When I pitched this essay about female antagonists, my editor replied with, “Great, lead with the unrepentant Neelambari!” Eighteen years on, Neelambari of Padayappa (1999) appears to be the most remembered ‘villi’ (colloquial for villainess) in Tamil cinema. With good reason. Neelambari is classic Tamil film villi — a stock character and a shrew — angry, rich, ‘modern’ (typically meaning westernised), impulsive, single/separated, hen-pecking, having an unreasonable hatred for a man or men in general.
And then something changed. Rudra of Kodi, Vasundhara of Adhe Kangal and Rajalakshmi of Achamindri came along and broke the mould. I write about a film’s central conflict not revolving around the gender of the antagonist, but her ambition, for the Hindu Thread here.