Of hackneyed heroine characters!
Thamizhil Padam  

There has been no film that has been able to so effectively mock at the traditions and clichés in Tamil cinema like Thamizh Padam has. That is something that each one of us should have come to know by now. Right from the big resounding clichés present in the story and screenplay, like the hero turning out to be an undercover cop or the smaller ones that were deftly mocked at in the ‘intro’ song, like the dance master wanting to dance with the hero or credit for having sung the song being given to the hero upon his request – the film mocked at just about everything redundant and artificial in our movies and we laughed along, not minding even if the spoof was at the expense of our favorite star, Rajini included (remember the signature scene from Sivaji)

While it is thoroughly enjoyable and commendable that someone found the courage and conviction to stand up and tell Tamil cinema that it was funny even when it did not intend to be so, there are certain things about Thamizh Padam that stuck to the time honored traditions in Tamil

cinema. What is that, you might ask. Well, for nearly half a century Tamil cinema has been in the habit of importing heroines from the North and from Kerala. There have been quite a few exports from Tamil to Bollywood too. While speaking purely from a national integration point of view, there is nothing but positives that can be seen from such exchange of heroines across linguistic barriers. But, many of you will agree that this tendency does prove detrimental to the portrayal of the character in question. Taking a look at the current crop of heroines in the industry, one would realize that at least 70 per cent of them (a conservative estimate) don’t speak Tamil with any degree of fluency. That is not any fault of theirs’. It would be harsh on our part to expect a Mumbai born and bred lady to pick up Tamil in a matter of months (it would be similar to the kind of demands that Raj Thackeray makes of non- Maharashtrians – learn Marathi in four weeks or leave Mumbai). But, the problem is that in spite of severe linguistic limitations, these ladies from Mumbai (read North India) are overwhelming favorite over local ladies; ladies from Kerala come a close second to Mumbai lasses. Let’s analyze in a more objective manner. The last four major releases in Tamil were Thamizh Padam, Goa, Asal and Theeradha Vilayattu Pillai. Three of them were multi-heroine subjects, a total of seven heroines and only one out of them (Sneha in Goa) knows Tamil. Asal, a product of one of the flagship banners of the industry had Sameera Reddy and Bhavana while Theeradha Vilayattu Pillai did not have a place for a Tamil speaking heroine, in spite of requiring three of them, all of whom were flown down from Mumbai. And, the biggest disappointment is that, Thamizh Padam, the film that was out to mock at every cliché in Tamil cinema, too had a girl from Mumbai (now, this seems like an unshakeable stereotype). When a team had the courage to gimmick a Rajinikanth scene, why couldn’t they find the confidence to cast a Tamil speaking girl in the lead role?

Why has this tendency been so seemingly unshakeable in spite of the glaring fact that performance is indeed compromised? There is only one answer to this, a heroine’s performance has become so inconsequential to a movie (with the way scripts are written) that a cute, good looking and glamorous girl would do, language is not a problem. With all due respect to heroines from the North, one cannot recall the last time when one of them was given a real meaty character. When good female characters are written (however rare they may be), they always go to the ladies who know Tamil like the back of their hand – like Sneha in Privom Sandhippom. Of course, there is the rare exception of the non-Tamil heroines turning out good performances like Padmapriya, Meera Jasmine etc. But, that is more the exception than the rule.

Yes, performance requires a solid knowledge of the language more often than not and if we find non-Tamil speaking ladies dominating the Tamil screen, it is because of the kind of roles that are being written. Let’s hope that changes soon, like we have been hoping for the better part of the decade.

Now, for a few more clichés that female leads are usually cast into almost every time, in film industries across the world. It is hard to understand why…

1. In every English adventure movie, there must be at least one lady who slows down the pace of the entire team, keeps getting into trouble at the wrong time and basically serves only to stretch the length of a film by 15-20 minutes, which is the amount of time spent by the hero in rescuing her from assorted dangers she gets into. (Yet film makers just have to cast a lady in such a role). Thankfully, Aayirathil Oruvan is not one of this kind, the ladies are smart.

2. In every movie based on the Indian freedom struggle there has to be a British lady who sympathizes with the Indians (and it is always a lady) and also develops a soft corner for the hero in the process, even at the risk of antagonizing her own folk… Some of the glowing examples are Lagaan, Pazhassi Raja and Veer. Is such a character really needed?

Does more need to be said? Let there be better characters for actresses. Else, being an actress won’t be a viable career option anymore, except for the likes of Gandhimathi, Manorama and Paravai Muniamma who cannot be replaced. Others will find it safer and more profitable to be models that extend their ramp walks into movies.

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