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.
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