‘Ullozhukku’ Unpacks Internalised Patriarchy Through The 2018 Kerala Floods

A screenshot from the trailer for Ullozhukk, a malayalam movie starring Urvashi and Parvathy Thiruvoth
Ullozhukku by Christo Tomy

The female experience of being helpless and stuck in scenarios out of our control can perhaps be compared to that of being stuck in a flood. The situation is entirely out of our control and we’re all stuck making the best of what life has dealt us. Those of us who have lived through the floods know how it can fundamentally change you. Before 2018, I romanticised monsoons and the joy of curling up with a good book and my monsoon playlists. But now, every time there's a cloudburst, I am scared that it is ramping up to another flood. When I went to watch the movie, 'Ullozhukk', it was an intense reminder of this pivotal event that changed lives and minds. 

Bridging the metaphor and the literal, Ullozhukk is a 2018 Malayalam movie, set in the low-lying area of Kuttanad in Kerala during the floods that occured. It speaks to the experience of being helpless to do nothing but play the cards that life has dealt you. After all, when disaster strikes, those without power are the ones often left in the lurch. We saw instances of this when domestic violence numbers soared during the pandemic. We even saw a sharp rise in those seeking help for mental health concerns after being stuck in homes that were unsafe for them. The experience of COVID and those who were affected by the 2018 flood could perhaps be seen as comparable. 

'Ullozhukk', which translates to 'undercurrent', is a poignant, overwhelmingly real movie about the female experience, and our acts of internalised patriarchy.The story builds slowly and keeps you engaged, but with a palpable sense of foreboding. It revolves around the characters of Leelamma and her daughter-in-law Anju.

Arguably two of the best in the malayalam movie industry in the last few decades, the actresses, Urvashi and Parvathy Thiruvothu, embody their characters with an earnest and poignent gravitas. When Leelamma’s son; the man that Anju unwillingly married, starts to decline in health and eventually passes away during the worst of the flood, the threads of their carefully constructed lives (and lies) begin to come apart at the seams. 

As the rain rages on and long-buried secrets start emerging from the depths, the movie sees two fallible women trying to navigate the predicament they have found themselves in. Ullozhukk takes you on a slow but evocative journey through the eyes of the protagonists. The men of the movie move to the periphery of the story as it unfolds and there is no virtue signalling or large declarations. Much like 'The Great Indian Kitchen', it tells a story that is realistic and relatable. 

It is befitting that this movie, written and directed by Christo Tomy, is one whose screenplay bagged the 2018 Cineistan India screenplay competition, coming out ahead of the screenplay for the critically acclaimed Laapata Ladies, written by Biplav Goswami. If Laapata Ladies painted a utopian land where things worked out for women, Ullozhukk stands in stark contrast and represents the intense reality of the real world we live in, which often works against women, despite our valient attempts to survive.