Valentine’s Day is just over, and love is still in the air. For Tamil cinema, that means bringing back the romance on-screen. And this is one genre that cannot exist without its women. As a female Tamil actor recently observed, women do not get meaty roles unless it is a romcom or a romantic drama. It might be a reflection of the limited roles and spaces we want to see women in, especially on-screen; nevertheless, the genre is crucial when speaking about women’s portrayal. Sure, it has its pitfalls. But, this genre has given us some terrific women characters and has done so more consistently than others. That said, as with every genre, romance also has its share of stereotypes. Kutty Story — the love anthology from Gautham Vasudev Menon, Nalan Kumarasamy, Venkat Prabhu, and Vijay — attempts to break a few of these.
As a young girl, I often hung out with my mother in the kitchen. Whenever there was a gathering, the women always grouped in the kitchen while the men sat down in the drawing rooms, waiting to be served. Later, I was baffled to learn that most chefs at restaurants were men. Men are cooks at hotels, but rarely step into the kitchen at home? This paradox was an early thread I pulled at to understand patriarchy. The back-breaking labour women engage in has always been invisible—it’s almost like they are magic elves who disappear when the shoemaker comes. The Great Indian Kitchen (TGIK) takes off this invisibility cloak off women in the house.
A new year is usually considered to be the harbinger of new beginnings. Tamil cinema, however, has returned to some old traditions. The theatres are open and full again, and we have brand new releases. But along with the festive cheer, two of the Pongal releases also brought back perhaps the most popular version of woman in Tamil cinema: the Loosu Ponnu™. Save for an errant occurrence here and there (the heroine from Dagaalty comes to mind), this woman seemed to have bid goodbye. This isn’t to say that women roles have always been written with diligence, but at least, they weren’t manic pixie dream girls. Sadly, Bhoomi and Eeswaran bring back this woman back. More strangely, both roles were played by the same actor.
In the early minutes of Eeswaran, there’s a local cricket match. It is the final over—seven runs to win with just one wicket left. Eeswaran (Simbu) walks in to much applause. The other batsman Puli Kutty (Bala Saravanan) asks Eeswaran to hit a single and leave the rest to him. However, Eeswaran says, “Crowd-a paathalla? Naa aadithan jeikanum nu wait panraanga.” This last over becomes a metaphor, as Eeswaran continues to waste balls. Once, he even picks up the ball and throws it to the bowler, almost getting Puli Kutty run out. And then, the final ball arrives, and Eeswaran hits the CG ball for a six.
Shraddha Srinath is on cloud nine, as Maara that is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, has fetched her much praise for her portrayal of Paaru, a restoration architect who goes on a journey in search of a fairy tale. “Paaru, like me, believes every brick has a story to tell. Like her, I too am fascinated by old structures.” For the longest time, Shraddha wished she had a time machine. “When I see a fort, I wonder how it must have been when bustling with activity. Paaru is like that too; it’s why she is a restoration architect.” She smiles at the realisation that she speaks of Paaru as though she were a real person. “She is, in my head,” she says.
We take stock of the music scene in Tamil cinema, this year: the trends, highs, lows, and how the industry survived a pandemic
Taylor Swift once said that while people have not always been there for her, music always has been. If there’s any one year in which this quote assumes special relevance, it has to be this year. A lonely year of forced isolation and uncertainty—not just for the future, but for human touch and connection—2020, to put it mildly, has been tough on everyone. It’s a year that reiterated the significance of artists and creators, whose professions seem to be thought dispensable. Holed up in our homes, almost all of us found solace in music, much more than we have been used to. The melodies and lyrics filled up the void for emotional connection we all longed for.
Netflix began its southern sojourn with Paava Kadhaigal, an anthology based on honour killing. Tackling themes like caste-based violence and atrocities against the LGBTQ+ community, Paava Kadhaigal is directed by some of the biggest names of Tamil cinema — Gautham Menon, Sudha Kongara, Vetri Maaran and Vignesh Shivan.
Here’s Sudha, along with her actors in Thangam — Kalidas Jayaram, Shanthnu Bhagyaraj, Bhavani Sre — talking to us about their short, the responsibilities of handling sensitive themes, and more.
Paava Kadhaigal (stories of sin in English) is quite the appropriate name for the new Netflix anthology, helmed by Sudha Kongara (Thangam), Vignesh Shivan (Love Panna Uttranum), Gautham Menon (Vaanmagal), and Vetri Maaran (Orr Iravu). In all of them, sin is at the centre, with the characters placing honour above love, family, and humanity. Another similarity here is that the victims are all women or those who identify as women. Honour and honour killings are usually associated with casteism, but I found Paava Kadhaigal to interpret honour in a different, more inclusive manner. It touches upon the complicated relationship women have with ‘honour’, and this goes beyond caste. The patriarchal society has saddled women with the responsibility of ‘honour’ for centuries, censoring their lives and choices. Ironically, Paavam is also an expression of sympathy in Tamil. There’s another layer then to this title, about stories that reflect the unfair universe that our women are bundled into.
Mainstream language tells us, ‘Men are generic, women are special.’ Men are thought to be the ‘default form of humanity’, while women are a specific subcategory. Mankind, for example, refers to all of humanity, but womankind is just women. There are several manifestations of this around us, but in cinema, there’s one in particular. It’s how when a character isn’t defined by their gender, by default, the character turns out to be male.
The first feature you note about Vinoth Kishan is his eyes—the same eyes that made an impact in Nandha, in which he debuted as a child actor, the same ones that drilled dread into us in Naan Mahaan Alla. It’s an important tool in his arsenal, but what if he could not use them at all? This was the thought that made director Vignarajan approach the actor for his film, Andhagaaram. It is what made Selvam interesting to Vinoth as well. The duo decided that they would retain the look of the eyes, but that Vinoth would adapt to the lifestyle of a blind man. “I learnt their lifestyle. They have a way of doing everything—reading Braille, using laptops, general navigation etc. My character, Selvam, is a confident man.” Sympathy is a cornerstone of Selvam’s persona. “His problem wasn’t his disability, but other issues… Anyone who sees Selvam should feel for him.”