Female Characters I look up to in Tamil Cinema

Tamil Cinema, over the years has been more of a patriarchal industry where, predominant roles were played by men and dominated with male filmmakers thus leading to fewer depiction of female perspectives on screen. Yet, from time to time there have been few pieces where some extremely determined yet realistic female characters have been written. In this article, we will be highlighting a few of our favorite ass-kicking female characters, who definitely were not just ‘love interests' or portrayals of a woman's suffering, but the characters that broke clichés that were written to accomplish the role without compromising, victimizing or villainizing the characters.

Manju (Aval Appadithan - 1978)

Manju (Sri Priya) is one of the strongest female characters written in Tamil Cinema, that filmmakers of today would dare to attempt too. This appreciable character was crafted by the maker Rudhriaya in his debut film. Manju a modern young woman, represents a group of women who are arrogant and address issues of patriarchy and chauvinism. Her courage stems out of her distraught childhood in a dysfunctional family & her broken relationships. The biggest character appeal is the way she responds to critical issues that are normalized, be it speaking up against sexual harassment or questioning the act of victimizing people that enjoy charity. In fact, this movie questioned the society about lot of taboos. Manju is thus a well-crafted character with a circular character arc; after all the conflicts and resolutions the character comes back to the original stature. When the voice over "Aval Appadithan" is heard, it enlightens the viewer on what self-protection costs, for a woman like Manju.


Althea Johnson (Taramani - 2017)

Althea is a straightforward, free spirited, single woman who is a badass, yet amazingly lovely. She is not a woman who is confined by conventional ideologies and living a dissatisfied life. She is a perfect portrayal of a modern woman who wears skirts, smokes, drinks alcohol, parties and is comfortable with social hugs. This does not bring out a meaning that she is illicit or characterless, and definitely not that she is a bait for men around but this is how Prabhunath (Vasantha Ravi) and her boss think of her, against whom she fearlessly stands up. Two very inspiring things about this character comes out in two instances of a same sequence: one being, the moment when she is forced out of her home and spends a night in the railway station, the other moment being the way she lets in people to assassinate her character and antagonizes herself to let her husband live a peaceful life after finding out about his sexuality. Even at the peak of her emotions, she resists herself from making impulsive decisions and instead makes herself courageous to face life. The game, the word 'Bitch' plays in her life is amusing and is the renumeration every free-spirited woman like Althea earns for being herself.


Sandhya (May Maadham - 1994)

Sandhya's (Sonali Kulkarni) character has lot of cliched attributes of an innocent Tamil heroine. But the beauty is that she fights for what she wants rather than just being a love interest and her wants are put in context. The character’s depth justifies all her acts. Most of the time it becomes unpredictable to determine how she would reciprocate to the events that makes her interesting, be it asking a post card from her fiancé when he shows off about his green cards or dancing with the pimps. Being brought up by a big-shot interfering father, she leaves him when he takes an upper hand in her marriage. Sandhya portrays that one person that many girls would relate themselves with.

The lines "Vaazkaiyin oru paadhi Naan endru vasippen; Vaazkaiyin maru paadhi Naan endru rasippen; Kaatril varum megam polae Naan endrum midhappen" from the song Maargazhi poove do not just address the dreams of Sandhya, but many other girls too.


Subbu (Aaranya Kaandam - 2010)

Subbu (Yasmin Ponnappa) is a real representation of a courageous woman, who enlightens us that, “that which is needed, is Dharma".  

Kudos to director Thiyagaraja Kumaraja for giving us such an engrossing character like Subbu. She has minimal screen space in this movie amidst a handful of main characters, yet the impact that she creates is inevitable. She is a highly manipulative character, who, with her way of life makes everyone (both inside and outside the frame) fall prey for her master plan. From the first shot on, the viewers develop sympathy over her which eventually leads to accepting her extra marital affair with Sappai (Ravi Krishna). Yet, like Manickam becoming Manik Baasha, she turns out to be someone else holding Singaperumal (Jackie Shroff) at gunpoint, which is highly compulsive. She has an interesting character arc, with her climax voice-over " The best thing of being a woman is, it's a man's world" showers a perfect high for all those who say, "Cinema is my dope".


Divya (Mouna Raagam- 1986)

Divya (Revathi) from Mouna Raagam would for sure, have a certain place in the hearts of many. She is a free spirited, yet bold woman who lives in the memories of her ex- lover Manohar (Karthik) and eventually finds love after a break-up. The iconic scene of her confessing her love to her husband and the train station sequence in the climax has been an inspiration for various filmmakers from time to time. Divya’s character breaks many stereotypes, traits such as detachment from her husband, agreeing for a registered marriage or confronting her husband on fondling her. She is a woman who questions various practices in the society, like the moment where she asks her mother, "rendu naal ku munnadi enna ipdi anupirupiya", when her mother convinces her to sleep with her husband. Such a question from a woman like Divya provokes many women (regardless of rural, sub-urban & urban areas), even today, in this modernized world. It is also obvious that she was fragile by heart yet had the fortitude to face life's situations and to confront.


Malarvizhi (Iraivi - 2016)

Iraivi being a star-studded movie, has Malarvizhi (Pooja Devariya) with the smaller screen presence, and her independent attitude has been an iconic one. Hats off to Karthik Subburaj for writing a character like Malarvizhi without demoralizing her. She has always been an exciting mystery to Micheal (Vijay Sethupathi) which results in him ending up bouncing back to her all the time. Malarvizhi's unpredictable attribute is attached to her past, where-in she was forced to be independent because of the selfish decision of her spouse, which all the other lead women in the film face too. Her clear vision on the aspects of love and lust make her unique. She would have accepted Michael's marriage proposal but her denial of it showed how realistic and practical she was, knowing what she would end up being in that marriage despite her love for him. It is said that "Love is giving unconditionally", and she proved it by demoralizing herself for the sake of her loved ones. Interestingly she never fell prey for neither victimizing herself nor feeling guilty for being demoralized and rather seemed to be more acceptable, realistic, and independent.


Kalki (Kalki - 1996)

We perceive Kalki (Shruti) as that one character who structures herself in the sense of sculpting her own life. And that is what she is all about. She is not a person who has no empathy, but her humanity lies only with good people and not with the 'so called' humans who are cruel to fellow beings. She keeps proving her nature from her introduction scene where she kisses a skunky man to the climax where she surrenders to Paranjothi (Rahman). She stands against the concepts of capitalism, social hierarchy, discrimination, faulty masculinity, emotional indulgence, scorch sentiments, patriarchy, chauvinism, marriage, celebrating birthdays, monogamous relationships, and lot more. Importantly like some rebellious K.B sir's female characters stating, "Marriage as a license for sex", Kalki also addresses that aspect. Kalki is a woman of conviction and her conviction is what that makes the conflict of the film, yet she resolves it with grace. Also, the way she breaks various conventional thoughts like modelling for safe sex, being a surrogate and being a mistress to a married man with finest attributes and ideologies, makes Kalki remain an inspiration to many.


Indhira (Indhira- 1995)

Indhira (Anu Hassan) probably would be the only character in this listicle whose need is more of a societal one, which does not mean the film did not show up on her personal attributes. In fact, her flaws made her a perfect leader. While it is formatted that to emote cuteness from Tamil heroines is with their facial expressions, Indhira is cute in her profoundly realistic behavior especially when she expresses her love towards Thiyagu (Aravind Swamy). Her motto in her journey is to remove the caste bias in her place and to attain equality. The character's journey starts from scratch, to attaining what she needed. The specialty about the character is that she was not flawless; yet fierce. Every time she kicked up on some hindrance was just her bounce after a down fall, assertive thought, or her decision to quit. She was always backed by people like her mother, her lover, or her uncle.  Her flaws and the moments where she got back on her feet shows her immaturity and innocence that overruled her mature thoughts. These immature conceptions over her matured idealisms made her perfect.


Aruvi (Aruvi- 2016)

Aruvi being the protagonist of a game changing film has always given voiced herself against various stigmas of the society. One of the best attributes of Aruvi is the way she shows her rage. From making the misogynistic men who believed that it is okay to make use of a woman who is vulnerable to realize their mistake, to the ultimate revenge in the form of the world famous 'Bottle game', she shows her might. When it is said that, from the darkest part of night comes light, Aruvi has proved that the most vulnerable become the fearless. She also broke one of the greatest stigma in our society, and its view on the HIV patients, like a man who fell in love with her despite her accusing to be raped by three men, but eventually resenting her knowing that she is an HIV patient, which proves the stigma in our society towards HIV patients. From being a child blossom, a cliched young girl to an abandoned angel, this standing river has faced enormous criticisms and has fell prey for the hunger of many yet evaporated with rage and has reached the eternity in the hearts of audience.


Anu (Avargal - 1977)

Anu (Sujatha) is that character who may seem to be victimized but it becomes false towards the end with Ramanathan's (Thalaivar) other spouse's behavior. She had been through the most devastating times yet gives the viewers a solace towards the climax. The reference of Anu to Mona Lisa's painting is a mesmerizing attribute. Like the subtle sarcastic smile of Mona Lisa, Anu faces all life's traumas with that simple smile. Interestingly, no drop of tear falls off her eyes, which makes her emotional breakdown in the climax more empathetic yet giving one hope. Anu’s life has been hard on her, leaving her with plenty of dilemmas at various points of time, and determines who she is. It is these choices that made her rebellious and rooted. The beauty of Anu's character is that, in crafting this character K.B. sir has found the nexus between conventional and non-conventional thoughts and has managed to balance the same, which makes Anu rebellious yet rooted and most memorable.


These characters are thus some of our favourite female characters who are rebels with a cause and broke the clichés, altering the dynamics of female portrayals in Tamil Cinema.

Let us know in the comments section what you feel about these characters and mention the characters that we missed out!

- Anu

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