Thamizh Talkies: Finally, a real female cop
The writer talks about Jyotika's no-nonsense characterisation in Bala's Naachiyaar
How many heroines can be said to have carried the police uniform with panache? Vijayashanti aka Vaijayanthi IPS, sure, and before her, Lakshmi, in Udhaya Geetham and Rudra. The police uniform needs a certain disciplined countenance and fitness that both Lakshmi and Vijayashanthi naturally had. But the stories woven around their characters were no match for what was being spun around the men. The heroes always had the best cop stories.
Vijayashanthi stepped into that bastion but it was a novelty only for a short while, for many of those woman-cop-at-the-helm films had similar narratives with revenge being a common theme. It is to be noted that all top heroes in each of the film industries have enacted a cop character to much success. Donning the uniform is a matter of great pride and honor for any hero but has it been the same for a heroine? As stereotypes get broken with each passing year, one that has got smashed with Bala’s Naachiyaar is the ‘sentiment’ that only those heroines who are at the tether’s end of their careers get to play a cop. Jyotika today stands tall, enacting the title role in this crisply made film, which sees her in a no-nonsense avatar that lands good punches, both of the hand and the dialogue variety.
I applaud Bala for the role reversal between Naachiyaar and her husband. The husband is a doctor, and not just another medical specialist but a gynecologist, a field of medicine generally portrayed only by women on screen. Naachiyaar is an aggressive, unforgiving Assistant Commissioner, whose methods are most violent as criminal minds deserve. Such a cop is typically portrayed only by a man on screen.
Naachiyaar doesn’t stop with being merely that. She’s not just a one-dimensional character; she’s not here merely to bash up the bad guys. She’s also full of integrity and soul. Naachiyaar is perhaps Bala’s best ‘urban film’ with wonderful performances from GV Prakash, newcomer Ivana, producer Rockline Venkatesh among others. It's a film with less gore and one that is sharp in writing and pace. The English and Tamil lines blend easily in Naachiyaar’s parlance.
The action blocks are also not what we have seen heroines do hitherto. Here again, a stereotype is broken. In all those countless dubbed Telugu cop films, action sequences would be like manufactured ‘set pieces’ where the heroine, after much ‘build-up’ and blaring BGM, would use more of her legs as she does karate stances to indicate her fighting acumen. Here, the fights are more real. Jyothika’s slap is feared. I was reminded of the line from Surya’s Singam: "Oangi adichaa ondra ton weightraa”. What Bala has made Jyotika do is precisely that. And how convincing her slap truly is! This sort of characterisation should make more directors portray heroines in cop roles. When the masala trope is usually to have female comedians in the role of constables, which either body-shames them or shows them as weaklings in front of their male counterparts, Naachiyaar has a robust team of fit women cops who ‘round-up’ suspects in unsuspecting locations.
Marital status or age notwithstanding, an actress must have the wherewithal to be equipped to enact such good roles when it (even if rarely) comes her way. By equipping oneself for that elusive opportunity, I mean, maintaining a certain standard in appearance, in choice of roles, and in how well they are prepared for the role. Perhaps the best part of Jyotika’s portrayal of Naachiyaar is how surprising it was, on account of how there were zero interviews before release, from her and Bala, on how she rehearsed for the stunts or how the director etched her ‘nee policeaa illa rowdyaa’ kind of character. This setting our expectations to a bare minimum works in getting our maximum appreciation. This nonchalant way of walking away with a quick hit is what makes me do a slow clap for both Bala and Jyothika.