Ms Representation: Problem Picks
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author lists her problematic favourites
To be a woman watching commercial cinema in various languages in our country is to confront contradictions every day. The biggest among them is the complete compartmentalisation of the problematic aspects of our films while finding a way to enjoy the aesthetic or 'mass' moments.
This week I'd like to list some problematic favourites:
To begin with, Baashha. In a sense, in terms of sheer storytelling and the changing of the Tamil mainstream cinematic idiom, Baashha is, of course, fantastic. It is among my favourites and when it was re-mastered and launched in theatres again recently, I was there right at the front, whistling, etc. But Baashha's women are really there for what? For him to protect. For him to love. For him to revere.
Padayappa is a classic problematic favourite, for a lot of us, because it features among the most interesting villain Tamil cinema has seen: Ramya Krishnan's Neelambari. And yet, all women are reduced to 'types' (remember saatvikam, prachodakam and bhayanakam). Yet there are no such classifications for men. They are free to be human, to make mistakes, change, repent, love, and lose.
Singaravelan is a laugh riot. It has a joke almost every other minute and I have laughed at many of them over the years. But, as I have mentioned before in this column, it's a classic taming of the shrew tale. The woman yet again exists as an object he must win by hook or crook.
Baahubali as an extravaganza Telugu film is the stuff of dreams. Audiences all over the world (have you seen how big it is in Japan?) have embraced the film and there is simply no denying that SS Rajamouli is a master storyteller. Again, Ramya Krishnan as the queen mother sits on the throne breastfeeding in a powerful scene and outwits her opponents in another. And Anushka fights off enemies shooting bows and being her fiery self. And yet, I cannot help but feel disappointed with Baahubali for two things. What happens to Tamannaah's Avantika -- the cringey 'romantic' scenes in the first movie, between her and Amarendra Baahubali, is him simply violating and disrobing her. As also the implicit acceptance of caste rules, Kattappa's submission to his 'masters'. Yes, we know it's set in the past. But it's an imaginary past. Could they have written him as someone who opposes the rigidity of the system instead of showing him as the one who's submissive and his 'master' as the only one of the two benevolent enough to reject it.
This is simply part one. I will come back to part two soon with more problematic favourites. There is no dearth of these. Meanwhile, we'd love to hear from you about your problematic favourites. Do write in.