Ms. Representation: A trope reversal
The writer recalls the fridging trope and how it has been reversed in three famous revenge thrillers with women as leads
Just last week I had written about Nayanthara starring as the biggie, leading the projects she lends her name too, and this week I watched another film of hers. Is Tamil cinema having its Netflix-Radhika Apte moment? Although unlike Kolamavu Kokila, Imaikkaa Nodigal has meaty roles for both her co-stars Atharvaa and Anurag Kashyap. *Spoiler alert* Imaikkaa Nodigal employs reverse fridging to prop its heroine up. Fridging is a trope wherein filmmakers kill off a female character, and use her death to propel the hero to greatness, as he avenges her death. I had written a brief history of fridging in Tamil cinema a while ago in this column.
Let’s consider three films that reverse the fridging trope to make larger-than-life heroines out of their leading ladies – Kahaani starring Vidya Balan, NH10 starring Anushka Sharma and the recent Imaikkaa Nodigal with Nayanthara. As this column observed last week, the one thing Nayanthara and Anushka have in common is their tryst with shades of grey and that continues for Nayanthara in this film too. Interestingly enough, she played the lead in Kahaani’s Telugu and Tamil remake.
In all three films, the women are propped up to a large extent and it is essentially their film – other names are around but they are the ones leading the work for all practical purposes. Much like Tarantino’s Kill Bill. In Kahaani, the distraction is Vidya Bagchi’s apparent pregnancy; in NH10, Anushka is too urban and too opposed to conflicts in the beginning, preferring flight over fight; and in Imaikkaa Nodigal, Nayanthara wears the garb of power and righteousness as a CBI officer (In Kolamavu Kokila she wore the garb of an innocent woman).
It’s fun and it works because you are not watching a woman sobbing helplessly into her pallu, or waiting to be rescued. But one hopes, that this reversal will not become a ‘trend’ in itself, and women-led films will develop their own grammar. I worry about this becoming a trend because in Naachiyaar, Jyotika avenges the rape of a minor, and in Dora, Nayanthara avenges the death of a girl whose heart she received as part of a transplant. Using gore, rape, death and violence to challenge the gaze and make a hero out of someone is hardly alluring. Instead, if we are going to reverse the trope, can we see a soft revenge plot like Maheshinte Pratikaram with a female lead? Now that’s my kind of revenge movie.