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Within the last 1.5 months Indian cinema audiences have received two hit films with 4-letter titles. Aside from that there is very little that Remo and Pink have in common, especially when it comes to the discussions they evoke about the treatment of women in modern day India, or anywhere in the world, for that matter.
The brilliant “Pink” directed by Aniruddha Chowdhury, starring Taapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bachan, received rave reviews and commercial success, while raising the much needed discussion about consent. It was not marketed, and thankfully not received, as a “feminist film” (or of the derogatory “chick flick” genre), but as a mainstream drama with a practical look at the black and white issue of consent in a relationship; there is no gray area, no means no.
“Remo”, the recent Sivakarthikeyan opus directed by Bakkiyaraj Kannan, brings up another important issue affecting women’s (& men’s) safety globally – stalking. But, Remo, which was marketed as a romantic comedy, brought it up by having its lead male character practice it throughout.
Recently movie critic Sudhir Srinivasan wrote a fantastic column by writing down & loosely translating direct dialogues from Remo, demonstrating the blatant misogynistic themes throughout this super hit film. Should cinephiles be disheartened that celebrated technicians like PC Sreeram and Resul Pookutty lent their time to a film such as this? We could be, but cinema is a business and, financially speaking, it seems they made the right decisions given that they’re associated with a blockbuster film that is now being released in Telugu too. I will not deny the film’s rampant success, since it has been proven by the numbers. I’ve even stated that I am not surprised by the film’s success given Sivakarthikeyan’s screen presence, mass appeal and lovable public persona. I’ve also stated that it is encouraging to others in the field to see that the extensive & innovative marketing efforts of the film’s team worked well.
My aim is not to compare Remo and Pink, but simply to point out how starkly different their messaging about women’s rights and safety are, and yet, how both are possibly equally impactful.
Let’s not even talk about how the films differ in terms of their female characters and the roles they offer for female actresses. I will not even say one film is better than the other, because perception of whether a movie is good is in the eye of the beholder; I can only say which I prefer (Pink). I cannot even say one is more successful than the other, because perhaps each team achieved their own individual commercial and critical goals, there by making both films successes by their own respective measurements.
Instead, I’d like to discuss David and Goliath.
Over the past few months a petition initiated by the “Calling Out Stalking” campaign has been circulating the internet to urge filmmakers to stop “glorifying stalking as the way to win a woman’s love”. The campaign has publicly advocated the boycott of Remo, for its demonstration of how Sivakarthikeyan’s character stalks Keerthy Suresh’s.
Many people may believe the way to obtain attention for the “Calling out Stalking” cause is to encourage mass boycotts of films like Remo and demand more films like Pink are made; I agree with the latter, but not the first step.
In my opinion, boycotting films like Remo is not the answer, because, like it or not, films like Remo will always make money (at least for the next foreseeable 20 years) and producers will continue to invest in them. Producers of such commercial blockbuster films may even argue that if they don’t make money off of the “Remo’s” they cannot fund films like “Pink” once in a while too.
However, films like Remo would not be a problem if everyone who watched the film understood the difference between real & reel life. But that’s not the case, especially in India, where young children are often allowed/brought by families into films of all sorts, and films with graphic violence and mature subject matter are often granted inappropriate general audience ratings.
Children are some of the biggest consumers of Sivakarthikeyan, Remo and other films like Remo. That’s plainly obvious by the amount of pictures circulating on social media of children & young SK fans eager to dress up like the film’s ‘Regina Motwani’ female nurse character (or whose parents chose to dress them up as a sign of their own fandom)
That’s fine. It’s understandable that many kids will enjoy the movie for its song, dance, melodrama & comedy bits. But it’s up to those who should know better (ex. their parents and teachers) to then educate them on the difference between cinema and reality, and what in the film is & isn’t acceptable for them to mimic and repeat.
We need to teach children that what might be accepted in a movie they watch will not always be accepted in real life; that things won’t have the same results as in a movie if you attempt the same actions.
Let’s take the classic 2009 comedy “The Hangover” as example. Most adults with a modicum of common sense realize that if they were to re-enact/be put in the same situations as Phil, Stu and Alan there’s a 90% chance they would not live to tell the story, or at the very least they would be telling it from behind bars or a hospital bed. For children who may have seen the film it is probably also blatantly obvious to them that they would be frightened & unable to survive if placed in the same situation, and that it is not advisable to associate with friends who would secretly drug each other or attempt to confront murderers themselves instead of going to the authorities.
We teach children not to attempt the stunts they see on screen because they may harm themselves. We remind them that smoking, drinking and drug use are injurious to health (albeit weakly via disclaimers before films that then praise a brave hero who constantly has a cigarette between his lips). But we do not openly educate them that just because a “hero” can “acquire” a “heroine” in a film by following her around everywhere to the point that she submits to his “courtship” that that is acceptable behavior in real life.
How many parents do you think remind their children that if they were to follow around someone everywhere in real life they could very well be reported for stalking or assault and be arrested? How many people take impressionable youth to a movie like Remo and then sit them down after to make sure they understand that it is not correct to refer to a woman as property to be acquired or speak about them the way SK does in the film - stating that they are less intelligent than men or devious creatures if they spurn a man’s advances.
I engaged in several Twitter conversations with followers suggesting that I, after supporting Sudhir’s article, was maliciously targeting Remo, but turning a blind eye to other films. For example, a follower of mine, influenced by our discussion, said he may have to remove Minnale from his list of favorite films, since it also displays Madhavan’s character Rajesh following Reena, portrayed by Reema Sen, around Chennai before making her acquaintance.
Minnale has always been one of my favorite films; it is about a lot more than stalking. Although that portion is certainly deplorable the film eventually goes on to show that a healthy relationship was not possible unless both participants were consenting, honest, committed & passionate about each other, and that deception in order to woo a partner is not the way to go. But I & many other people who enjoy Minnale to this day are those that understand there are certain portions of that film that should not be emulated in real life because they are disrespectful, aggressive and illegal. The problem does not lie with fans of the film who know where the line is drawn, but with those who do not and then go on to mimic debauched characters in actual society. Remo is about more than stalking too, but it’s on us to remind impressionable audiences that, sometimes, what might be displayed for even a small portion of an otherwise wonderful film can still be wrong.
David took down Goliath with a slingshot & a single rock between the eyes. But, like I wish more people would realize the difference between cinema & real life, I realize the difference between this fable & reality. Boycotting films like Remo will not make a difference unless the entire global audience for a blockbuster film joins hands to do it simultaneously, which is virtually impossible. So, instead, we must continue to raise our voices to Goliath, the creators of stories like Remo, as well as educate our impressionable audiences on how there are certain things seen in films that should remain solely on film.
Written by - Dilani Rabindran