I have been thinking a lot about Bommi, since catching Soorarai Pottru on Amazon Prime Video. To be honest, we all have. There’s a lot to appreciate in the final, sure. But the lead woman, Bommi, takes the cake, quite literally. Intelligent and feisty, Bommi aka Sundari is probably one of the best heroines we have seen recently in the Tamil mainstream. It feels heartening to see such a character get as much love. If nothing else, it is a sign that people do appreciate representation that is closer to the truth. There are no more excuses really. (We have never had an acceptable rationale anyway.) A woman of strength and sense can exist anywhere with dignity if we let her. And now, we have another example to show for it.
Last night, I visited Manderley again… because Netflix decided to remake the classic, Rebecca. The story originally written by Daphne du Maurier is one of a young woman dazzled by a rich, broody widower, Maxim De Winter, she meets in Monte Carlo. She rushes into a marriage with him only to realise that he is still living in the past, haunted by the memory of ex-wife Rebecca. My first experience with Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning 1940 film adaptation of the same name. Swooped into Manderley, the new wife finds it hard to shake off the evocative presence of Rebecca; she struggles to bear the weight of Rebecca’s legacy which lives on, thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Danvers, the faithful housekeeper.
What do our children watch? It’s something that has been running in my mind for quite some time. Mainstream cinema in our country rarely caters to children and young adults. Sometimes, even films or series about them cannot be watched by them: like the controversial French film, Migonnes (Cuties in English), or Sex Education which is set in high school but has an 18+ rating. What are we offering our young adults in the form of mainstream entertainment? The children are missing in it, and so are sensitive narratives around them. As director Megha Ramaswamy asked, “The new mainstream is brimming with dystopia and men writing about bodies of women, the same old heartland, etc… What are children watching?”
The quote, ‘Desire in men is a hunger, while for women, it is an appetite’, is true of how our women characters are shown onscreen. Our songs always highlight certain traits of women. A man is mostly shown to desire a woman’s beauty, but the vice-versa can rarely be said to be true in our cinema. The female lead falls in love with the male lead simply because he is the protagonist. What else would she need?
Sitting at a beauty parlour, one day, I saw a young girl, barely 12-13 years old, walk in to get her perfectly natural eyebrows threaded. The beautician asked if she had come alone, and she showed that she had the money for the service. The beautician refused and asked the girl to return with her mother. This incident, though overtly harmless, disturbed me. I kept seeing variations of this incident everywhere: on social media, where tweens and teens pretend to be an adult and pose in grown-up clothes and make-up; on reality shows where children trudge through grown-up routines; and in life itself.
Representation vs glorification has often been a touchy debate, one that embodied the conversation around the controversial Telugu film, Arjun Reddy. Three years after its release, this film continues to crop up in debates. The problem with Arjun Reddy was how the film glamourised the sexism of its lead. For those wondering how the thin line between romanticisation and depiction can be straddled, the FX mini-series, Mrs. America, is a good example.
Nefelibata. It’s a new word I stumbled upon recently. The Urban Dictionary explains it to mean a ‘cloud walker’ i.e. ‘one who lives in the clouds of their imagination’. It would be a good word to define the young Gunjan Saxena, who aspires to be one, quite literally. After catching a glimpse of the vast blue expanse with tufts of white on a commercial flight, young Gunju decides that the skies are her place. Wearing a pair of goggles to ‘protect her eyesight’, Gunjan confidently proclaims that she will become a pilot. However, her excited face crumbles when her brother mocks her: ‘Girls can’t be pilots.‘ Enter Gunjan’s father Anup Saxena (an effective Pankaj Tripathi), who admonishes his son: “Which buffoon taught you that?”.
I quite liked Anu Menon’s, Shakuntala Devi. With a tour de force from Vidya Balan, the film makes a strong point about the rampant deification of women (especially mothers) in our society. My reaction to the film was in conflict with social media opinion that wasn’t exactly laudatory of this film. Now that I have seen it, I am curious. What did people have a problem with exactly?
There is something very cathartic about watching women kick some butt, quite literally, on screen. As women, we have been always told that we are the ‘weaker sex’. And that if it comes to a fight, any man could strong-arm us into defeat. This conditioning, for long, made me think of my body as a liability. It took me a long time to unlearn all of that. Thus, to watch women be badass on screen, sending men to the ground with consummate ease, is not just entertaining but also gratifying.
Stories about women are no novelty to Tamil cinema. Did you know we had our first female director, TP Rajalakshmi, in the year 1936? But to chart the course of women-centric cinema in Tamil would be impossible without mentioning the films of K Balachander. KB, as he is fondly called, is often remembered for introducing two superstars (Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth) to Tamil cinema, but the director’s true legacy was his brand of women-centric cinema and its firebrand female leads.