Why are women-centric films thought to be ‘offbeat’? Why does having a female director/technician/producer always become an extra-talking point? Women directors and producers have been in existence since 1930s, but what about the status quo still makes it so novel? Netflix has become an interesting player in this space, in looking to level the gender field. More than 50 percent of its Indian original films have had female protagonists (Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, Bulbbul, Guilty, Chopsticks, Soni, Lust Stories, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl), and have been backed by several women filmmakers and technicians, debutantes and seasoned. What about the digital space makes it conducive for women?
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?
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.
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.
What connects Akshay Kumar’s Mission Mangal and Ajith’s Nerkonda Paarvai? Both stories are about women but told and headlined by a man. Both films were criticised for the same, for the film’s posters prominently showcasing Ajith and Akshay more than the women the films were about. Mission Mangal, in fact, had Vidya Balan, Taapsee, Sonakshi Sinha, Nithya Menen, and Kirti Kulhari, and yet, was branded an Akshay Kumar film. Taapsee had an interesting response to this. In a recent interview, she asked whether the audience would be willing to pay as much for these female actors, as they did for an Akshay Kumar film?
In Comali, which released this week, a saree-clad woman sells bajjis for a living. A don named Gaja (Ponnambalam) stares at her exposed waist, so transfixed with lust that he isn’t aware of men lurking closer to kill him. Pradeep Ranganathan, the director of Comali, doesn’t think it is enough for us to merely witness Ponnambalam’s lust. The camera zooms closes in on the woman’s waist and tracks the smallest movements voyeuristically. As I fidgeted in my seat, impatient for the sequence to end, the last straw arrived. After a tussle, Gaja gets killed by Dharmadurai. Blood splatters on the lady’s waist. As she makes a sensual sound, one of Dharmadurai’s (KS Ravikumar) henchmen deems it appropriate to wipe blood off her waist and use it as a sign of victory. I, on the other hand, was already regretting my decision to catch an early morning show of this film.