The beauty of imperfection

For the first 10 minutes of the Malayalam film  Kali, I’ll admit to wondering if Sai Pallavi needed to wear more makeup. I wasn’t convinced she needed to look  so real . No effort, it seems, had been expended in making her look like heroines often do: her hair wasn’t straightened, her acne wasn’t hidden, her face wasn’t spotless. Even that most rudimentary of makeup tools, the lipstick, didn’t appear to have been used. But 15 minutes into the film, the makeup, or the lack of it, ceased being an issue.

Once the story kicked in, it was clear that unlike in most of our films, the actress here wasn’t used simply as eye candy. Her character wasn’t shoehorned into the script, only so she could provide relief from the hero’s main story by appealing to the audience’s imagination. In  Kali, Sai Pallavi plays Anjali, a young middle-class wife trying to cope with her husband’s anger issues. And, such people, as you can imagine, don’t sit at home, caked in makeup. The full significance of her casting dawned on me later in the film, when a stranger sexually harasses her, and I found myself breathless with anxiety. She wasn’t an actress pretending to be one of us in a film; she, of imperfect hair and blemished skin,  was one of us, and her threat rang all the more real.

Contrast this with that scene in  Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum,  where the character played by Madonna Sebastian (who starred alongside Sai Pallavi in  Premam) wakes up after a drunken night, looking just as impeccable as she did the previous evening — no puffed-up eyes, no dishevelled hair. And to think she’s supposed to be playing an unemployed woman struggling to make ends meet in a dingy flat — conditions far worse than that of  Kali ’s Anjali.

I’ll also admit to wondering if the fan-following for Sai Pallavi was simply a freakish consequence of her characterisation in  Premam . Was it just Malar that everybody loved? Would the actress be accepted in other roles if she looked the same? Seeing that Kali  has now broken the record for the biggest opening day collections in Malayalam cinema, it definitely appears so. Do you know what this means? Women, who take after heroines, can now rest easy — they don’t  need  to look spotless. There’s an actress out there championing their cause. And, more and more people are starting to recognise she’s beautiful.

This column was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. anusrini20 says:

    Sometime in the recent past, I realised that I have begun to look forward to your writing.
    After watching Kali, my friend and I were discussing what you try to analyze in your article. Is it alright for Sai Pallavi to look so….un-groomed? But then I felt, who am I to judge? She’s someone like me, and it’s not as though I take great care to groom myself. We also thought about how Madonna Sebastian has Tamil movies to her name, while Sai Pallavi hasn’t managed to carve a space for herself in the Tamil movie scene. This is telling, don’t you think? Maybe as long as we have Hansika and Tamannah as our Queen Bees, the likes of Sai Pallavi will not be seen much.
    I also want to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your Aranmanai-2 review. The comments on The Hindu page made me feel disheartened, no doubt, but I was so glad you called out the absolute lack dignity or meaning in the representation of women in that movie (including but not limited to Party With The Pei).


    1. Thanks Anu.
      And yes, it will be quite something if she manages to crack open the Tamil industry. But as you say, we both know it’s pretty unlikely. Even if they cast her, they’ll probably do to her what they did to Priyanka Chopra in Thamizhan. Rinse her in makeup dough and make her run around the hero. The Mani Ratnam film she was supposed to sign would’ve been interesting, but looks like somebody else has been cast instead. Sigh.


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