Malayalis are the best when it comes to trolling. Politicians, actors, common man – no one is spared from the ruthless trolling and meme-ing. The wit and sarcasm are unmatched. The pop culture meme and troll pages on Facebook and Instagram pages, like International Chalu Union and Troll Memes Malayalam, drive that point home.
But this pop culture space has always been a man’s world, much like most of Kerala’s movie scripts and its public places.
When artists and activists tried to change that – be it with the Kiss of Love movement in 2014 that protested the moral policing rampant in Kerala society or the founding of Women in Cinema Collective which spearheaded the #MeToo movement in Malayalam cinema – Malayali men thumped their chests and coined terms like ‘Feminichi’ to troll, humiliate and chase the women back to their domestic walls. It was not as if the number of sexist terms in society weren’t enough.
Actresses were denied jobs and abused online when they tried to call out the unapologetic misogyny in Malayalam cinema. When actress Parvathy criticised a misogynistic movie of Malayalam superstar Mammootty, his fan army showered her with abuses.
When women actors stood up to Dileep, the actor who has been accused of abduction and sexual assault of a fellow actor, they stopped getting work. Many actors later talked about this informal ban in interviews.
But the newest kid on the digital pop culture block — ‘Popcult.tribe’, an Instagram/Facebook page – has wedged itself bang in the middle of that male dominated space.
They do not peddle memes, but redefine sexist Malayalam slangs, come up with honest Tinder profiles of male Malayalam movie characters and make Malayalam movie cocktail recipes, all smashing patriarchy.
The Insta page that can be enjoyed by Malayalis and non-Malayalis alike has garnered 40K followers in just one month!
The proud founders of ‘Popcult.tribe’ are four 20-something Malayalis – Charles Andrews, Arya Prakash and Aashiq Bava, who work full-time on the project. Charles and Arya are die-hard Malayalam pop culture fans and Aashiq runs Saina Video Vision (the pioneers of Malayalam video CDs) which funds the platform. Their first hire Kishan Bhas does the designing.
While Kishan and Charles work from Popcult.tribe’s office in Kochi, Arya works from Hyderabad, after quitting a marketing job.
“For several years, the Malayalam digital space for pop culture (mainly memes) has been overwhelmingly male-driven. There are not many pages that can be enjoyed by all, as most of them reeks of misogyny.”Charles Andrews, Co-Founder of Popcult.tribe
“We did a case study and found that 80 percent of the audience of the meme/troll pop culture pages in Malayalam are male. Moreover, excessive trolling of women takes place in the comments section. That is when we realised that there is a lot of scope for a progressive Malayalam pop culture content in Malayalam, that can be appreciated by non-Malayalis too,” he says.
On Popcult.tribe, Sadacharam, which means ‘morality’ in Malayalam becomes ‘The uncontrollable itch in your private parts because someone else is enjoying physical intimacy and you’re not getting any’.
‘Vedi’ a slang that means whore or prostitute is used to demean women who do not stick to conservative norms of dressing or are busty. Not anymore. Popcult.tribe has redefined Vedi as a woman ‘who is way out of your league and/or who doesn’t give a flying f*ck about your 17th century judgements’. Who else is hooting?
'Adakkavum othukkavum’ is a phrase in Kerala that is solely used in a female context, especially by nosy relatives, who want to control the girls in the family. It roughly translates to ‘being coy and disciplined’ and are essential traits for any woman in the family. See how Popcult.tribe defines the term.
Arya, who comes up with these quirky definitions for otherwise derogatory terms, says she was just really happy to do it.
“I don’t think any of us women are immune to name-calling by the society if we dare to point our fingers at systemic injustice. When the chance to redefine some of those words came up, I was really up for doing it through a different lens that what was used until then. Reacting to social evils with progressive politics and humour – that’s the foundation of our content strategy.”Arya Prakash, Co-founder, Popcult.tribe
Popcult.tribe’s definitions of ‘Feminichi’ and ‘Vedi’ went viral, with many actors like Parvathy and directors like Aashiq Abu sharing it on Instagram. As a result, Kerala witnessed something that maybe the state hadn’t witnessed before – many women started owning up to Feminichi or Vedi. And men, well they started apologising.
“It gave me and our team a lot of confidence. We felt we were doing something good, that feeling actually lets more creative juices flow,” Arya says.
Izza Ahsan, a 20-year-old Malayali student put up a blog post titled ‘How I Became A Vedi’, where she said a truckload of weight had been released from her shoulders after she read the ‘vedi’ post.
She talked about how a group of boys in school had made a drawing of her on the bathroom wall, showing her ‘over-sized’ breasts and captioned it ‘vedi’. She recalled the confusion, as she did not understand what it meant and how she went home to google the word and was shocked at realising what it meant.
You can read her entire blog post here.
Malayalam actress Parvathy shared Izza’s story on her Instagram page and many men responded with apologies for having internalised derogatory terms without introspection.
Izza spoke to The Quint about what prompted her to come out with her story. “It is funny because I had forgotten the entire thing. When Popcult.tribe posted the word with a redefinition, it sounded familiar. The entire episode came back to me and I started laughing and crying together like an idiot. And in the end I ended up posting it on my blog.”
She added that she was happy that someone finally thought about addressing these derogatory terms that we have grown so used to normalising.
Popcult.tribe is happy too. And happening. They have a lot more in the pipeline. “We want to do more videos – funny ones that touch upon important topics such as biases female actors go though. We want to rope in celebrities to get the message across. We are not going to stop now,” signs off Charles.