Ms. Representation: Vamp-ire diaries
On Tamil cinema’s female antagonists, even as VIP 2’s Vasundhara takes two steps forward, and one step back…
Female antagonists in Tamil cinema have a unique burden to bear; sermons from agents of patriarchy – aka leading men of the film, as well as the inevitable defeat in their war against the protagonist. Their position on the wrong side of the script also means when one points out the misogyny of the hero in the film, it is brushed aside, because ‘she deserved it’. On the other hand, female villains bring so much more to our cinema, because for a change the woman on screen is an ‘equal’ – not meant as a relief, from the main point or meant to be rescued or won.
It is to Ramya Krishnan’s credit, as well as the film’s director-writer, KS Ravikumar, that no conversation about iconic Tamil cinema villains can go without a mention of the stunningly menacing Neelambari in Padaiyappa. She showcased what fury a woman scorned can unleash, and made a comeback that has led to memorable roles such as Maggy in Panchathanthiram and the headstrong, briefly menacing Sivagami Devi in the Baahubali series.
Representation isn’t always a straightforward affair. It’s tricky, messy and produces unpredictable results. If a woman is boisterous, strong-willed and on the wrong side of things, you can safely assume someone or the other will call her Sornakka today in the Tamil-speaking universe. That reminds one of an oft-told story of villagers in some part of TN avoiding and even warning others to not talk to the supremely talented MN Nambiar, who played villain to the leading men of his era, and especially to MGR, when he visited their towns. Sornakka in Dhool is an extreme; a laughable caricature. But she, a woman, exists, as a rarity in the world of laughable, caricaturish Tamil cinema villains. Sometimes I wonder if it gives misogynistic male audiences twice as much pleasure in seeing female villains, for the shrew is tamed and they get to hate a woman who refuses to fit into the mould approved by society.
Most recently, Trisha in Kodi, with ambition and screen presence that matches and at times outdoes not one but two Dhanushs (he plays a double role) was a great surprise.
In VIP 2, Dhanush’s recent film, a rich, stylish, and arrogant Vasundhara (Kajol) is keen on bringing him down with all her might. She seems really menacing at the beginning and I was hoping for a Neelambari-type face-off really. And with Kajol’s iconic ‘silent killer’ Isha in Gupt, we know she isn’t averse to blood and gore type of roles. But this was no Neelambari. From poor voice (dubbing) syncing to the introduction of a third character who’s worse, the hyped up duel was watered down. In the end, it would turn out that arrogance was her only vice (that and bringing down another company using her influence with corrupt politicians, but then what’s a builder without shady political connections, I ask?). And why shouldn’t she be arrogant, if she’s been on her own since 12, and fighting off hawk-like relatives to gain control of her parents’ empire? What’s a relief however is that Vasundhara is a bit more self-aware than antagonists before her. But then do we need a hero to beat that arrogance out of her?
But on the bright side, the eventual Vasundhara-Raghuvaran friendship is done in a pretty convincing manner in this film. And we finally have another scene in Tamil cinema (after Priya Anand and Vikram Prabhu’s in Arima Nambi) where a man and a woman sit across a table, enjoy a drink and just talk, without any sort of moralistic judgement from the script.