Ms Representation: A fine romcom, finally
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author talks about Pyaar Prema Kaadhal and its realistic female lead
I have written a lot about romcoms and their importance as a woman watching commercial Tamil cinema in this very column, but watching Pyaar Prema Kaadhal, Elan’s new film made me realise one more thing. For a rom-com to work, the writer-director must actually like the woman she/he is writing. In a welcome break from the “indhe ponnungaley ipdi dhaan” (women are like this only…) school of misogyny, you can sense from this film that Elan actually enjoys this ‘dialogue’ between people from two completely different worlds. Sree (Harish Kalyan), who is a typical middle class man, and Sindhuja (Raiza), an upper class woman with a plan for her life and career, meet. He fumbles for words. She doesn’t. He gapes from a distance. She casually asks him out to a pub. She hints at her dad not being home and he doesn’t get it at first. He says 'I love you' after a night of intimacy and she’s fairly shocked at this. He gets drunk and shames her for it, she stands up for herself and asks him, “Okay, let’s for a minute assume I am a ‘characterless woman’. Then just how did you decide you loved me without knowing my character to begin with?”
To me this entire romcom was Elan’s (and Raiza’s) Sindhuja fighting the average film hero and his problematic worldview. At every frustratingly familiar juncture of clash between this ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’, Sindhuja’s response is fabulously fresh. The other thing obvious from the film is that even when Elan’s hero, Sree says 'I hate you' to Sindhuja, you are able to discern that Elan doesn’t hate this woman he’s created, nor does he want you to. He’s squarely on her side when she needs him. He’s able to see both sides, both these worlds, but ultimately, it felt like he sided with the woman. This was a huge moment because just how often do you get a great romcom in which the woman drinks, the man doesn’t and she isn’t shown as a sleaze for this? Sindhuja’s 'F*** you' to Sree’s 'I love you' is not over-used, but it’s hilarious whenever it makes an appearance. I can list all of the things that set her apart from the usual Tamil heroine, but that would serve no purpose. Instead, what needs to be said is that she’s different, because she’s real. Not only because she’s ‘modern’ but because she is as close to a human as you get in our cinema – someone who emotes and has a mind of her own, a plan, and is able to articulate her fears of being tied down. She doesn’t make you cringe. Nor does Sree, in fact. He’s just being authentic. This is all he knows. And he tries his best to make things work with a woman from a completely different world, but when he’s not able to, he leaves. Fair enough. That’s how adult relationships work.
In fact, I thought the entire break-up sequence was really well staged. It brought a few important moments of gravitas to an otherwise rather breezy romcom. Sree has predictable questions, like ‘Will you marry me’ while Sindhuja has the complex ones that young people grapple with – ‘What about my career and life?’, ‘Why can’t we be just friends’ and ‘Why don’t we live in and see if this will work out?’
Both Harish Kalyan and Raiza are impressive and utterly convincing in their parts. Casting Raiza in this role was in fact a great move as the Tamil audience already knows her intimately from the first season of Bigg Boss and it would probably be easy for them to buy this role – of a young woman who’s modern, but still can be friends across the ‘class’ divide. They’ve seen her, on live television, go from not speaking any Tamil to speaking really good Tamil.
Even the airport-chase sequence (even if in reverse) in this film didn’t disappoint. And I thoroughly enjoyed the way the two ended up in opposite camps towards the end of the film. This is a fine romcom.