looking at the manner in which they place themselves within Kerala’s cultural semiotics and its popular imaginary, disrupting or legitimising an illusion coded to the measure of gender desires and differences within its semiosphere.
The logic of commercial cinema demands that women directors fall in sync with the representative politics of the male gaze and a capitalist libidinal economy, seducing women into passive codes of femininity and aligning men within the registers of a hegemonic masculinity, in effect foreclosing the play of alternative languages of desire. Malayalam cinema has had two kinds of women directors, one who tries to puncture this logic from within the male bastions of popular cinema, and the second who strives to be an ‘other’ to the myth-makers of the phallic order.
The article attempts to read the first mode of intervention using the Marxian specular metaphor of the camera obscura as a hierarchical apparatus of ideological inversion where the real is substituted by a spectacle of the illusory. To analyse the latter, the article puts forward the metaphor of camera dentata—that modus of representation which seeks to topple the patriarchal and capitalist ideological predispositions of the cinematic apparatus, thus rendering it capable of diminishing the power of phallic signifiers and ‘the moral panics of sexuality’ they engender.