Ms. Representation: Afterthought heroines
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week we take a look at the women in Vivegam
In Vivegam, Kajal Aggarwal as Yazhini commands as little screen time as possible for a heroine in a mass movie – except of course when she’s being saved by Ajay Kumar (Ajith) in two sequences, and in one of those she launches into a song praising him even as he fights. The song-sequence had a devotional-movie vibe. In a world of violence and abundant death, far away from Tamil Nadu, Vivegam’s Yazhini, is a walking, talking anachronism. Even compared to the other two women in this very universe and film, she is one.
Yazhini packs AK’s bags when he is going off on ‘dangerous’ assignments, takes music class and makes young Serbian children sing Achamillai Achamillai Achamenbadillaiye (!), tells AK she’s pregnant through a letter that he reads on a flight while going to a dangerous mission instead of in person so that he won’t feel bad about going off… you get the drift. It’s like they lifted the heroine track from a 1980s cop flick and threw it in the mix. About the film’s other two women – they spend more time locating Natasha (Akshara Haasan) than actually showing her. She is gone in 10 minutes making one wonder what just happened. And you know a lady in a film like this trying to kill AK is going to meet a gory end. So… nothing much to write home about there, except maybe that one marvels at her stunt skills.
I would launch into a lament about the state of our cinema and women etc, condemning films where the heroine is a mere checkbox meant to be ticked off; a token. That they want replaceable and forgettable women in there. That it’s a deliberate call and they’re going to keep raking in the moolah too. And that doesn’t mean they are right and we must not stop calling them out. But it doesn’t also mean we should take them seriously. Long ago, I decided to have fun by making fun of them, instead. It’s a survival tactic that has come in handy for a regular at the cinemas, and makes the experience of watching a mass movie tolerable to my feminist sensibilities.
Even as Yazhini leads this list, find my other top picks for anachronistic and slapdash character arcs written for female leads in recent big ticket movies.
Amala Paul’s role (Shalini) in VIP 2, one assumes is what one gets when one pisses off the scriptwriter but has to continue doing a role for some reason. Not because she isn’t doing her job (acting) right or her role isn’t making sense, but her husband (Dhanush’s Raghuvaran) spends a lot of time pointing out how he feels, and as a result what the audience is supposed to, about her. And he does not like her. She is the ‘annoying nag’ who seems to have been written based on whatsapp forward jokes. She is there for him to simply say mean things about. So that’s another checkbox ticked off successfully for this film.
It is, at this point, safe to say, Hansika Motwani’s Mahalakshmi in Bogan was a wasted opportunity for all parties concerned. It’s almost as if no one involved wanted to even try a little more. From the writer/director to the actor. The movie begins with Mahalakshmi drinking and it is hilarious, not in a good way. The poor writing and her bad acting compete with each and produce an end result that is utterly just forgettable. The quintessential annoying, ‘cute’ heroine fills this film’s requirement.
My favourite among these badly written/directed roles though is one where this lady looks as if she walked into the wrong set, wearing someone else’s wig. Theri’s Annie (Amy Jackson). Her hairdo in that film will be one of those mysteries I will still be looking for answers for even as I inch towards the end of my life, 70 years from now. And those glasses she wears? Something else. It is not like they were dressing her up to play an Indian astronaut. She was a teacher. They are everywhere. One can be sure, the writers/makers/actors have seen women teachers in their lives. And yet we got this.