Ms. Representation: Two and a half women
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week we take a look at the three women of Mersal
Mersal has been in the news nonstop for over a week now. Suffice to say it has rankled the corridors of power, all the way in Delhi even, as actor Vijay who has repeatedly showcased political ambitions sharpens his messaging. This time, it appears his messaging, the myth making and the dialogues have not only hit the bull’s eye but also touched some raw nerves in the ruling establishment. With a triple role for the top actor, delightful performance by SJ Suryah as the villain (I was digging his sideburns in the flashback too), I thought there wasn’t going to be much room for women in this film. Especially when I heard that there were going to be three different ones--Nithya Menen, Kajal Aggarwal and Samantha.
Not all three roles are equal and perhaps a top contender for the best role in the film is Nithya Menen’s Aisu (Aishwarya Vetrimaaran). She is a delight to watch on screen. Her screen presence and the chemistry she shares with the camera are on the money. As are the beautiful, earthy tones of her clothes and jewels in the film’s flashback series. She is no mere eye candy and this is something I have observed with the actor’s choice of roles over the years. I have seen her films in three different languages – Ala Modalaindi in Telugu, Ustad Hotel (and a breezy cameo in Bangalore Days) in Malayalam and in Tamil she’s been seen in roles that are pivotal and her presence lends some credibility, I think. In 2015 alone, she was seen in two opposite ends of the Tamil cinema spectrum – Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani, and Raghava Lawerence’s Kanchana 2. So I was quite curious to see what her role was going to be like in Mersal. I was not disappointed. Aishwarya is spunky, knows what she wants, and delivers a speech in front of a stunned, silent crowd (something that isn’t reserved for the female lead in such masala movies), takes off her wedding chain and gives it to Vetrimaaran, asking him to build a hospital where a temple was to be. Oh, did I mention she’s Punjabi?
Next comes Samantha’s Tara, who’s refreshing and holds out a lot of promise. Her comic timing, in the limited time she has been given, is indeed really good, and she is somewhat crucial to the film’s advancement.
I do have a bit of a disappointment over the treatment Kajal Agarwal’s Dr. Anu Pallavi receives. In fact, I only found out she’s a doctor in the film on Google because there is no reference whatsoever to it in the film. Even then, she isn’t a ‘prop’ love interest. There is some use of her presence to the script and hey, she’s got a job and she’s busy doing it most of the time. At least her life doesn’t revolve around the hero’s and this little cameo/heroine role doesn’t particularly bother me much.
It is refreshing (and telling of the pathetic treatment women characters receive in regular masala films) that in Mersal, the women aren’t moral-policed, belittled, infantilised, or treated as mere objects of interest. Mersal deserves a lot of credit for sticking its neck out, for more than one cause, and for doing it with a balanced script that treats its women as equals, as independent women who run their own lives, well at least two and a half of them at a time.