Kamal Haasan is no stranger when it comes to addressing important issues, conflicts or questions in his films. A filmmaker that could leave anyone in awe, he chooses his own way to address the topic at hand; Feminism. From larger aspects that society itself is still identifying how to address to the intricate details that could slip our eyes at times, he makes sure to give that importance to his female characters as much and sometimes more than his male leads. The beauty of female perspectives in cinema is more than mere physical beauty and his films or his female characters stand as an ode to that. The following points are a closer look into identifying the thought that goes into this man to understand his view of women, of cinema and more importantly women characters in cinema.
- NO GLAM DOLLS OR STEREOTYPES, THANK YOU
There are glamorous moments , not denying that but these women have something that makes them so beautiful beyond just being successful leading ladies of their time. The answer is simple, a personality. The beauty of these personalities is that they’re not extremes. They’re not all Neelambari or neither are they every other heroine uselessly placed for the sake of a female face (or body in some cases). They’re beautiful because they’re honest, they have grey and are an absolute delight to watch on screen. A timid girl pushed into prostitution but wanting to study for an exam, An independant woman who is highly opinionated and someone who’d be referred to as a ‘feminazi’, an activist who is not afraid of her feelings and is such a self realized character and many more are the heroine outlines that were paired against Kamal. As a writer, the most beautiful and intricate variation he has shown would be in the two mother characters from Aboorva Sagotharargal where we have one woman who is meek yet survives for her son while suppressing the traumas of her past while we have a bold, rural dweller with a nurturing sense of humor and sternness. Indran Chandran had an angsty journalist, Virumandi had the wisest as a woman and Michael Madhana Kamarajan had three top heroines where no two were similar to each other whether the introduction, arc or world view.
In an age where the censor board still censors a woman saying ‘naliku?’ to her boyfriend after sex because a woman was initiating it in a scene from a recent movie, Kamal had bold women who were not afraid of reel societies and their censor boards. The lines “Come on, take me” as uttered by Kushboo in MMKR led to many laughs with Kamal’s counter but the beauty lies in how the woman character initiates the sex in the scene. Another interesting example would be Nammavar Gauthami playing a teacher of the modern era, her romantic persona truly comes out in the scene where the two leads are locked in a house with no electricity and just the piano indicating her sensuality. In another scene where the college boys make fun of her and Kamal, she walks hand in hand with him addressing how being a sexually open woman is nothing to be ashamed of. Kaathala Kaathala also gives birth to two flamboyant city girls and a view into their love lives. From “I like your touch” to “Indha pakam oru kodi, andha pakam oru kodi”, the movie is a proper representation of how physical relationships are and that they don’t always end with holding hands or a kiss. On the contrary to these bold women, we have Revathi from Devar Magan who is as gullible as it can be which also led to one of the most iconic moments in romance in Tamil cinema. The vast extremes that these female characters represent shows what a sex forward community we are even with a population of more than 1 million.
With respect given to both the cause and the cinematic moment, Kamal addresses many gender related issues in the most subtle manner and within the boundaries of the story and it’s requirements unless looked in deeply would be addressing a far larger societal issue. An important character that speaks out her concerns in a very interesting place would be Devar Magan’s Revathi after being stood up at the altar by a wedding that had her opinions or concerns overlooked for the sake of greater good. Her dialogue is a true testament to how women and their marriages are looked at as mere representations of dignity and status in society. It also addresses how women mostly tend to not be allowed to have an opinion or be able to make decisions for themselves. Unnal Mudiyum Thambi’s Malam is also a figure that spoke about societal concerns but in a not so subtle manner as her character was an activist and comes from a liberal background. They address abuse, they address caste and many other such issues faced by women in this film excluding the entire film addressing a philanthropic cause.
No female character is just placed because the production wanted a heroine or because it attracts a larger crowd. They have reasons to be in the story, whether an arc and journey of their own or whether to enhance the protagonist. There is a justification to their actions, their presence and their outview of the world. A great example for character enhancement as a purpose for a female character would be Manorama’s character in Aboorva Sagotharargal where her background and upbringing directly influences Raja and his mannerisms which helps strike the contrast in the two boys excluding the obvious physical difference. A character that helps guide the protagonist or at least tries to would be the iconic Annalakshmi, wise and worrisome of the plight of her love Virumandi she does her all to help him and her death is the point in the story from where everything changes. Devar Magan again, shows two women highlighting the stark difference that Shaktivel goes through from an urbanized boy who wants to get away from his rural past to a concerned man who takes on the responsibilities of the village.
If the above were not enough to prove his feminist side, then this film stands as an ode to his progressive outview of the world. This brainchild of Kamal although inspired by an english film was beautifully adapted to Tamil society and wittily represents an office place evil, sexism and inappropriate sexual advances. The 1994 film has three leading ladies carrying the film with the antagonist and supporting role played by Nasser. Not only did different sections of society get represented but the troubles faced by each as well. He addresses feminism for what it truly stands for, freedom to be who we want to be. Whether you’re career oriented and free spirited like Revathi’s character or a family oriented homemaker by nature like Urvashi, feminism is by your side. Excluding the untamable laughs, the film brings out real personalities and situations that can be witnessed on a day to day basis. A drunkard husband to protect and care for or a co worker trying to dig your professional grave, this film explores all the plights faced by modern day women and is still relevant in this era.
In an industry that thrived on chauvinism and the idea of ‘dominating a woman’, Kamal has truly portrayed real women for a long time and continues to do so. Feminism is not something to be afraid of and all of us should embrace the feminist in us like Kamal Haasan did. To those claiming we don’t need feminism, “Don’t put word in my mouth-u.”