Bombay Showcase

Rewriting the gender script

Why has there been such excitement about Kannada cinema of late? Some are calling it a ‘New Wave’; while others are calling it a mere ‘moment’ in time. Yes, films like Thithi , U Turn , Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu stand out for showcasing good performances and being well-packaged. More than anything else, these films know how to tell a story well. And yet there’s something different. These films have given us strong female characters that have so far been absent in Kannada cinema.

Sample this: Raghavendra Hegde’s Jaggu Dada , which released shortly after Hemant Rao’s Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu , is about a gangster’s search for a ‘cultured bride’ for himself. The film recounts Jaggu Dada’s (Darshan) search for a bride. Disguised as Jaidev, a businessman, his search eventually takes him to Mumbai. Word spreads that he is looking for a bride and soon there is a knock at his door. Clad in a clingy saree, ‘Opener Kamala’ enters the room. She tells Jaidev’s friends (all male) that she wants to meet Jaggu and would like to coax him into marrying her. Then, she bends in front of Jaidev, the pallu of her saree falls off and the camera focuses on her cleavage. Jaidev, however, is not interested in her and doesn’t even look up from his phone. Since Kamala is not ‘marriage material’, Jaidev’s friends then take turns to ‘be seduced’ by her and finally, one of them takes her inside the bathroom.

The largely male audience that I was watching the film with in a multiplex, erupted in laughter and excitement at this point.

The camera then focuses on the door’s handle that moves up and down, hinting at what could be happening inside. Soon, the door opens to reveal Kamala with her pallu on her head as a ‘cultured bride’ and the man with her comes out zipping his pants. More laughter ensues from the audience. ‘Opener Kamala’ had been taught a lesson for being naughty and Jaidev’s friend sighs that she was not the bridal candidate they were looking for. But why shouldn’t boys have all the fun, anyway?

A few days before seeing Jaggu Dada , during an interview with actor Rakshit Shetty, I broached the topic of how the Kannada film industry is considered a male-dominated one. He replied, “More than the industry, it is a male-dominated audience.”

Sitting in the multiplex during Jaggu Dada , I did feel as if I was inside some boys-only club. While I cringed at the misogynist jokes and at the camera that focused on a woman’s chest or hip, the audience laughed and seemed to be having a good time.

Of course, it is equally true that a film like Jaggu Dada and the particular sense of humour it champions is not restricted to Kannada. The film belongs to what people call the leave-your-brains-at-home genre of films that thrive in all languages.

The films that released in the past year can be divided into two categories. That is, films that portray the male lover’s angst ( Melody , Preethiyinda , Sapno Ki Rani , Male , Simplag Innondu Love Story and Half Mentlu ). And then, there are films that celebrate or denounce the making of a gangster ( Rebel , Ganapa , Rx Soori , Arjuna , Mr. Airavata , Rathavara , Masterpiece , Shivalinga , Ranatantra , Chakravyuha , Bullet Basya and Jai Maruthi 800 ).

Broadly, the women are portrayed as money-minded in contrast to the men who are sufferers or martyrs in love.

Where are the women?

The women in these films have a pretty basic role. They are to be wooed, will first reject the guy and then will have a change of heart and say ‘yes’. In the gangster film, she is an accessory to the hero, often a damsel in distress who needs to be saved as the gangster kills people as though he’s swatting flies.

Of course, there were also a host of films that were remakes, there was Ram Gopal Varma’s Killing Veerappan and a few ‘family films’ that would be normally exceptions to these categories. But barring RGV’s film, almost every film, even among these exceptions, has at least some of the tropes of the aforementioned categories. Ironically, this includes the ‘angry young woman’ films of actor Malashree.

The films almost always address their male audience directly. Like a dialogue in Half Mentlu goes, “Women can see the money in my pocket but not the heart behind that pocket”. Popularly, dialogues begin, with “We as men....” championing a sense of camaraderie with the audience. And sure enough, the audience erupts in support with cat calls. A woman amidst this audience, therefore, is bound to feel left out, as if intruding on a boys-only session of catharsis.

Now, against such a backdrop, it is interesting to examine the films that are being hailed as new wave films: RangiTaranga , Kendasampige , U Turn and Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu . One is tempted to include films that haven’t fared as well, for example: Ring Road Suma and Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu . What is common in all these films is that they have substantial roles for women. Indu (Radhika Chetan) anchors RangiTaranga . Gowri (Manvitha) is the lady at the wheel in Kendasampige and leads her lover Ravi (Vicky) in and out of danger. Rachana (Shraddha Shrinath) is the lead of U Turn ; and Sruthi Hariharan who plays Dr. Sahana ( Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu ) has a substantial role to play in a man’s search for his father. In the film’s first half, it’s Dr. Sahana who drives Shiva (Rakshit Shetty) around, even going on her own to search for Venkob Rao (Anant Nag).

Is this mere coincidence? Or, is the charm of these films in part owing to the relief they offer from the male-speak of the rest of the films? Of course, the films also have strongly-etched male characters but it is in the writing and crafting of the female roles that these films thrive and fall back on. Without Gowri’s bold and brave role, there would be no road movie in Kendasampige . Without Indu’s search for the truth, there would be no mystery in RangiTaranga .

What the films also do is strike a balance between the two genders, mostly doing justice to both. They attempt to bring back a sense of balance that has been largely missing for a long, long time. Most importantly, these films break the male-only environs of the theatres thus far by making space for women on screen, one that encourages the audience to look with these women and not at them.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 11:44:50 PM |

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