Why Tamil cinema fans need Game of Thrones

After an extraordinarily long year of agonising wait, Game of Thrones has finally returned, and as a source of great relief for those whose staple diet is Tamil cinema, or in other words, a Tamil horror film a week (this week, we have Kalam). Here is why this American series has come to mean so much for many Tamil moviegoers:

1. No guarantee of safety for heroes

When time grinds to a halt and our Tamil film hero is surrounded by an alarmingly large number of rowdies (like in Ghilli, when henchmen arrive in lorries, or in Sivaji, when the hero is overpowered by the “Top 10 rowdies of Chennai”), it’s usually a good time to check our mobile phones for messages and emails. Traditionally, there has been only one outcome: the hero somehow managing to evade capture, or in worse cases, leaving thousands of dead rowdies in his wake after a tedious series of punches and drop kicks.

But not in Game of Thrones. Even when an alpha male is alone in his mansion, relieving himself in the secure confines of his restroom, death is around the corner. In the case of Tywin Lannister, it’s likely standing outside with a crossbow. Nobody—heroes, villains, civilians—is safe. This means that at the end of each episode, you’ll have plenty of unread emails and messages.

2. Villains aren’t punching bags

Villains in Tamil cinema, even those who make strong entrances like in Theri and Sethupathi, often somehow degenerate into impotent rag dolls the hero can kick about, or in the case of Theri, hang upside down from the ceiling. In crucial scenes, they either talk too long, or somehow conspire to give the hero a strong chance of survival.

But not in Game of Thrones. Even an old, fragile (Frey-gile, if you will) lord too petrified to step out of his castle can cause colossal damage. Even a pubescent king can have the series’ hero (at least until then) beheaded.

3. Women aren’t just pretty victims

Women are usually written in our films to be uni-dimensional pretty creatures in the first half, and trouble-magnets in the second. Their reaction to being captured by the villain is usually to harness their shrieking power and hope that the hero is nearby for yet another miraculous rescue mission.

But not in Game of Thrones. Women sometimes are fiercer than their male peers (Yara Greyjoy, Brienne of Tarth, Olenna Tyrell, and the queen of them all, Daenarys Targaryen), or at least, as strong (Cersei Lannister, Catelyn Stark, Ygritte, Arya Stark… this is a rather lengthy list). This week’s episode saw Brienne slicing through Bolton soldiers as though they were cheese.

4. Not just angels and demons

Characters in our films usually get slotted under two categories: good and bad. There is no corrupting our hero, no redeeming our villain. Grey characters usually have no place in our films.

But not in Game of Thrones. You’ll quickly go from yearning for Theon Greyjoy’s death to wishing him well. You’ll quickly go from hoping for Cersei to be swallowed whole by Drogon to praying to the old gods and the new that she can live on, if only so she can wipe that smirk off the High Sparrow’s face.

5. More than just familial bickering on television

On television, we are used to seeing familial bickering pass for a soap, celebrity worship pass for an interview, and staged conflicts pass for reality shows.

It is often easy to wonder if Game of Thrones is a stupendously long film split into dozens of episodes, and forget that it’s a television series, albeit one whose production quality is so superior that zombies and dragons actually end up looking like zombies and dragons.

6. No pandering to the censor board

Imagine if Game of Thrones were a Tamil film. They’d have to rename it Simhasana Vilayattu first, in order to qualify for the U-certificate. They’d also be allowed to screen only about 10 per cent of the whole show, after all the nudity, violence, and the controversial dialogue gets censored.

However, thanks to digital platform Hotstar offering an age-restricted streaming service that allows for the consumption of Game of Thrones as its makers envisioned it, we do not have to settle for censored material this year. You know what this means. When two characters are about to have ‘gender’, the scene won’t cut to post-coital talk. The last line is a reminder that a leading English movie channel recently substituted the word ‘sex’ with ‘gender’ to avoid the wrath of the regulatory authority.

7. Rooting for multiple heroes

This concept is almost entirely alien to Tamil cinema. Producers would be shivering at the prospect of paying two heroes, and directors at the prospect of managing their dates.

But not in Game of Thrones. It presents you with the unique quandary of seeing two likeable characters get pitted against each other (Jaime Lannister vs Brienne), or its antithesis: two despicable characters facing off (Theon Greyjoy vs Ramsay Bolton). It taps hitherto untouched places in your limbic system.

8. Miscellaneous reasons

Zombies don’t come with back stories of torture and victimisation, like ghosts in our horror films. Tyrion Lannister and Daenarys Targaryen don’t quote lines from Ajth and Vijay hits, in order to elicit cheap applause. Margaery Tyrell doesn’t suddenly begin gyrating to an item song. There is no Baahubali to show Brienne her feminine ways. Do you need more?

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.

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