Why should Trisha & Nayantara get slapped?

Vijay slaps Trisha in Gillie, Dhanush slaps Nayantara in Yaaradi Nee Mohini, Vikram slaps Trisha in Bheema, Simbu slaps back Reema Sen in Vallavan, Rajini slaps back Vijayashanthi in Mannan, and Bharat slaps Kushboo (playing his sister) in Pazhani. These slapping scenes come to mind right away, but there are several more instances (with other stars as well) that you must have noticed yourself. In Bheema the reason Vikram slaps the character Trisha plays is because she is so annoying. She irritates him and pesters him until he loses his temper, and slaps her. But why make her character such a pest? Why have a scene where she provokes Bheema to the point where he is forced to slap her?

The script (and the director of the film) will make it out to seem that these women are asking for it, and that the men are doing it for the good of all these wayward women ('these poor women don't know what is right and wrong, we have to show them'); another answer from the directors will be: 'the situation in the story warranted it’. But is it really

required in any situation? Why write that into the script, in the first place? The men in our movies- even heroes- routinely slap women. Heroes slap heroines, fathers slap daughters, brothers slap sisters, uncles slap nieces, husbands slap wives. And if a female character slaps a male character, she will be slapped back twice because she dared.

Just once I'd like to see a movie where a woman slaps a man and she is not slapped back. Oh wait, it actually does happen quite often –when a mother slaps her son. This age old mother-son sentiment alone is permitted. But seriously, it would be so cool if even one of our heroes insists that he does a scene where the heroine slaps him and he doesn't slap back. What pleasure is the audience supposed to derive from watching women being slapped around? The more educated in the audience might understand that it is just a movie, and that the hero is playing a character, but the masses, especially some men, might think it is the right way to treat women because the hero does so.

It's a pity that our educated heroes also don't object to this in the script. I'm all for item songs, and I enjoy a song loaded with sexuality as much as the next man. But we will earn the privilege of indulging in them only if the rest of the film treats the heroine, the item girl and the rest of the women characters with sensitivity, fairness, un-condescension, respect and love. The other day I was watching Vallavan again on DVD and was pleasantly surprised to see Simbu apologize to Reema Sen: "Whatever the provocation was, it was wrong for me- a male- to slap you" he says. This is at least a first step. And then, in an even more surprising scene, he allows Reema to slap him back twice. Earlier, he says that now famous dialogue about not threatening girls into falling for you, but wooing them through a deep friendship.

The undercurrent of violence towards women that runs through many Tamil movies is disturbing. Women as villains, women being shouted at, women being humiliated and teased through insinuating dialogue, and women as sex toys. The women in the audience patiently bear it, but I'm not sure why the heroines stand for it. I guess if they objected, they might not even get to be the heroine after that. Apart from all the slapping around that goes on, there are all those regressive patriarchal values embedded in our stories. Many Tamil movies portray brutal patriarchy masked as old fashioned values. Jyothsna Bhavanishankar, a colleague, remarks, “As a woman, it is very demeaning to watch another woman being slapped. But I am also sure that women being women will carry themselves with dignity in whatever they do.”

And why do we men need our heroes to be so macho all the time? Most of us really don't, but that's how these heroes have been conceived for the longest time, and there's nothing we can do but stomach it. Every time these heroes feel obliged to trash six guys with chains and knives, we are all put in a position where we'll have to do the same if we were ever to run into such bad weather. Ideally, I'd like to negotiate with them, and if that doesn't work… run – but since our heroes make it seem like fun to trash them all….

A six pack is a good thing (at last our women have some eye candy, too) but it doesn't- or shouldn't –signal violence. It should suggest someone who is proud of his body, who takes care of it, who likes to be fit, and wants to look as good as he can. And while we are talking of bodies, it would be nice if Tamil cinema stops being coy about intimacy (it makes a family watching a 'scene' at home on television squirm with embarrassment) and becomes more honest about sex. Let's have less innuendo, less sleaze, and more honest, hard-won emotion.

Tamil cinema is finally full of edge, freshness, surprise and cinematic promise. There's just one thing that still makes it backward: the presence –both subtle and obvious –of the kind of extreme machismo I have been describing. We can only hope that as Kollywood cinema changes, it will also make deep changes in its attitude to women, and leave behind its regressive, conservative, obnoxious politics and become a cinema that –not just us - but the world can admire

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