Are Tamil films overly insensitive? A look at what people in the film industry have to say

Sometime ago, when the makers of Endrendrum Punnagai, starring Jiiva, Trisha and Santhanam, were forced to remove Santhanam’s lines from the film’s trailer following the concerns expressed by a section of the public that they were insensitive towards women, it was considered a sign that Tamil cinema was, though reluctantly, recalibrating its moral compass.

But the recent debate about the ‘appropriateness’ of the title of director Ramakrishnan’s upcoming film ‘Pongadi Neengalum Unga Kadhalum’ at the audio launch only goes to show that the sensitivity index of even the big names in the Tamil film industry is remarkably low. Except directors Mysskin and Cheran, (special guests at the event) who publicly criticised the choice of the title, the rest chose not to make an issue of it. Speaking later, director Ramakrishnan said he knew that the title had negative shades but insisted that he had good intentions. “Though the phrase reflects a lot of anger, it is also something we say to girls who fall in love with the wrong men, just out of concern,” he said.

These days, Tamil films are accused of being increasingly insensitive – be it the way they are named or for featuring dialogues and songs (remember the racial slur in Singam II?) written in poor taste against people of a particular colour, caste or sexual orientation.

Ever since ‘love’ stories laced with comedy became the order of the day, it has been consistently pointed out how even comic narratives have posed problems. Tamil cinephiles argue that what’s being featured in commercial cinema, the themes or the comic sequences, is largely heterosexual and male-centric.

“The men in our movies are shown as being supremely masculine, taking pride in vengeful acts. These days, the audience find it difficult to relate to the characters they see on screen. There is a huge gap between social reality and what’s depicted on screen,” says lyricist Kutty Revathi, who is now planning to direct her own film.

Commenting on the way our films portray love, relationships and women, director Selvaraghavan, who was criticised earlier for diffusing incorrect ideas about women empowerment in his previous film, Mayakkam Enna, said, “It is sad that our films are poking fun at women. We should stop making films that belittle any social group.”

Have films become more and more exclusive over the years? One of the most persuasive explanations is that films cater to the ‘market’, which, they say, is predominantly ‘male’. “Along with women, men too should have a problem with the way they are shown in films — as stalkers and prejudiced individuals,” says Kutti Revathi.

When asked about this, Balaji Sakthivel, whose Kadhal and Vazhakku En 18/9 feature on the favourites list of most Tamil filmgoers, singled out the lack of interest on the part of filmmakers to understand their society. “When filmmakers are politically aware of the kind of society they live in, their films too will automatically become inclusive. A close understanding of the social reality is necessary,” said Balaji Sakthivel.

When we contrast this to a country such as Sweden, where four non-profit cinemas, backed by the country’s film institute, have announced that they will introduce a new gender-based rating to highlight gender-bias in movies, it is clear that we are way behind.