Women of Steel

Sujatha and Sripriya in Aval Oru Thodarkathai  

Beauty combined with gullibility and vulnerability were the hallmarks of the heroine of the days of yore. Her reaction to problems began and ended with tears and soliloquies on self-pity, and she was a commodity that had to be protected. The typicality continued until K. Balachander arrived on the scene. He showcased women of steel with hearts of gold. It was a revolution in Tamil cinema of the 1970s, when Janaki, the IAS officer in Iru Kodugal, stomped the screen and stole our hearts — Sowcar Janaki came up with a stellar performance.

K. Balachander dared to break away from stereotypes and even had some of his male protagonists play second fiddle to their heroines! A few others followed him but couldn’t scale the pinnacle he did — in fact some of KB’s own women characters didn’t stand a chance against his other creations. Examples are many. Shruti in Kalki, Saritha in Agni Saatshi and Jayachitra in Sollathaan Ninaikiraen played poignant characters, yet lacked the intensity of KB’s other heroines.

Physical prowess of women came to the fore in films such as Vyjayanthi IPS, where Vijayashanthi showed that she could take on thugs and excel in action! Revathi in Bharatiraaja’s Pudhumai Penn and Radha in his Mudhal Mariyaadhai did impress, but the melodrama quotient in these films was a little too high.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the subject of strong women characters in Tamil cinema, dwelling on KB’s creations is inevitable. Sadly, very few creators make such characters these days, driven as they are by the dictates of the BO.

Aval Oru Thodarkadhai

K. Balachander’s Aval Oru Thodarkadhai is a film that will stay with you forever — the invincible heroine was a big draw. And with AOT, Sujatha arrived! As the eldest daughter, who bears the onus of supporting a large family, she came up with a memorable performance. Her matter-of-fact approach to life was very fresh for Tamil audiences, who sang paeans to KB’s creative strokes.

Manadhil Urudhi Vaendum

Nandini in Manadhil Urudhi Vaendum is a chip off the old block, if you compare her with her predecessor Kavitha of Aval Oru Thodarkadhai. Perfectly played by Suhasini, the well-etched character of Nandini made an indelible impression on the viewer, in spite of the similarities between Kavitha and Nandini, and the premise that was common to both the films.


Anu is married to a sadist and dragged into a quagmire of insults and humiliation. Odds notwithstanding, she rises like a phoenix. Avargal is yet another film in which Sujatha scored a ton, despite the powerful presence of Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan and Ravikumar. Incidentally, Rajinikanth’s performance as a callous, insensitive husband is one of his best till date.


A remake of Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth, the Tamil version was another excellently crafted Balu Mahendra product. Arvind Swami, ‘Nizhalgal’ Ravi, Revathi and Rohini comprised the lead cast. From being a docile homemaker who struggles to come to terms with her husband’s extra-marital affair, the character emerges as a strong woman, who refuses to give up her self-respect, at any cost. It wasn’t easy for Revathi to make a mark because comparison with Shabana Azmi, who acted in the original, was inevitable. But Revathi achieved it with élan.


Remade from a remake, Vidhi soared high because of its well-etched women characters, commendably enacted by Sujatha and Poornima Jayaram. Nyayam Kaavaali, the Telugu original, had Radhika and Sharada, and inspired the timid, tacit woman of the period to rise in revolt against male arrogance and chauvinism. The Hindi version, Mujhe Insaaf Chaahiye, had Rekha and Rati Agnihotri, while Vidhi, directed by K. Vijayan, stood out for the brilliant show of its protagonists, Sujatha and Poornima. In fact, performance wise, Vidhi can be termed the best in Poornima’s oeuvre. It may have been the third in the order of release, but Poornima proved that as Radha in the film, she could make a tremendous impact despite comparisons with Bharati (Radhika) in Nyayam Kaavaali and Malati (Rati) in Mujhe Insaaf Chaahiye.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 8:44:47 AM |

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