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Thamizh Talkies: Sex and sensationalisation- Cinema express

Thamizh Talkies: Sex and sensationalisation

The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment

Published: 10th February 2019

I found the trailer of 90ML unpalatable. This disclaimer notwithstanding, what I did like was the idea of making a girl-gang film in Tamil where the babes seem to be having as much fun as the dudes. No, you won’t get any 'Tamil culture protection' talk from me. After all, the same 'girls just wanna have fun' concept was received very well in the Hindi film, Veere Di Wedding, which also ran into its share of controversies over scenes far bolder than the ones we see in the 90ML trailer. And when I went all guns blazing to support that film, you may ask why I find this trailer unpalatable. I asked myself this question again and again because I’m one of those women who work behind the camera and who wants to make a difference to the cinema of my times. So when I see other women do that (90ML is directed by Anita Udeep), my first instinct is to stand up and cheer for them and I am quite sad that I couldn’t get myself to do that for 90ML.

Irreverence to conservative, patriarchal or stereotypical portrayals must be welcomed in any artistic medium and our Tamil cinema especially needs to have more of breaking the norm/rule per se, especially when it comes to its women. But should it be done in such an 'in your face' manner or can it also be done in style? Example of such 'irreverence in style' can be found in any Venkat Prabhu film. Take Sneha‘s role in Goa for instance. A hitherto 'homely heroine' like Sneha played a ruthless businesswoman who runs a casino, gets high on cough syrup (and obviously on alcohol also), and shows the middle finger and says the F-word (I recall literally jumping out of my seat at that precise moment in the theatre) but the difference lies in the fact that Sneha did it all like a champ. The staging was not about hitting below the belt. The writing and acting was within the correct meter of how that character should be portrayed. Goa also had a hitherto serious villain actor like Sampath portray a gay man with such comic ease and a lot of class. Venkat Prabhu was perhaps way ahead in showing us such diametrically opposite images of actors (Arjun was a revelation in Mankatha as much as Ajith) and challenging the usual, conventional aspects of storytelling (revisit the interval block scene from Mass with the two Suriyas if you want an example of how unique that scene was for a dual-hero role film).

Now, 90ML’s trailer is a hot topic, thanks to its shocking content -- but to what extent will the makers go to sacrifice form for sensational value? Even soft porn when done well, will make for great viewing for the general audience. But does this trailer qualify for such viewing when the standard filters of good writing, camera work and acting is applied to it? A trailer is that one grain of rice which stands as a sample for the whole pot (yes, I’ve translated the Tamil proverb). It's only with the trailer that I decide as an audience, whether to go watch a film or not. If the film is well-made, why must the trailer be crass? Translating another proverb, isn't it true that whatever's in the cooking pot will only come on your plate...

As much as stalking a woman cannot be taken as proof of the man’s love for her (Remo), showing girls discuss “matter” and getting them to speak of their body parts, I think, is warranted only when there is a genuine character arc or story plot which requires it. I agree I have not seen this film and hence, cannot comment on the context of that particular scene but this is just going by the trailer. Sure, it can be edited for 'sensation' value as that will bring in the opening day audience but then, what about the thereafter? When the audience gets tired with mere titillation, is there a good story and a great film waiting to be seen too?

In Veere Di Wedding, the women grapple with genuine personality and familial issues (the film begins with their childhood) which require that they get out of their comfort zones and become assertive, strong, sexually expressive. It was relatable. In 90ML, the trailer also ends with some gun fight etc which to me betrays the intention of the film to be in the masala zone (and I revere this genre). So why this level of crassness to the point of making me, an adult woman, squirm? For the buzz? And just because the men seem to get away with their half-baked adult comedies, must women should resort to making the same? Why can’t we make better adult comedies? Why can’t the alcohol and smoking and swearing be shown in better form/style? Had that kind of packaging been there, then in all centres, this film would make its mark, right? (I refuse to buy the argument that I write in English, live in a metro and therefore, that makes me an A-centre audience.)

We are the same audience who approved of Maya declaring to Anbuchelvan that she wanted to make love to him and have his babies. Jyothika’s character from Kaakha Kaakha remains one of the boldest female parts ever written for a Tamil film heroine till date. She didn’t have to drink or smoke or swear to prove this. Yet she did what even Anbuchelvan IPS didn’t have the courage to do. She made the first move.

If your argument is that 90ML is an adult film, I urge you to watch Sex Education - a series on Netflix which will show you how to deal with sex on screen and more so in your life and in the lives of your kids. Closer home, do check out Lust Stories (Netflix again) made by four of India’s best filmmakers or I give you an option that's further closer to home: Balaji Mohan’s As I’m Suffering from Kadhal on Hotstar where the women swear, drink, smoke and have sex but they do it while behaving like normal, regular people. And then tell me whether you still like the trailer of 90ML. I’ll wait for your verdict.

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