How ‘Mallipoo’ refuses to cater to the male gaze
With item songs coming into fashion once again, it’s admirable that the uniquely staged ‘Mallipoo’ refuses to objectify
A group of tired men return to their den after a tedious day of work. Their minds seek some entertainment, some relief. Such a situation is usually cue for an item-song. It’s when we would usually see them ganging up to ogle at a nautch girl. Recent examples come in the form of songs like ‘Oo Antava’ (Pushpa), ‘Ra Ra Rakkamma’ (Vikrant Rona)... So, when AR Rahman’s Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu (VTK) album got released, the mellifluous/melancholic ‘Mallipoo’ caught our eye, could we be blamed for wondering if this was going to be yet another reinforcement of the male gaze? What a pleasant surprise then that this song avoids all the usual problems associated with such a song.
Tired men get together after serving parottas by day and punishment by night, when ‘Mallipoo’ kicks in. We see no women throughout this video, but the fact that there are three of them off-screen—choreographer Brindha Gopal, lyricist Thamarai and singer Madhushree—ensures that the song avoids usual pitfalls. Sure, it’s still a bunch of men dancing around, dreaming about their respective women, but at least, this isn’t a song about a bunch of men describing a desired woman; this is, instead, a woman speaking about her loneliness, about separation and pain. We don’t see the woman on the video call, and Thamarai’s lyrics strike a beautiful balance between expressing desire and desisting from titillating. Isn’t this a rarity in Tamil cinema?
‘Naan othaiyila thathalichaen Dhinam, sopanathil mattundhaan unna naa sandhichaen’
(As I struggle to stay afloat alone, I meet you every day only in dreams)
‘Anga neeyum ingu naanum enna vazhkaiyo, podhum podhum sollamal vandhuserum’
(What’s life with you being there and me here, come to me without saying a word)
Brindha’s choreography uses Silambarasan just before the second stanza kicks in, but he’s very much in character. This isn’t a performance or a dancing routine aimed to showboat, but one in which he too buys the camaraderie and allows himself a brief moment of respite. What’s even more admirable is that this song comes bang in the middle of a hyper-masculine gangster drama. At a time when it’s so easy to capitalise on the fleeting pleasures of social media by catering to a voyeuristic gaze, ‘Mallipoo’ rewrites the usual template and shows how with minor changes, such a song can avoid traditional problems. It shows that you don’t need ogling men or women wearing skimpy clothes to capture the notions of desire and loneliness.
Our films still have a long way to go, but ‘Mallipoo’ comes as a much-needed respite, just like the video-call song does to Muthu and friends.