Thamizh Talkies: Where Hindi cinema outshines us
The author talks about the times when Bollywood overtook Tamil cinema with strong women characters
Jyotika doing the Tumhari Sulu remake made me reminisce about times when Hindi cinema looked up at Tamil, Bengali, and Malayalam films for the pivotal women characters. The strong, silent, educated type who would fight for family and society. The female protagonist who fought for justice would usually be a teacher or a police officer, and heroines generally got these roles when they were at the tether's end of their career. Vijayashanti changed this in Telugu cinema, and later here, as her remakes became phenomenal successes too.
The late 80s in Hindi saw Rekha take revenge on the bad guys on screen, and these vendetta films were generally thought to have strong female roles. I wonder if films like Chandini, Lamhe and ChaalBaaz were not remade in Tamil because the lead actress Sridevi was hugely popular in the South as well, and perhaps, the need to have those films in a local language became redundant for her fans here? Something to think about, right?
Ever since the advent of Vidya Balan, Kangana Ranaut, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra in Hindi, we have begun seeing some stellar female-centric films, and what's more, they are doing excellently well at the box office. Hence, remakes in Tamil and/or Telugu are a potentially lucrative business model. Kahani remake had Nayanthara reprising Vidya Balan’s role in the Tamil and Telugu versions, and Queen has not one but four heroines play the same role in four different languages.
While on remakes, I have always wondered why Mouna Ragam was never remade. I mean, Nayagan got remade and Thalapathy got dubbed in Hindi, but I wonder why nobody wanted to remake this Mani Ratnam classic. If I were to cast actors in the lead roles for a remake of this film in Hindi, my pick today would be Alia Bhatt (Revathy), Siddharth Malhotra (Mohan), and Ranveer Singh (Karthik).
Another point is, today, the cream of talented female actors are more in Hindi than in the South. Do you agree? The range of a Vidya or Kangana, the variety of a Deepika (Piku and Padmavat), the maturity of a Priyanka in Bajirao Mastani... can you imagine any actress from the South filling into these lovely shoes, for remakes here? Why is there a dearth of central roles for women in present day Tamil cinema?
Nayanthara alone can't be said to be a trend. We need more women who can command such box office numbers for more female-oriented films to get green lit. Actors like Anjali and Aishwarya Rajesh are yet to hit the peak of their immense natural talent. Aishwarya has films coming up with Gautham Menon (Dhruva Natchathiram) and Mani Ratnam (Chekka Chivantha Vaanam), but Anjali, an actor I’d like to see more of, is still in the sidelines.
Trisha may have signed a few dozen films, but we are yet to see them. This long film industry strike notwithstanding, this is time to revamp certain 'modules' and integrate films with female ‘heroes’. It is important to create more Nayantharas, so we can go back to an era where we had Shobha, Radikaa, Sridevi, Sripriya, Radha, Saritha, Lakshmi, Phataphat Jayalakshmi, Jayachitra, Srividya, Suhasini, Bhanupriya and Jaya Prada.
A small homework for us to do would be to draw up a list of women actors currently working in Tamil films and rank them in order of their talent and versatility. The risk is the names we select for talent may not match popularity, and vice-versa. While choice of heroines are aplenty, the key ask here is to build a talent base of lead women actors who can rival the line-up we see in Hindi cinema. Is the Tamil film industry game to expand horizons for its women actors? Are writers and directors willing to bring more content with talented women on top? Will talent and popularity go hand in hand to establish business numbers for more than one heroine?
Big questions for which there are no easy answers. The first step however is for popular heroines to up the ante when it comes to their craft, along with writers/directors to write good roles for actresses. The rest, will follow.