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From the time there has been cinema, there have been leading ladies. Even this uber generation will appreciate the elegance of Padmini and the alluring grace of Vaijayanthi in Vanjikottai Vaaliban. As much as we remember Nadigar Thilagam, his era was defined with prominent personalities like Saroja Devi, Padmini, Sowcar Janaki and Savitri, These ladies made no attempts to hide their tremendous potential. They challenged their male counterparts aggressively and gave us quality cinema.

Even the 80’s and 90’s had their share of feminists. Revathy, Rohini, Suhasini and Radhika defined a generation of liberated women. Simran dared to look past her perfect curves to play Kovilpatti Veeralakshmi. Jothika shed her bubbly persona, on a rare attempt, to play Chandramukhi. There was a time when heroines got popular just by doing item numbers. Even those choices have gotten limited with Bollywood imports.

The sad truth of today’s Tamil cinema is that most heroines are content with gracing the screen with the same roles but with skimpier outfits. The gust and determination that heroines showcase in achieving size zero is noticeably absent in their quest for character driven roles. (Although, most stars give this quest as a reason to substantiate their otherwise empty schedules.)

After K. Balachander, who defied all rules and was canny in showcasing women from different walks of life, often too close to reality, Mani Ratnam followed suit. His stories have given equal prominence to both genders. If Karthik in Alaipayuthey charmed our hearts, Shakthi swayed us with her gorgeous looks and crisp portrayal. If Michael Vasanth challenged veteran politicians, Indira made us weep by joining hands with her daughter in pursuit of her birth mother. Roja, the girl from a village Sundarapandipuram down south, fought to free her husband from terrorists in Kashmir. She was bold, angry and immensely brave. The actresses rose to the challenge and satiated the feminist in us. Ameer’s Muththazhagu and Selva’s Yamini are rare gems.

If the presence of women in front of the lens has been deteriorating, the presence behind it has also been paltry. Even the 80s and 90s had more movies directed by women. Suhasini stopped after experimenting with her debutante cousin Anu Hassan in Indira. Revathi broke barriers with her Phir Milenge tackling the stigma of AIDS, transcended borders with Mitr and even directed a segment on the Malayalam movie Kerala Café. Priya is yet another pioneer in directing movies laden with humor and family drama. Both her Kanda Naal Muthal andKannamoochi Yenada were well received. 

Women have been striking successful in other spheres too. Nalini Sriram has created a niche for herself with her sense of fashion in costume designing. Jothika in Kaakka Kaakka, Trisha in VTV and Nayanthara in Boss engira Baskaran all look even more beautiful because of her. Banu has weaved her magical touch with make up for numerous Mani Ratnam movies. Her Chitti in Endhiran was iconic.

But the troubling number of such talented artists is what leaves a lingering question. Is cinema so much a man’s forte? How many will try to break the trend by portraying women oriented stories? As we leap into the new year, Tamil cinema boasts of world renowned musicians, mind blowing graphics, movies stripped free of songs and even multi-starrers. But nobody dare stir the pot to offer female oriented scripts. Even a rare Mayakkam Enna which had an iron clad Yamini was dominated by the Kolaveri Karthik. If Hollywood can celebrate an adult women comedy Bridesmaids with an Oscar nomination, won’t Kollywood rise to the challenge? How many more women would take to more prominent roles both on and off screen instead of being just item numbers or extras?

When has Tamil cinema ever evaded a challenge? Aishwarya Dhanush has too much on her plate already. She is the daughter of Tamil Cinema’s most admired icon, wife of a national award winning actor and her songs are already globe busters. Will her movie 3 shatter box office records too? Will she be the torch bearer and make more women dream of wielding the lens? Let’s hope she does because Tamil cinema desperately needs a women success story.

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