THE SUNDAY STORY Tamil films draw clear boundaries when it comes to depicting women in relationships.

Samsaram enbathu veenai (wife is a veena), santhosam enbathu ragam (happiness is the raga), salanangal athil illai (there are no discordant notes in it). Thus goes the song, flowing with the expectations of a husband from a hit film of the 70s, Mayangukiral Oru Maadhu. In that film, the heroine, forced by circumstances, does not marry her lover, but someone else. She is then the victim of blackmail, by a photographer who has captured her intimate moments with her lover, and now seeks money. The threat is that the pictures will be revealed to her husband.

In the end, though, a very magnanimous husband reveals that he had agreed to marry her despite knowing her past. Premarital sex is condoned here. Yet, you are not allowed to forget that her actions were wrong and unacceptable. In Tamil society, as elsewhere, sex outside marriage is publicly frowned upon, and films have often reinforced such values. “Even films with a radical story line and strong women characters are made from man’s point of view and they invariably seek to present him as a large-hearted provider, while the woman’s own feelings are given short shrift,” says film director Suka.

Tamil films draw clear boundaries when it comes to depicting women in relationships. Even films with an overtly sexual theme are no exception. The audience is left in no doubt that patriarchy and political correctness rule, and exploration is minimal.

In one Rajnikant-starrer, Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri, a woman ditched by her lover is given asylum by another friend. The couple spend years under the same roof but the relationship remains platonic. The heroine is acutely aware of the man’s desire for sex, but is unable to make the decisive move. When she finally does shed her inhibitions and prepares for a relationship, he dies.

“We want a bond, especially marriage, to sanctify sexual relationship between men and women. Marriage is an important ritual. Even the most compatible minds in Sindhu Bhairavi, the singer and his fan, were not allowed to live together, even after the wife reconciled herself to that,” Ajayan Bala, another film director, says.

Alaipayuthe Kanna, a latter-day film, is about a girl who ventures to marry her lover in secret at a temple, but continues to live with her parents — waiting for an opportune moment to break the news. All the while she wears her thali (mangalsutra) but keeps it concealed — for, she can’t bear to be without it. She repeatedly bows before it although her liberal husband makes fun of such a fetish. “We are obsessed with values and deviations are seen as a social crime. Marriage and thali have fettered women. The theme is well portrayed in Andha Yezhu Natkal. The heroine’s former lover himself does not allow her to walk out of her marriage,” says Mr. Bala.

In Pizza, living together results in the girl becoming pregnant. But the story veers away, erasing the relationship from the mind of the audience. Living together is common in a world where men and women are economically independent, but a long-term relationship warrants marriage. In Mayakkam Enna, a girl abandons her boyfriend for a new relationship that ends in marriage. Her subsequent life is one of suffering with a husband who becomes mentally unstable and frequently drunk, but she is firm not to allow a more sympathetic man to take advantage of her. She is a dedicated wife and her only mission in life is to rehabilitate her husband.

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