Ms. Representation: Streaming smart women
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema, and this week the writer takes a look at the digital medium
As if to wake Indian television and traditional film set up from its hang-ups, Hotstar, YuppTv, Amazon Prime and Netflix, apart from a host of YouTube channels, have all shown up over the last year and they are all at least trying to put their monies where their mouths are. With many production houses in India splitting up their resources to think of ways to monetise the digital video wave, even as they continue to produce these old-school soaps, talk and reality shows for regular TV, we can safely assume at some point digital will cannibalise television and something new will emerge.
Especially for cities where already there are people turning in their cable connections for annual subscriptions to one or all of these spaces. For our collective sanities’ sake, one hopes the cannibalisation is not the other way round.
For now, I see the cup as being half full and the first year has thrown up a few pleasant surprises. Local talent, which is basically a lot of comics, have found representation and there has been an overwhelming male presence even there. There are exceptions, and it is in these exceptions that my interest lies, not just for the sake of my interest area and this column, but also because that is where some of the best content is at – I am sticking my neck out to say that, yes. Aditi Mittal’s special on Netflix, Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say, Sumukhi Suresh’s Pushpavalli on Amazon Prime, Dhanya Balakrishna in As I am Suffering From Kadhal that’s streaming on Hotstar (Balaji Mohan, the director of the show has acknowledged her role in the writing of the series), Mana Mugguri Love Story created by Nandini Reddy, with screenplay by Gautami Challagulla for YuppTV… are few of the digital space’s triumphs this last year.
That and the fact that none of these were karuthu-based (sending a ‘message’ to the masses). The ocean of change in the women and men I saw in As I am Suffering From Kadhal free from the suffocation and fear of censors and guardians of kalacharam was thoroughly satisfying to say the least. Pushpavalli showcases the maturing of Sumukhi Suresh as an artiste capable of pulling off something much bigger than those sketches doing the rounds on Facebook that never did appeal to me. I found many of them tone-deaf to her own caste/class privileges (especially when she was playing characters less privileged and as a result less likely to find representation as the centre-pieces of shows) and I hope she has left them behind for good. I found Pushpavalli, an obsessive, stalker at the heart of the show (created and played by Sumukhi) propped up by host of really fun characters, compelling enough to finish watching in one go. The roommates at Pushpavalli’s PG, each one saying things we didn’t know we always wanted to hear characters on screen speak about – PCOD, stalkers, drama, the PG owner, Vasu who is a riot every time she appears on screen and rattles off her lines, with a case of malapropism, and written with a lot of sass are among my favourites. Even Pushpavalli’s mother, who appears every now and then spouting random Tamil proverbs, asking her to get married, go see Swamijis on her behalf and meet potential grooms... is written well – even though her role operates within a clichéd space, there’s something fresh Sumukhi has able to channel out of it all. It’s not tired or blasé. And of course Naveen Richard, as her boss/friend is just a blast, spouting profanities as if making up for all the characters bleeped out elsewhere. As for who she’s stalking and what ends up happening to her… well those are just minor details. The fun in Pushpavalli is actually the universe Sumukhi creates.