Ms Representation: 100 weeks of women in cinema

This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author writes about women achievers from the National Awards and more
Ms Representation: 100 weeks of women in cinema

This is the 100th column of Ms Representation. And what an honour this has been. 100 weeks of watching the screen come alive, 100 weeks of thinking about a movie, from the time the lights go off and the magic comes on and the aroma of buttery golden popcorn (with the free toppings, of course) waft through the halls, to the time I sit down to write my column, on some days in the middle of the night, on some days in the middle of a vacation (typing furiously on my smart phone in cars, trains, flights, and buses)… This column has arguably been the best part of my last two years. 

This week as I sat down to watch freshly-minted National Award-winner Rahul Ravindran’s second film Manmadhudu 2, I couldn’t help but think about how the last few years have seen the Telugu ‘heroine’ grow more and more assertive. Rahul’s first film Chi La Sow (whose screenplay won him the national honour) featured a well-crafted female character, Anjali (Ruhani Sharma) at its heart. Keerthy Suresh has just won the National Award too for her brilliant performance in a (mythmaking) tribute to the genius that was actor Savitri, and Awe (another personal favourite) that features seven women in prominent roles won recognition for special effects and make up. And in Manmadhudu 2, I found myself fangirling over Rakul Preet’s Avantika. The other women in the film (Lakshmi, Devadarshini, Jhansi, Nishanthi, and Rohini) are all great too and in fact, I wished their roles were much longer. I ended my column on Chi La Sow last August with these lines, “One is glad that young directors are investing in female protagonists the way Rahul Ravindran is. He’s one to watch.” I am glad to have been proved right by the filmmaker.

Over the last 100 weeks one has also seen the tsunami-sque rise of women-centric Tamil films. This is no longer a flash-in-the-pan situation. These films are here to stay. I am sure of this because new films are announced now even after an actress’ film receives lukewarm response at the box office. Nayantara and Jyotika have defied the ‘wisdom’ of all the think pieces that were written when they first started picking projects that revolved around them, about how women-led films and the two women’s careers would depend purely upon box office success. Just recently, Karthik Subbaraj has announced his production company’s new film, an emotional mystery thriller ‘starring’ Keerthy Suresh. 

With last year’s Nathicharami starring a wonderfully-restrained Sruthi Hariharan as Gowri who is widowed and struggling with the idea of desire, winning a National Award, one hopes that the industry opens itself up to more films that are centred on women. The award must also come as somewhat of a balm to Sruthi, who was trolled viciously last year for this role in the wake of her #MeToo allegations against actor Arjun.  

The Malayalam industry offered this column several gems over the last 100 weeks. From Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum’s Sreeja (Nimisha Sajayan) to Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela’s Sheela Chacko (Shanti Krishna), Mayaanadhi’s Appu (Aishwarya Lekshmi), Koode’s Jenny (Nazriya) and Sophie (Parvathy), Kumbalangi Nights’ Babymol (Anna Ben), Simi (Grace Antony) and Nylah (Jasmine Metivier) to Uyare’s Pallavi (Parvathy), among other terrific films. While the industry itself is grappling with serious issues such as women’s safety and sexual harassment, some of the women of the industry have not only admirably made great strides in their careers but have also effectively stood by each other and spoken truth to power.

Here’s wishing this column several 100s of weeks in the hands of a new writer as I sign off from Ms Representation.

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