Baby, don't hurt me
The writer takes a look at how Tamil cinema these days glorifies the hero's chase of the heroine, and compares it to films from the past which treated their women much better
Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara is a fun film with a Vijay Sethupathi character that remains a fan-favourite. Endearing as he was in his portrayal of an 'area payyan' whose full time job was to win 'area ponnu' Kumudha's heart, his antics left everyone happy, except Kumudha. If there ever was a real life Kumudha, I'm sure she would've been anything but happy. Where am I getting with this? How cinema glorifies the 'chase'. Wooing is an art, so is love. But then again, so is respect for a person's choice to reciprocate or not.
A friend of mine had put up an update recently on stalking in films in the name of love, and how certain actors and their films keeps glorifying this. It set me thinking. MGR, for one, was never arrogant towards women in his films. He was too careful for that, for his vote bank depended on 'thaaikulam'. I recall one of my uncles telling me how MGR would never chase the heroine on screen, never display interest in her first, and how the heroine will always pine for him, even in an out-and-out romantic story like Anbe Vaa. His mild disrespect would be displayed only at those women who were portrayed to be plain evil, and as for the ones on the villain's side -- read the 'vamp' -- he would still be kind and she would often sacrifice her one-sided love for him in the end.
Sivaji Ganesan, even in his later years when he was acting with much younger heroines, never stalked or behaved arrogantly towards women, because... they never made films like that earlier. Equal rights was never discussed, but yet, black and white films had strong women in them. MGR was, of course, patronising, and this aspect of his template, of this formula for a 'hero-centric' film, reached ridiculous heights with Rajnikanth's Padayappa.
Padayappa had dialogues thar classify women as belonging to a 'type'. The story itself revolved around a woman who knows what she wants and goes after it, and she's portrayed as the bad one (Ramya Krishna). The meek girl who lowers her eyes at the sight of the man is the good one (Soundarya). But times changed even for a Rajnikanth film and thankfully Enthiran and Kabali brought in women who despite having to be saved by the hero, still held their own. One film which created a box-office bonanza last year for Siva Karthikeyan by celebrating stalking was Remo. Watching Remo was like watching an early 80s film, where even if the hero slapped the heroine or gave her gyaan on proper conduct, the next shot would have her fall in love with him. E.g.: Thambikku Yentha Ooru, Dhavani Kanavugal. If someone slapped me in real life, would I love them back?
Thankfully, Maniratnam changed the way we saw women on screen with Mouna Raagam. Heroines were equals and we moved on from the struggling suffering women in K Balachander films, and saw women having fun, being flawed, being unapologetic and being everything else a man was. Gautham Menon is another writer-director whose heroines are as real and as solid. And post Karthik Subburaj, films from the newer bunch of directors have interesting perspectives on women. But still, why and how does a Remo rule the box office? You tell me.