In a world where we have enough people telling women what to do, how to behave, how to dress and how to avoid rape, do we also need reel life portrayals telling us similar things
I recently watched the Hindi film 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha', a charming tale of an overweight wife and a frail husband struggling to make their arranged marriage work amid an extremely patriarchal set up. While the girl gushes at the timid Ayushmann Khurrana, the young man is opposed to the marriage: one of the main reasons being his wife’s rotundness. I was immediately reminded of the effervescent 'Sathileelavathi' starring Kalpana as Leelavathi, whose cheating husband Arun (Ramesh Arvind) finds his wife of 12 years fat and boring.
While that tale took to comedy to explain how inevitably a woman needs ‘good’ physical attributes to stay in a successful marriage, 'Dum Laga Ke…' took to simple drama interspersed with romance to drive home the point. In the end, the husband makes his peace with the caring wife and all is well on screen, in both the films. But is this the case in real life as well? Can we just wish off a shallow husband saying he’s going to come to his senses eventually after realising his wife has been cleaning up after him literally and metaphorically? Or are we looking at something that is culturally wrong about how a woman is shown on the screen?
We seldom see movies where the wife gets disgusted with a fat husband or the story of a cheating wife whose husband fights all odds to win her back. Indian Cinema, especially Tamil cinema, has long been guilty of making women props rather than the actual better half. Take the case of the “famous” line from a Tamil movie 'Sivakasi' when the heroine is gently guided into a life of enlightenment about dressing ‘suitably’ in line with "Tamil culture". She is questioned about her value systems in front of a generally docile audience (nothing new there!) when a man swats her shorts-clad behind in a public place. This mighty advice comes from a roadside welder with a penchant for beating people up.
How many movies have we seen where the hero just takes a glance at the glowing face of a girl and falls head over heels in love? How many songs by drunken men have we listened to that propose women are cheaters who drive men into an abyss? I don’t remember seeing a man kicking and screaming his way into a relationship on screen! But boom! something goes wrong (like the fact that he drinks like a duck or does not have a job to support himself) they go around TASMAC shops with a ‘gana’ song on how women are horrible creatures who are looking to eat them up like the very Godzilla.
Tamil Cinema has a culture of influencing minds. Hero worship is a highly prevalent phenomenon and sometimes fans have taken to extreme measures to show their adoration for a movie star. So when we see the portrayal of women as just a pretty face or a stereotype, it is bound to have an impact. Fancy this: a movie with a superstar where he teaches a lesson to a woman on how she should behave and what the qualities of a ‘perfect lady’ should be. Then he goes on to marry a shy and quiet lass after describing her as a perfect embodiment of what he wants in a wife. The actor’s onscreen antics have been followed by generations of young men who persevere to smoke stylishly like him. His words have no other way but to get registered as gospel.
Granted, we have a 'Queen', 'Mozhi', 'English Vinglish', and some others that give an equal if not the lead space to women in the movie. 'Mozhi' brought out Jyothika as a confident differently abled young woman capable of finding a guy who loves her for who she is. The wonderful 'Queen' starring Kangana Ranaut showed how a broken engagement does not mean the end of the world for a young woman. Then there is 'English Vinglish' where a middle-aged woman learns English to get people to treat her with dignity. However, references in films where objectification of women is the norm make the good ones seem far and few. In a world where we have enough people telling us what to do, how to behave, how to dress and how to avoid rape, do we also need the make-believe world of cinema telling us similar things?
Cinema is, to an extent, a reflection of the society. Directors have known to take historical and current happenings as inspirations for their line of thought. A dialogue penned by the famous Tamil director Balu Mahendra in 'Marubadiyum' comes to mind. Tulasi (played by Revathi) vexed after a bitter divorce from her cheating husband explains to a probable suitor the importance of independence after she declines his proposal. She says that before her marriage she had taken her father’s name and after her nuptials her husband’s. Now, it was just her against the world. After a pregnant pause, the movie ends.
Maybe that’s what Tamil cinema needs: just a story about a woman with no exaggerations about her beauty or her ‘sexiness’ but just her being treated like she deserves.
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