It’s February 2017, and it still isn’t a good time for women in this country.
No, not just underprivileged or middle class women. Women from every social strata are taking abuse in form or the other in varying quantities of injustice.
The latest black splotch in this regard was the abduction of a popular Malayalam actress who was subsequently molested and/or allegedly raped.
Khushbu Sundar was one of the first from the film fraternity to condemn it. Varalaxmi Sarathkumar joined in, reiterating the inequality by citing a personal example of the casting couch that silently prevails in the nepotism-ridden film industry. Sneha went with another angle by vowing to teach her son to look at and treat our women the right way.
In the midst of all this, Samantha Ruth Prabhu tweeted THIS:
Usually when you see a woman onscreen with a knife in her hand,
it it most likely that she’s in a kitchen, cutting vegetables.
From the first glance, we understand that this is a glimpse of her next film with Thiagarajan Kumararaja, starring the likes of Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil. But look at it in context. Is it all there is to it? Or is there some kind of poetic response to everything that’s been going around?
Usually when you see a woman onscreen with a knife in her hand, it it most likely that she’s in a kitchen, cutting vegetables. But scary as this aforementioned image is, the meat cleaver in Samantha’s hand and the man on the floor is…encouraging in a strange sort of way. No, I’m not endorsing murder or gender-genocide, but for the first time in my life, I look at Samantha as an actor.
But is that my fault? Or is it Samantha’s? Or is the industry to blame?
Or is it all of us?
As for any other woman in the world, I have the same amount of respect for Samantha but quite honestly, the only thing that’s registered through most of her roles as an eye candy for the almighty ‘hero’ in the film is her sizzling appearance, and probably her ability to dance and at times giggle and smile.
But of course, that’s what’s been shown to us…until now.
I’m not going to stir the same soup as everyone else before me who’s talked about the power of a female character in Balachander, Mahendran or Mani Ratnam films. Just take Kumararaja’s previous(his debut) film, the cult classic Aaranya Kaandam for instance. By the end of the film, you realise who the strongest character is: the ONLY major female character in the film, the seemingly submissive Subbu played by Yasmin Ponnappa.
Yasmin Ponnappa in Aaranya Kaandam(2010)
And it isn’t just about the end. In the initial reels, there is a scene in which Singaperumal(played by a terrific Jackie Shroff), the don supremo, struggles to ‘get it up’ in time to get it on with Subbu. He slaps Subbu for his own ‘shortcomings’, to which she retorts:
“Ungalaala Mudiyile na yen enna adikkareenga?”
(Why do you hit ME if YOU can't get it up?)
There are 2 things that happened in this scene: for probably the first time ever, a director portrayed a man being unable to perform what should come naturally to him as an alpha male. Secondly, he showed a hapless woman actually counter-questioning his inability rather than keeping quiet and admitting that it’s her own fault.
So it’s not that women cannot be shown as equals in films…our makers just choose not to. Because most of us are extremely happy to see actresses wearing a tank top and running in slow motion, somehow misplacing most of their clothes during a song, but immediately domesticated after marriage by finding their place in the hero’s kitchen, clad in a saree that exposes only a bit of the waist that’s reserved for the hero to come pinch it at regular intervals as his expression of ‘affection’ towards his wife when he’s relatively free from beating up a hundred men or dancing with other saree-clad girls who’ve misplaced their pallus during an item song in a bar.
Tamil Culture at its finest
Now comes the debate of whether cinema would actually influence our men into acting in certain ways. No, not if you watch one or two movies in your entire life. But for those who’ve been brought up on typical Indian films since childhood(that’s most of us), cinema is their history book; cinema is their guide; cinema is their teacher. And most of them lack the sensibility to distinguish between reel, real, right and wrong.
To cite an example, you won’t become a violent person if you watch a Tarantino film. But Tarantino has made only 8 films in his career.
In our country, you have 8 films releasing every week that pretty much show the same thing: the heroine as the sex object.
So in a year, you have 52 x 8 = 416 films that objectify women.
Multiply that by the age of an average young Indian, i.e., 416 x 21 = 8736 films that glorify the hero and treat the heroine as furniture, a sex toy, a piece of meat or a slave.
Basically, an average Indian male is fed these movies year over year. And that can shape your mind and your outlook.
And no, men aren’t going to change overnight if you drive around with a loudspeaker yelling ‘treat your women right’. It is cinema that might be our most effective driver of thoughts of change. But again, it isn’t going to change with one film.
It isn’t going to change with one Samantha holding a meat cleaver, or one Thiagaraja Kumararaja portraying strong women in 2 films.
There needs to be a collective voice of protest from our actresses to say ‘NO’ to roles that deem them any lesser than their male counterparts.
There needs to be a collective effort from our filmmakers who will shirk away the invisible ‘essential elements of a commercial film’ and make entertaining films that also show women as equals.
Filmmakers need to be able to say, “I don’t want to be a product of the environment. I want the environment to be a product of me.”
Yes, I stole that line from The Departed, and no, that’s not important.
For now, all I’d like to do is to thank Samantha for inspiring a few men to let themselves go in front of their computer screens…in the right way.
Written by Raunaq Mangottil, Co-Founder/Director, Fully Filmy