A letter to Suraj

Dear Suraj,

I thank you for your recent interview that has now gone viral. It clarified quite a few things for me.

After watching terrible films—and you are no doubt familiar with the ilk, having made films like Alex Pandian and Sakalakala Vallavan—I’ve often wondered if filmmakers have low estimates of the average viewer and what they seek in films. Walking out of Kaththi Sandai, for instance, I wondered if you were truly convinced that this is all viewers bought tickets for. But I’ve always given you the benefit of doubt. Perhaps, you start off with a promising one-liner, and somehow, owing to pressure from the powers that be, you are coerced into making scripting compromises? In the past, filmmakers have occasionally suggested that item numbers and humourless sexist references are often the handiwork of overbearing producers. But having heard you talk in your recent interview about how viewers (“we are all low-class viewers”, as you flatteringly put it) come to cinema halls for fight scenes and glamorous heroines, I think it’s clear that the problems in your films have always come from you. Thank you for that.

Even though your films aren’t half as memorable as they are regressive, I remember with horror some of your writing in your latest release, Kaththi Sandai, and your last, Sakalakala Vallavan. In the latter, the protagonist in one scene suggests that the way to bring women in line is through some well-intentioned beating. It was no doubt a horrible, dangerous idea for a funny line, but I gave you the benefit of doubt. In another scene, the protagonist goes on to talk about how urban women often resort to divorces without the slightest thought about how it will inconvenience the families concerned. It was condemnable social advice, but I gave you the benefit of doubt. And now in Kaththi Sandai, the male protagonist tries to confirm that the girl he has cast his eyes on, is a ‘fresh piece’. It attempts to reinforce backward ideas of female purity, but I gave you the benefit of doubt. But having heard you suggest in your interview that the amount of skin a heroine shows in a film must be proportional to her salary, it’s clear to me that you were always at the root of it all. Thank you for that.

I’ve long suspected that ‘glamour’ is often used in the industry as a euphemism to commodify heroines. It appears to be used to persuade them into believing in the ‘commercial’ film system, as you put it; into believing that skin-show is an essential part of the system, of telling such stories. Having heard you say in the interview that you berate your costume designers when the clothes aren’t skimpy enough, it’s clear to me that my suspicions are right. Thank you for that.

There are many of us who enjoy watching films for the stories in them (and as the popular meme goes, yes, we exist!). Those of us who often get criticised for taking films ‘too seriously’ have always wondered if those making ‘commercial’ films often feel less important every time serious, meaningful films are made. For instance, as I walked out of Aandavan Kattalai, I wondered if it would make directors like you aspire for more. However, having seen you in the interview smirk at the idea of ‘saree-clad actresses doing performance-oriented roles’ (and you spit out the word ‘saree’ as if it were deeply distasteful), it’s clear to me that you hire your heroes for ‘fight scenes’ and your heroines for ‘glamour’. It seems that your films do not allow actors… to act. Thank you for this delicious irony.

Above all, in an industry in which good public relations is crucial to finding work, in an industry in which its workers—actresses specifically—are careful to avoid speaking up for fear of potential professional backlash, your interview has made mainstream heroines like Nayanthara and Tamannaah, your heroine in Kaththi Sandai, come out with official statements condemning your regressive ideology. Above all, I owe you for this.

Bravo. Thank you, Suraj.

A version of this column was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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