Ms. Representation: Swear by women
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author talks about the characters portrayed by Aishwarya Rajesh and Andrea Jeremiah in Vada Chennai
There’s a whole lot of swearing in Vada Chennai (and this seems to have landed the film in some legal trouble with a case being filed against it). The two main women Aishwarya Rajesh’s Padma and Andrea Jeremiah’s Chandra are no exception when it comes to the use of profanity. Particularly Padma, whose amusing abuses led to a lot of hoots from the audience. Compare this to a whole lot of ‘controversy’ that erupted in the media when Jyotika’s Naachiyar swore (in Tamil) in the film’s trailer. There’s a case here for trailblazers normalising things for others who come after them? When Raiza Wilson’s Sindhuja ‘dropped the f-bomb’ in the trailer of Pyaar Prema Kaadhal (in English), it didn’t ruffle as many feathers either.
Of course, Vada Chennai is not the first film where women have abused on screen, but in Vada Chennai there’s a sense of consistency, one that the audience not only accepted but seemed to also appreciate (not to forget the censors!). Expletives that are spontaneous outbursts, research shows us, offer insight into people’s emotional state. States usually women in our cinema do not have the privilege of possessing – like rage. The occasional vamp, a Neelambari or a Sornakka is allowed rage, but she’s so one-dimensional that she possesses no other emotion. Through the filters of male writers’ gaze, women on screen have been policed for long on just what they can feel and say. Soon enough though, I hope, the simmering rage of women everywhere will find echoes on our screens.
However, it’s a disservice to all women, when filmmakers and audiences think that it is okay to showcase only some types of women swearing on screen. When a marginalised character, particularly a woman, swears on screen the underlying politics of it must be paid attention to. Are the filmmakers adding to the burden oppressed women already carry by using them on screen to mouth expletives, thereby furthering caste narratives?
At the heart of Vetri Maaran’s Vada Chennai is Chandra - Andrea Jeremiah in a glorious role. Her quiet demeanour in this film reminded me of her part in the 2013 Malayalam film, Annayum Rasoolum, though she’s hardly one to take any harm lying down in this film. *Spoiler alert* Chandra is the one, we discover towards the second half of the film, controlling the events, taking revenge for the death of her first husband, making pawns of the men around her. She is the master orchestrator of a series of deaths, and is seemingly controlling Dhanush’s Anbu without him even knowing. She not only marries her husband’s (Ameer as Rajan) murderer in a bid to execute her revenge plot, but also mouths some lines about thinking of nothing but revenge and her first husband, while sleeping with Guna (Samuthirakani). Andrea excels especially in one scene – while coming to see Rajan’s body. Her face not betraying even the slightest of emotions, but her body failing her, as she slips and nearly falls. She then steadies herself, walks straight to Rajan, and helps her dead husband wear sunglasses. An oracle in yellow (is that a hat tip to Mysskin?) asks her to cry. She says she will on the day she has had her revenge. It wouldn’t be an understatement to call this Chandra’s Revenge Saga, considering there’s two more sequels in the offing. I am also hoping to see more of Aishwarya Rajesh’s Padma in the sequels.