Why Rajini's girl can't get angry and Cheran can’t cry?

‘Nadira Nadira….. Naan pen pola azhudhenadi’. These are the opening lines of a song from Pokkisham. ‘Naan pen pola azhudhenadi’- ‘I cried like a girl’, this is being said by the male lead. This is just one line but it reflects and captures a stereotype that has been prevalent in Indian cinema for a long time. The line is all the more surprising because it has appeared in a Cheran film. Before this appears to be a fault finding exercise against Cheran, let me say that he is one of the very few directors who has been consistently making movies where female characters have equal if not more importance than their male counterparts. He is a director who has always swum against the tide and this remains true even in Pokkisham. But, this opening line is a case where the words could have been better calibrated.

‘Naan pen pola azhudhenadi’…. What does it mean to cry like a girl? Are tears an attribute that is meant only for the fairer sex? Before that, are tears a sign of weakness? If answers to both these questions are in the affirmative,

then it automatically means that weakness is being equated with the fairer sex. Weakness, it might be physical, emotional or anything else. But, by hinting that crying or tears are suited only for women, one may be meaning, even if indirectly, that women are weak.

Now, this is not an article of a feminist who is trying hard for women’s emancipation. This is an attempt to look at how cinema could have better portrayed the subtle differences between the sexes. The ‘Men are from Mars; women are from Venus’ school of thought seems to be prevalent in cinema in a very literal sense. The phrase actually takes a lighter and humorously exaggerated look at what separates men and women. But, the differences are viewed through a magnifying lens in Indian cinema.

When women cry, it is normal, but when men cry, it is a sign off frailty. How often has a lead male character been seen crying on screen? But, this issue is far more than just tears or crying. Tears are just the tip of iceberg. Many other emotions are also classified between the sexes, quite inappropriately. Fear, anger and even ambition are segregated. Heroines are supposed to scream at the sight of even a cockroach, let alone a villain. Heroes are supposed to be rocks, even in the face of volcanoes.

‘Alavukku meeri aasappadura aambalaiyum, adhikama kovappadura pombalayum nalla vazhndhatha sarithirame kidayathu’: a hugely famous dialogue from Padayappa. This line conveys a message; anger is not something that is good when it comes to a woman. A woman who gets angry, whose rage flies over the top on many occasions, is depicted as a flawed character. We can cite many instances. Ramya Krishnan’s Neelambari in Padayappa and Vijayashanthi in Mannan are the best examples that I can remember. There are no two opinions about the fact that anger is an emotion that has to be controlled. But, why does cinema always have to tell women to keep their anger under check when unbridled anger is often depicted as the prime positive character of a male lead.

Ambition is the worst of all. The ambition to touch the skies and achieve something in life is attributed only to male characters. The zeal to go all out for an objective seems to be patented only for males. A full time career guy who can’t find time for his girlfriend or family is depicted as driven and focused; it is fine for him to keep his girlfriend or family waiting at a restaurant while he finishes off some important official commitment or catches a thief if he is a cop. But, if a woman does the same thing to her boyfriend or family, she is depicted as insensitive and selfish, someone who needs to be educated on relationships.

‘Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus’, both are from earth - that is the reality. In 2009, there is really no place for segregation of emotions or characters as male or female. We as a society are past it (some might disagree), only cinema seems to be stuck with image of the weak, sit at home, cry baby woman and the macho, achieving, angry man. Let us get over it.

(By Sudhakar, with inputs from Arun.)

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