Ms. Representation: The questions of Naachiyaar
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema, and this week it is about Bala's recent film, Naachiyaar
Jyotika in and as Naachiyar has made what feels like the logical next leap in her ‘re-entry’... that dreaded word that seeks to slot women who come back after a hiatus post marriage - and possibly childbirth - to act in Tamil cinema. After playing a woman with political agency in Magalir Mattum recently, she returns as a cop, who doesn't feel guilty about beating up even some not-so-bad guys, and also savours delivering revenge on behalf of a minor girl who’s been raped in a gruesome manner. What with a blade and all.
The real whodunit in Naachiyaar -- which is about this cop with a golden heart finding out who really raped a minor, Arasi (Ivana), even though a young man Kaathavarayan (G V Prakash) is in jail for it -- is who or what forced this change in direction and writing for Bala. This isn’t a weepy, and there aren’t hide-your-face-away moments either. The thing that does stay from Bala's older films is the showing of mirror to the rest of us about the ‘fringe'. Even if at times a bit too clichéd, there are some things that scratch away at your conscience. A young Arasi washing the western toilet in a rich home, or just going about her 'work day’...
There’s also an interesting inversion of gendered roles in Naachiyaar and her husband’s occupations in the film. Naachiyaar is the brash, cop chasing the baddies in jeeps, beating up the bad guys, mouthing profanities and avenging, while her husband is a gynecologist – more has been written about in another column in this paper. (As an aside, it was interesting to see Dr Gurushankar whom one has seen in lovely tug-at-heart ads for Meenakshi Mission Hospital in cinemas, play Jyotika's husband.)
At the heart of the film, however, is the uncomfortable question: What is rape? Is it still not rape if the victim is unaware of it happening? Is it still not rape if someone else has avenged your rape without your knowing it? Who gets to feel righteous anger over rapes of minor girls? Women cops with young daughters? Or is it just this one woman cop?
The infantilising of the ‘hero' at the beginning of romance by the young ‘heroine' and him calling her his Amma and Lover are all inverted as he comes out of jail. The cop at the heart of it all, Naachiyaar, and he decide (spoiler alert) to withhold information about the rape from the victim. The infantilising circle is complete, when they go against the advice of the only doctor in the fray, Naachiyaar's husband, who insists that both the man/boy and woman/girl should know the whole truth.
And gasp, there's even the promise of a happy ending in this Bala film. The questions though, linger...