A crush-ing portrayal

While all of our known universe remained consumed by Kabali, the Swathi issue has been gently pushed away from public consciousness, and along with it, the palpable anger at the depiction of stalking as a perfectly normal — why, even romantic — manner of courtship in Tamil cinema. There was even an online petition against ‘glorification of stalking in Tamil films’ that was gaining steam, but it seems to have fizzled out now. Where am I going with all this? While you and I were busy humming ‘Maya Nadhi’, a certain song from the upcoming Sivakarthikeyan-starrer Remo, has quietly raked in the views count — it’s now at about 18 lakhs. The song’s titled ‘Senjitaaley’, and seems to stand for everything wrong about the portrayal of love in Tamil cinema.

One of the opening lines of the song —‘First look-u vechu bokkunudhaan, onnu vechutaale, onnu vechutaale; Love-u book-u onnu nenjukulla open senjutaalay’— describes in no uncertain terms that the protagonist is writhing in the throes of love, following an innocuous glance from a strange woman. Although one could well be made, this, however, isn’t a case against ‘love at first sight’, a time-tested trope in literature and cinema, that finds mention even in biblical text. The problem is in the romanticisation of what then usually transpires in Tamil cinema. Another couple of lines in the song throw some light on this: ‘Enakku nee easy-ah laam venaam… tholla panni alayaama thiriyaama kedaikkara kaadhale venaam.’ If the idea of love as a type of conquest is itself questionable, what of the aforementioned line, specifically the words ‘tholla panni’, that romanticises harassment?

Perhaps, you heard this catchy Anirudh song on the radio, and weren’t quite outraged. Perhaps, you’re even wondering if I’m just nitpicking. But wait, have you watched the official lyric video yet? The animation has the figure of a man seeing a woman on the road, which causes a small arrow to pass through his heart. And then comes the alarming part: he turns around and begins to walk behind her. The entire video has him, in eerie resemblance of the harassment many women encounter, walking behind her. He makes no attempt to exchange courtesies, she gives him no sign that she enjoys him following her, but the male figure just trudges on and on behind her.

This portrayal is deficient not just from a social perspective, but a creative one too. It’s upsetting that promising young artistes like Anirudh (composer), Sivakarthikeyan (actor), and Vignesh Shivan (lyricist) bring us the same old stale, regressive portrayal of courtship. Why cannot strangers, like in OK Kanmani, be shown to fall organically in love, without the man seeming like a pest? What does it say about the future of our cinema that it still takes a veteran director like Mani Ratnam to bring us love stories that are sophisticated and crucially, consensual? More importantly, how many of those 12 lakh people who have seen the lyric video of ‘Senjitaaley’ are men, and how many of them are now convinced that a polite smile from a strange girl is indicative of romantic interest, and that it is reason enough to begin walking behind her? You know, just like their hero did in Remo.

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

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anuja,

    Sorry about the late response.

    As somebody who got a lot of flak from ‘feminists’ for not really finding the Beep Song to be as offensive as they made it out to be (and for saying that it’s important for artists to create without the fear of having their heads bitten off), I totally agree that censorship and moral policing aren’t what we need.

    However, that said, I think it’s important, crucial even, to problematise art. To see beyond the veil of entertainment, and bring to light some of the inherent assumptions in the film’s world, some of its regressive messages. No, I don’t think they should be edited, and no, I don’t think filmmakers should be arrested. Artists must have their freedom to create… consumers, their freedom to criticise.

    So, when I next condemn a film for being sexist, I’m not asking for the filmmaker to be banned, or his property to be damaged. I’ll be the first to defend his right to make what he wants to. You can insert the Voltaire line you quoted the other day at the event. 🙂


  2. The Swati case was chilling and heartbreaking, and it is good to see that an attempt is being made to remember her so that we can do something concrete to prevent something this tragic from happening again. That said, I genuinely don’t think blaming cinema is the answer or even a step in the right direction. All it will do is lead to even more unnecessary censorship and moral policing – two things we can agree this country simply does not need.

    Nobody and I can’t stress this enough, NOBODY gets to tell an artist how best he go about doing his thing. And who gets to decide what is classy, sophisticated romance and what is creepy? You approved of Mani’s portrayal of love and sex but in Dil Se, SRK was the very epitome of the intense stalker. Maddy also pursued his love interest in Alaipayuthe though she dismissed him as a jobless rich boy, but she smiled at him when he said ‘Oi’ and be ran from there delirious with joy singing Panchai Nirame already confident that he would be his ragasiya snegithane!!! You may disapprove on principle but are you sure you won’t be starting a signature petition against the censors if they become scissor happy with films like this?
    How about Gautam Menon? He is also considered a class act but let us go back to Minnale where Maddy again tricked the girl into loving him though she was committed to another. STR in Vinnaithandi Varuvaya? Even Surya in Vaaranam Aayiram with his relentless pursuit of Simran… Should we get morally outraged? Or save it for ‘local boys’ played by the likes of Dhanush and Sivakarthikeyan?

    Instead of going after filmmakers (I’ll concede that a lot of it is tasteless fare but they deserve to be ignored not publicized with the mistaken notion of setting a wrong right) we need to focus on making the big bad world outside safer not just for women but for men as well. In order to do that we need better security measures and trained personnel to stay vigilant for rapists, stalkers, robbers, muggers and the lovelier folks among the citizenry who think nothing of defecating in public and come down really hard on them. We need better lighting everywhere, CCTV (if I remember right the cops had the hardest time pinpointing the perp because the place was poorly lit and there was insufficient CCTV) and we also need to be better citizens who do more than stand around or click pics when someone is in trouble. It is a complicated issue and cleaning up the country is a Herculean task but we need to do it and no, the best place to start is not the film industry. Suggesting as much is too damn simplistic and akin to finding a scapegoat to vent our righteous rage and going back to the deplorable conditions we have taught ourselves to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to.


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