Ms Representation: Game over - Girls got game
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author writes about the Taapsee-starrer Game Over
Game Over is gold, so far as this column is concerned. Nearly every frame, every close-up, every conversation is about women. Does it get better than this? Directed by Ashwin Saravanan, and written by him with Kaavya Ramkumar, starring a gritty as well as vulnerable Taapsee Pannu as Swapna, along with a terrific Vinodhini Vaidyanathan as Kalamma, and a few other short cameos, Game Over has a tiny cast of mostly women and a taut storyline.
It is going to be a bit tough to make all the points I want to about this movie, without spoilers but I’ll try. Game Over is essentially a film about a woman fighting demons. Both internal and external. Taapsee’s portrayal of high-functioning depression and PTSD is disturbing, frustrating even, and yet you can’t help but feel like reaching out and comforting her. It’s a difficult balancing act, but Swapna in many ways feels like a logical progression from her previous roles in Baby, Pink and Naam Shabaana. As if her career was building up to this role. As if this role was written for her and only her. I cannot imagine anyone else pulling this off today.
Physically too, it feels like we are watching a woman who’s lost, elsewhere, in the first half. And one who slowly comes back, into her own (with whistles and claps flying in the theatre), as she outwits death. Imagine an un-cute, but thrilling and fun Home Alone for adults starring women. Yeah, the second half felt like that.
Game Over is essentially about strong women, but it never loudly proclaims it. It doesn’t fall into the trap of sending out a ‘message’ either. Nor does it compromise on the story. The film does it all but stays true to itself. Game Over is a genre-bending display of commitment to story and original ideas. And there is not a trace of flab in the movie. Every detail ties right back into the story, and at the heart of it all is Swapna. This film could, in fact, be the game changer we have been waiting for in Tamil cinema that changes the formula of a woman-led film. That doesn’t borrow from the aesthetics of the male, ‘mass’ hero film. In that sense too Game Over is highly original.
At the heart of the film, however, is a disturbing backstory. One that leaves Swapna asking herself what she could’ve, would’ve, should’ve (that golden number three) done differently. The universe then gives Swapna a chance to redeem herself. Once she gets a grip of the game (she’s a gamer after all), she’s got what it takes to win, with a little help from some friends (seen and unseen).
Vinodhini Vaidyanathan infuses Kalamma, the housekeeper/caretaker with so much life that I empathised most with her. She portrays the frustrations of a caregiver with quiet strength and grace. She wants to make things all right, wants Swapna to see the light at the end of the tunnel, feel the warmth and love, even as Swapna feels like she’s fighting her demons alone. She does not give up.
When she takes Kalamma into confidence, and the two decide to retaliate together, Swapna gains from her strength and together, they defeat the darkness that surrounds them. None of this, however, is told to us, we glean them anyway. We see Kalamma play-fight with Swapna, accompany her to the psychiatrist, we see Swapna call out to her, every time she feels low… and we see her as a part of some of the most thrilling and satisfying bits of the film (in my theatre, twice there was clapping and whistling for Vinodhini’s scenes). This is the power of a good story, backed by intention.
The plot points that bring the other three women (tattoo artist Varsha played by Ramya Subramanian, Sanchana Natarajan as Amudha, and Parvathi T as Reena), into focus are very interesting. But to talk more about them would be to give away the plot. I’ll just say, every single one of them breezes in and out of the frame convincing us of their role in a dream-like-scape.
After the horror of the Pollachi incidents in TN, the events that happen to Swapna don’t seem far-fetched to any of us. But the sword of gory violence and rape hanging over women’s heads, and that stares at us every time we open our social media feeds or watch news, is inescapable now, even at the movies. Especially ones with women at the lead. Plot points that use rape and violence, to this film’s credit, are not dwelt upon long enough to feel exploitative. They are mere stopovers. Even so, I would say now that Swapna is done dealing with these Level 1 demons, I hope there’s a sequel in which she and Kalamma get to fight baddies who match up to them in every manner (without a rape/death fetish angle).