Bogan and puritanical notions

Tamil heroines and alcohol are like whiskey and Limca. They just don’t mix well.

The all-new dashing Arvind Swamy successfully managed to take our mind off a little significant something that happens in Bogan. I’m talking about that Hansika introduction scene that shows her trying to figure out how to buy alcohol at a TASMAC outlet. As she stood there, some of us knew what’d happen, thanks to our exposure to Tamil cinema. She was likely being bullied to buy it for somebody else (perhaps the hero?), or was doing it for noble reasons that would shortly be explained to sentimental effect. For instance, in the 2014-release, Oru Oorla Rendu Raja starring Vemal and Priya Anand, the heroine is shown buying alcohol (This scene is the only reason I still remember this film). The hero cannot believe his judgmental eyes. But sure enough, the scene ends by establishing that she is actually a doctor, and that she has bought it for medicinal purposes. The hero heaves a sigh of relief, and falls in love.

Yennai-Arindhaal-Tamil-Movie-Pictures-5.jpg“Oh, this is just good ol’ coffee. We’re pure like that.”

In Bogan though, Hansika’s character ends up drinking what she buys. This was revolutionary by Tamil cinema’s standards. But of course, she isn’t just drinking because she wants the high. She isn’t just drinking because she likes her occasional drink. You see, she’s drinking because somebody has led her to believe that downing a large or two will help her develop the cojones to confront her dad. Or as she awkwardly puts it, ‘dhil kadaikkum‘. I know what you’re thinking. At least she’s not channelling her inner Teresa by buying it for medicinal reasons, right?

The interesting part comes a bit later when she does channel her inner Teresa. The protagonist is drinking at a party (I mean, what else can a man do at a party?), and he looks at her lovingly from a distance. She, however, wiggles a reproachful finger at him. All is well in the world of Tamil cinema again, as it serves the purpose of establishing that the heroine’s a virtuous woman, after all.

Is she watching?

This simplistic attempt at establishing the purity of lead female characters is as old as Tamil cinema itself. Good people don’t drink. Good people don’t let others drink. If only such markers were more reliable, it’d be easy to distinguish good from evil. Unfortunately, reality, as Nallasivam of Anbe Sivam (2003) indicates, is more complicated. Evil people cannot be, and must not be lazily profiled by trivialities like ugly looks, bad hygiene, or innocuous personal choices. And yet, our filmmakers persist with this notion.

Of course, recent films like Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum (2015) and Tharai Thappattai (2016) show the lead female character drinking without passing moral judgments. They are few and far in between, however, and why is that a surprise considering that outdated notions of female purity continue to be deified in our cinema? Isn’t that why in Bogan, despite the bad guy seemingly having conned the good guy’s fiancé into bed, you return from a song only to learn that the whole sequence was simply the bad guy’s fantasy? You see, in the virtuous world of Tamil cinema, a hero’s girlfriend cannot even be conned into sinning.

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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