Where is the romance?
We ponder about the relative scarcity of romance films in Tamil cinema these days
We have seen innumerable love stories on screen over the years, but in recent times, the romance tracks, much like the comedy tracks of yore, are being thought of as extensions to be tacked on to a film, often not essential to the plot. Trying to give the heroine something to do and finding a way to include the mandatory duet, seems to be the agenda. Rarely do we see full-fledged romantic films anymore, exceptions aside.
This wasn't the case even as recently as early 2000s all the way up to about 2010 -- Alaipayuthey, Rhythm, Youth, Dumm Dumm Dumm, Kushi, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa... the list goes on. But something seems to have changed this decade vis-à-vis the fabric of Tamil cinema. Filmmakers appear to have moved more towards the action and thriller genres. While there is nothing wrong with films being made in all genres, this trend does sadden me as someone with a fondness for the romance genre.
Is this change due to a change in audience preferences? Director V Priya, who made the hit 2005 romcom, Kanda Naal Mudhal, does not think so. "They are just not writing love stories, these days. People are ready to watch them," she says, citing the example of last year's Pyaar Prema Kaadhal. "Yuvan Shankar Raja produced that film and it did well. This shows there's still an audience for such films."
Elan, who made his directorial debut with Pyaar Prema Kaadhal (PPK), agrees with her, and goes a step further. "Romance is the one genre that I think will always have an audience," he says, and adds that he is himself a fan of the genre. "I chose to make my debut with PPK because I love romantic films and felt it had been a while since we had seen one in Tamil." His film, a new gen take on romcoms, was both a critical and commercial success. And yet, other filmmakers aren't exactly jumping up to make more such films. Ask him why this might be, and Elan says, "Perhaps they feel it would be difficult to stand apart with this genre, which has already seen so many different stories."
He does have a point. Romcoms in particular are known for following a familiar trajectory. The actual plot is almost besides the point in these films. What's more important is that the characters of the protagonists are well-fleshed out. And for a love story to work, the leads need to be strong, memorable. Could the problem then be that our actors do not want to share screen space equally? Or that once they have achieved a certain degree of stardom, they simply cannot bear to relinquish the biggest role? After all, star vehicles are often the worst offenders when it comes to short-changing romance tracks. And on the other hand, we have big female actors like Nayanthara and Jyotika, who prefer women-centric films that pretty much do away with the romance angle altogether. This leaves us with hardly any saleable actors to star in romantic films.
Elan feels there might be something to this theory. "To make a pure romance or romcom these days, we have to cast newcomers as it is harder to make such films with big stars," says the director, who chose Harish Kalyan and Raiza Wilson for PPK. Both actors were newcomers in a sense (it was Raiza's debut, and while Harish had made other films before, PPK was, undoubtedly, his breakthrough), but they also were popular enough, thanks to their stint on Bigg Boss. This combination of the freshness of the actors and the audience’s familiarity with them worked in the film's favour.
Which brings us to another issue. This might be the first time in Tamil cinema when it's hard to point to an actor as the go-to romantic hero. The early 2000s had actors like Shaam and Srikanth. Earlier, we had Abbas and Prashanth in the 90s, and even today's big stars like Vijay and Ajith were, at the beginning of their careers, known for their roles in romances. Before that, there were a whole host of actors including Kamal Haasan, Mohan, Karthik, and Murali. Who today can truly be said to specialise in this genre?
Elan reveals he has another romcom script in hand and will make it at some point. Priya, meanwhile, is awaiting the release of her first Kannada film (Aadi Lakshmi Purana), and cryptically says, "Let's see, let's see," when asked about her possible return to Tamil cinema with a film like Kanda Naal Mudhal. Interestingly though, a day after we spoke, the cast of that film shared pictures of themselves with the director, with hints about a possible sequel. I, for one, am thrilled.