Identity Re-Articulation, Muslim Hip Hop and ‘Mappila Cool’ in Kerala, South India: Reading “Thallumaala”


This paper seeks to analyse the recently released Malayalam film “Thallumaala” (2022) in the context of Muslim hip-hop and Hindutva in Kerala, India. A carnivalesque action film that dabbles in themes like love and heartbreak, “Thallumaala”’s soundtrack, album, choreography, sartorial choices, making etc signal the arrival of ‘Muslim hip-hop’ in India. This paper makes use of Syed Abdul Khabeer’s theory of ‘Muslim Cool’ — a way of being Muslim in the context of rising Islamophobia in the post 9/11 world — and argues that “Thallumaala” represents an emergent phenomenon called ‘Mappila Cool’ (referring to the Muslims of north Kerala), by which there is an active re-articulation of the self formulated according to the unique Mappila experience blended with transnational elements borrowed from hip-hop. Arjun Appadurai has argued that culture produces the ‘capacity to aspire’ and this is crucial when we consider that “Thallumaala” is set in Malappuram, Kerala’s sole Muslim majority district and Mappila heartland, which is currently at the receiving end of Hindutva’s campaign that projects it as a regressive hotspot. Yet, evidence shows that this is far from the truth and that Muslims in Kerala are at the cusp of a ‘renaissance’ unlike their counterparts in any other state, reflected in the community’s stupendous performance in many facets of Kerala society. The world created by “Thallumaala” is thus antithetical to the narrative within which the hegemonic discourse tries to box Malappuram and Muslims in, and raises the question: what does it mean to be Muslim, Mappila, and cool.

Author Information
Mukulika Radhakrishnan, University of Sussex, United Kingdom

Paper Information
Conference: MediAsia2023
Stream: Film Criticism and Theory

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon