While all of our known universe remained consumed by Kabali , the Swathi issue has been gently pushed away from public consciousness, and along with it, the palpable anger at the depiction of stalking as a perfectly normal — why, even romantic — manner of courtship in Tamil cinema. There was even an online petition against ‘glorification of stalking in Tamil films’ that was gaining steam, but it seems to have fizzled out now. Where am I going with all this? While you and I were busy humming ‘Maya Nadhi’, a certain song from the upcoming Sivakarthikeyan-starrer Remo , has quietly raked in the views count — it’s now at about 18 lakhs. The song’s titled ‘Senjitaaley’, and seems to stand for everything wrong about the portrayal of love in Tamil cinema.
One of the opening lines of the song —‘ First look-u vechu bokkunudhaan, onnu vechutaale, onnu vechutaale; Love-u book-u onnu nenjukulla open senjutaalay ’— describes in no uncertain terms that the protagonist is writhing in the throes of love, following an innocuous glance from a strange woman. Although one could well be made, this, however, isn’t a case against ‘love at first sight’, a time-tested trope in literature and cinema, that finds mention even in biblical text. The problem is in the romanticisation of what then usually transpires in Tamil cinema. Another couple of lines in the song throw some light on this: ‘ Enakku nee easy-ah laam venaam… tholla panni alayaama thiriyaama kedaikkara kaadhale venaam .’ If the idea of love as a type of conquest is itself questionable, what of the aforementioned line, specifically the words ‘ tholla panni ’, that romanticises harassment?
Perhaps, you heard this catchy Anirudh song on the radio, and weren’t quite outraged. Perhaps, you’re even wondering if I’m just nitpicking. But wait, have you watched the official lyric video yet? The animation has the figure of a man seeing a woman on the road, which causes a small arrow to pass through his heart. And then comes the alarming part: he turns around and begins to walk behind her. The entire video has him, in eerie resemblance of the harassment many women encounter, walking behind her. He makes no attempt to exchange courtesies, she gives him no sign that she enjoys him following her, but the male figure just trudges on and on behind her.
This portrayal is deficient not just from a social perspective, but a creative perspective too. It’s upsetting that promising young artistes like Anirudh (composer), Sivakarthikeyan (actor), and Vignesh Shivan (lyricist) bring us the same old stale, regressive portrayal of courtship. Why cannot strangers, like in OK Kanmani , be shown to fall organically in love, without the man seeming like a pest? What does it say about the future of our cinema that it still takes a veteran director like Mani Ratnam to bring us love stories that are sophisticated and crucially, consensual? More importantly, how many of those 12 lakh people who have seen the lyric video of ‘Senjitaaley’ are men, and how many of them are now convinced that a polite smile from a strange girl is indicative of romantic interest, and that it is reason enough to begin walking behind her? You know, just like their hero did in Remo .