Thamizh Talkies: What if the Oscars came to town?
The writer talks about the female Tamil actors who would have perfectly fit in the roles donned by the western actors in the Academy Award nominated films
The digital service providers vs South film industry strike has paved way for some Oscar-nominated films to be screened this week. This year’s Academy Awards nominations have a bunch of independent productions, unique women nominees (a first nomination for Best Cinematography for Mudbound for Rachel Morrison), stories and plot lines which go into the lives of us, ordinary folk. A good film leaves you sated, like good food. In this year’s Oscar films scale, the ratings for all the best picture nominees, I'd say, are 5/5. All of them get the basic ingredients right and then go above the line to leave us with something extraordinary. Meanwhile, the Oscar nominees for Actresses this year have a lot of middle-aged women, the sole exception being Saoirse Ronan, who plays a 17 going on 18 in Lady Bird, and competes with the likes of Meryl Streep for the top honors.
Watching some of these performances, I was reminded of a few wonderful actresses in Tamil whom we are not getting to watch in good roles often. Take the performance of Laurie Metcalf (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) in the climax of Lady Bird. As she drives and cries, engulfed with waves of myriad emotions towards her warring daughter, Metcalf cracks in a winner of a scene which is shot in one continuous drive. She’s a strong woman; yet so soft and protective, and having to contend with a turbulent equation with her daughter. It is so believable to write such situations for the Indian melodramatic family setup, and yet, we don’t have such stories or roles. Radhika would be a good choice to play Metcalf’s role, I'd say, had this story be remade here. A tough cookie with a solid heart, the mother-daughter relationship carries the whole film through. The Academy’s favourite, Meryl Streep, has a terrific shot with her role of the floundering, yet triumphant Washington Post publisher in Spielberg’s The Post. I can't think of a better actress to play this than Lakshmi, who’s always been well-equipped to handle such variations. But are we making films for women past their 60s? At best, Lakshmi will be seen as a grandmother or a matriarch who will have two scenes with the hero and will then turn into a small face in the hero’s family photo on the wall.
Frances Mcdormand as the unflinching mother who moves Missouri’s police department to action in search of her daughter’s rapists and killers in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (which is my favorite for Best Picture) can be played by Suhasini, if the story were to be remade in Tamil. But do we get such stories here? Not yet, is my hopeful answer. Maybe some day soon, we will have relatable stories which are this meaningful, and this well-made.
As for the men, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour has easily the most coveted role. And he plays it with much panache. He’s pitted against my favourite, Daniel Day Lewis for the psychologically stunning The Phantom Thread. If Lewis’s class act has to be reprised in a Tamil story, who is the actor who can pull it off? The one actor who has it in him to play subtleties to an extent that the method acting becomes part of the narrative.
Kamal Haasan of course.