The myriad colours of a woman
With 2019’s releases having several women-centric films, we reach out to directors to discuss the trend that’s seeing more and more relatively new female actors get opportunities to feature as leads
Women-centric Tamil films have typically featured female actors who have established themselves in the industry over decades. The subjects typically have revolved around middle-aged women. But last year's films like Kolamavu Kokila and Kanaa stretched the horizons of this genre, with relatively newer actors like Aishwarya Rajesh getting a chance to play the lead. This year too has a few such films up its sleeve, and we reach out to directors who are out to prove that the market has indeed widened for women-centric films:
Arunraja Kamaraj - Kanaa
It’s a healthy trend because it shows that producers are accepting what the story demands. The reason why it has taken so long for this to happen is because it was believed that female-centric films come with no minimum guarantee. Producers were worried about not getting buyers for such films. After all, the market is determined by what has become successful over the years. So when we do something new, it's more of a gamble. It's a blessing that we had Sivakarthikeyan to produce Kanaa because such films deserve a producer who understands the pulse of the audience. Giving what the audience already likes isn't ‘commercial’. We believe in giving them something new.
Sarjun KM - Echcharikkai, Airaa (starring Nayanthara)
Businesswise, for every actor, there's a market. Producers and even the actors themselves know this. So the actors opt for films that are within their market value, and as makers, it's our duty to finish the film within the budget. I think the cast matters more than the content because distributors trust actors based on their choice of films. For instance, distributors are confident that Nayanthara will always choose the right script.
Newer actors doing female-centric films is a welcome trend, but it's important to keep the budget low. If we're doing a film with a heroine who has done only a handful of films, they wouldn't really have any market and distributors too may not trust them. That's where the content needs to be extremely strong. If the film wins, then all eyes turn on the actor and she can feature in a more expensive film. One cannot afford to do mediocre films when the budget is low. You can experiment a lot though. Filmmakers such as Balachander did women-centric films but it took years for them to gain the confidence of the market that good content can also be written for female-centric films. With digital platforms such as Netflix extending the reach, we are now exposed to content from all over the world. So people have started exploring new things.
Rathna Kumar - Aadai (starring Amala Paul)
This trend has existed in different ways, I think. Once, it used to be the Amman films, and then, there were ghost films. Saami aavum, pei aavum kaamichitaanga, manushi ah kaata late aagiduchu. We are at a stage now where 'happening' heroines are doing such genres, and hence, we as makers are able to explore new storylines. That's how films like Kanaa happened. In other words, instead of stories that are just about women empowerment, we are seeing films that show other sides of women too. Aadai too will be such a film.
Whenever there are questions about the viability of such a film, a number of Nayanthara films come up to prove that they are indeed saleable. This acts as a boost for producers and makes business easier.
UR Jameel - Maha (starring Hansika Motwani)
The main reason we see more actors opting for female-centric films is that they don't really get much to do in regular films. They get two songs and less than a dozen scenes. Not even the biggest stars who are known for their performance, are able to escape this. The current generation wants to showcase their acting prowess and women-centric films give them that space. Another advantage as far as filmmakers are concerned is the waiting time for a female actor's call sheet. If you want a famous hero in your film, it sometimes takes two-three years of waiting. But for heroines, it’s shorter -- only around six months. From the audience’s point of view, they are usually confident that women-centric films are more focussed on content.
Ashwin Saravanan - Maya, Game Over (starring Taapsee Pannu)
As I didn't work as an assistant director before turning filmmaker, I wasn't really a part of this system and wasn't trained about what can and cannot be done. As an outsider, I just wanted to have fun with my film without thinking much about commerce. I really didn't conceive Maya as a women-centric film nor did I consciously add anything to it. I wasn't looking at my lead as a woman but as a character who's going through a phase. I believe a film shouldn't go out of its way to say how a woman should live. If a story wants to throw light on such a topic, it should happen organically. I was only keen that Maya should be a success as I knew it would make way for other filmmakers to follow the production model. It also gives confidence to other female artists to do more such films.
Up north, films like Pink worked, and naturally, all the industries have opened up to similar films. The basic paradigm shift has happened because people started believing that women-centric films need not be thought of as ‘boring’. Women-centric films were made as those that addressed women’s problems in society, but now, that definition has changed. The boundaries have expanded, and now includes even the story of a woman peddling drugs. I really hope there comes a time when films aren't categorised as women-centric… when they can just begin to be seen as films.