Tamil Cinema has always aged better when it came to cliches, so much so that people have begun rejecting a possibly different approach in story development. There have been laughable cliches like forced chase sequences in any commercial Kamal movie climax, green wire for putting off bombs to even ridiculous ones like chamathu homely ponnu always being the likable choice for the hero (ultimately). Mind you, the cliches that I claim here are even what the producer believes to be the hit-worthy elements of storytelling. Ever since my KTV and Raj TV movie-watching experience started, there have been several understandable and many times, ridiculous sentiments ones that I've come
1. Yearning for a dramatic climax:
Cliches have evolved so much- to even become Easter-eggs for a predictable plot. A heroine proclaiming that this was her happiest moment only means she's gonna get shot the next scene. A hero imagining his marriage in a song only means that the event is going to get cancelled. But climax cliches, have always been super special. Some movies required open-end ones, some don't even need one, but Tamil cinema always needed a bang in the end.
Let me start with the forced railway station ending in Mouna Ragam(1986) , intended only to give the viewers a final punch. Even Jay Jay (2003) which actually felt like a 164-minute climax of a movie, had to only end in a railway station. And then came the compulsory fight sequences(even for a family drama) like the ones in Friends (2001) and Anna Nagar Muthal Theru (1988), when new characters were designed in the plot only for the climax fight- unlike their Malayalam originals.
If you are looking for the typical action movies, it is an unwritten rule that the final climax kidnap or fight should somehow fall in place to concern the personal life of the investigating officer- preferrably a face-off in Binny mills. Once you start following cliches, there is definitely no going back. But what happens sometimes is the need for a dramatic, happily-ever climax actually spoils the essence of the film. Take for example, Rhythm(2000). If the film attended with Arjun waiting for Meena in the Mumbai Station (without even having the final Ooty segment) I wouldn't have slept for days for sure.
Let's also talk about the ridiculous climax sense in Tamil Cinema that the 2nd heroine who finally gives up her love in every triangle love story happen to only hail from a wealthy family. Well, we are supposed to believe 'at least she's got cash' or worse- she is a bad girl, she drinks and all.
2. Reverse Stockholm Syndrome
This is a term that I came up with- to express how the hero or heroine (who is consigned to fake love and accomplish a task) eventually falls in love with the person. Stockholm Syndrome (right from Money Heist to Alex Pandian) is now an international cliche, but this one is firmly rooted to our Tamil moralities. You get the hero to be a celebrity, there's this heroine who falls in love with his honesty, hero's a spy, heroine falls for her dedication, you have a gangster, heroine falls for his troubled childhood. (Amarkalam actually suffers from the normal and reverse syndrome).
But what these writers don't realize is how much drama they miss out to explore- by diverting away from this cliche. For example,even if Aaranya Kaandam is going to be made as a 5-part feature, the character of Subbu will keep us interested- because we've bought that she's a vulture. Well, let's wait and watch how much of a nihilist Nandhini is actually going to be on screen next year.
3. Women Characters (what else):
No, I ain't gonna refer to the loosu ponnu quirks or the need for b'wood new faces for a Tamil rural film, or even the definite social message women-centric drama is supposed to present. Sadly, my problem here is about the very essence of shaping a woman character- an ever-interesting riddle in reality, but in films only riddled with cliches.
I generally stop watching a movie in between when the relatability factor is starkly missing. On that regard, I've always wondered how the female audience are forced to put up with such cliche and routine one-dimensional (mis)representation of women characters for all these decades. For me at least, it's always been disheartening that woman roles hardly get justice to their screen-space, let alone developing an arc and all. As a result, even a Meghana (in Vaaranam Ayiram) who ends up only mouthing words that Surya wants to hear, becomes a well-etched character just because we know a little more about her bio. Also, you add a superficial layer of a hobby (predominantly limited to singing or dancing) to their role, it is believed they've truly got a voice. Yes, there have been notable exceptions like Game Over (2019), Kaatru Veliyidai (2017) and many others, but there's always been a marked difference between a female lead and a protagonist in Tamil cinema. Take Thalapathy(1991) for instance - Shobana might seem to be the so called lead, but deep down we know Srividya is actually the one who got the proper arc.
PS: Speaking of Thalapathy, I've always had this doubt regarding the origin of the word 'Then-nilavu' (as heard in the song Sundari). It can be perfectly translated in English as honey-moon, so which language actually borrowed the word from the other? Not a cliche, but I'm genuinely trying to crack this (non cliche ending).
- J. Gokul Krishna