Films set in a bar have become the order of the day. What do filmmakers say about this?

A few decades ago, if the hero had a bottle in hand, it probably meant he was supremely depressed or feeling suicidal.

But take a look at Tamil cinema today and you will see that there are very few heroes who don't drink onscreen.

“Earlier, you could tell the hero apart from the villain only by seeing who has a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other,” Pushkar, who made Va: Quarter Cutting a few years ago with his partner Gayathri, points out. “But we can't say that the stigma associated with it is gone. Apparently, we are told it is still not OK for the family audience. We got a lot of flak for Quarter Cutting because alcohol as the ultimate goal was simply unacceptable. We didn't realise there was this huge moral hang-up till we were done.”

Today, however, when Romba Sumaar Moonji Kumar goes looking for alcohol, saying “Friendu. Love matteraan. Feel ayitaapla. Half adicha, cool ayiduvapla,” in Idharkuthaane Aasaipattai Balakumara, the hall is in splits. Because a guy drinking as he's upset is now laughing matter. Not a grave concern.

Recently, director Rajesh, who has used alcohol in all his films, in an interview admitted that drinking scenes are usually written for comedy and male bonding. The youth related to it, he said.

A vehicle for comedy

As Pushkar puts it, “Bar scenes are a vehicle for comedy and help create situations which would otherwise be unfunny outside that space. Alcohol is a tool for comedy or to launch into a gaana. It is the new item number. A bar is a good space for setting up male bonding, or icebreakers in a conflict situation, or breaking the social divide as a great leveller.” Nalan Kumarasamy’s dark comedy Soodhu Kavvum kicks off at a bar with guys from different backdrops coming together during the catchy ‘Maama Touser Kalindichu’. “A bakery or a tea shop would not have been ideal. I wanted a place where strangers would meet and bond. Having a gaana there seemed like a cliché, so I used a jazzy twist number. But justification for my film aside, I think a lot of young filmmakers go there unconsciously because hangouts have changed. TASMAC has the highest alcohol sale in the whole country,” explains Nalan.

Gokul, the director of Idharkuthaane Aasaipattai Balakumara, says that he initially wanted to make a serious film set in a bar. But Madhubanakadai had beaten him to it and he decided to make a more comical film.

“A bar is a place where different people sit and drink in different moods. There are extreme emotions — happiness, sadness. Society has changed. If you are young, I'm sure at least 7-8 of your friends drink today. Films only reflect society,” insists Gokul.

Idharkuthaane Aasaipattai Balakumara, which boasts of one of the best openings in recent weeks, interestingly happens to be one of the rare films that actually makes a case against drinking. But the director does not expect cinema to change society.

“I didn’t want to be preachy. The idea was to say it in the lightest manner possible.”

That's like showing a full-blown porn film and saying sex is bad or making an extremely violent film that ends with a message about non-violence, said critics. “Isn't it more effective when a guy who drinks tells you not to, than have a guy who has never drunk tell you? If a guy who has never fought speaks about non-violence, it is less effective than coming from a guy who has seen violence. I just wanted to throw light on this issue of drinking and it is my responsibility as a filmmaker to at least end on that note. It is better than not saying anything.”

The audience has changed, adds Gokul. “While they should ideally be rooting for Sumaar Moonji Kumar to be found so that a life can be saved, they were clapping when his friend misdirects the guys hunting for Kumar. The mentality has changed. People want to enjoy. Let them enjoy.”