But What Was She Wearing, India’s first feature-length documentary on workplace harassment, faces funding crunch

“Do you know for people like us, who are freelancers not working in an organisation, there is supposed to be a local sexual harassment complaints committee that the district collector must set up?” Vaishnavi Sundar asks, then states emphatically: “There is no such thing. Nowhere in India. The collector has no clue in most cases.” she finished, restoring my cynical normalcy.

Here, I talk about Vaishnavi Sundar’s fantastic work on her documentary film about workplace sexual harassment.

Tamil web content is venturing forth boldly where cinema and TV fear to tread

As a friend and I sat together watching Stephen Colbert on YouTube, I couldn’t resist sulking over what seemed like a gaping hole in our film and television landscape that holds authority to account. “We can’t do this in Tamil, no channel will buy it, no writer will be spared,” my friend said by way of consolation, which rang true. We do live in a world where artists and filmmakers screen their content to various fringe groups for approval before release. We live in the era of controversy, where everything from a woman being a queen to a woman swearing on screen causes an outcry among upholders of culture.

In this essay, I write about how web content creators went the extra mile in 2017.

2017 was not the perfect year for feminism in Tamil cinema, but it was a great beginning

An uninterrupted monologue is most often the privilege of the male protagonist in Tamil cinema. A rebellious outburst against an oppressor delivered on a trigger, it generally marks the moment when the hero is about to launch his revolution. Imagine Sivaji Ganesan’s court speech in Parasakthi (1952) or Rajinikanth reacting to Meena’s insult in Muthu (1995) or more recently, Dhanush taking on the villain in Velai Illa Pattadhaari (2014).

In this essay for the Scroll, I write about the lovely year that 2017 was for women in Tamil cinema.

What Taramani, Kaatru Veliyidai, Iraivi tell us about abusive men, and the women in their lives

Arul is hunched over a smoking gun, in a railway station, after having just murdered his friend Michael. A brutally tortured prisoner of war, VC, in his 8×5 solitary cell, stares into space. A physically hurt Prabhunath watches a policeman point a gun to his wife’s head, as she pulls the trigger to her death.

These are pivotal scenes in three similar and important films — Karthik Subbaraj’s Iraivi (2016), Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai (2017) and Ram’s Taramani (2017) respectively. As cinematic experiences, these are distinctly different films. These stories are set in different worlds, their characters speak different languages, have different jobs, eat, drink and be merry in very different ways. But, fundamentally, all these films are about men’s journey towards the epiphany that they are sexist scum. The above are the exact points in the narrative — following brutal physical violence — where these epiphanies occur.

In this essay for the Firstpost, I write about how abusive heroes are treated as merely ‘flawed’ in Tamil cinema.

Manju Warrier, Nayanthara, Jyothika: Female stars are marching to a different, but no less successful, beat

“As long as our films are male-centric, we’ll be producing only male stars. What happens to our female stars then?” asks Karthik Keramalu in his article for the Firstpost. He argues that the stardom of a female star is short-lived, often limited by age. If they take a break in their career for any reason, he suggests, they either die like Soundarya, or are relegated to supporting roles on return, like Simran. Even then, they do not get the grand welcome that returning heroes do.

In his article, Keramalu inadvertently does the same thing he accuses the film industry and the audiences of doing. In drawing from the work of male stars to support his arguments, he ignores the entirety of female stars who are paving their own paths — different and smaller in market size but distinct paths that should give us much to rejoice.

Read my essay for the Firstpost here.

Can’t a woman be the hero of her own crusade?

By me. Published on June 16, 2017, The Hindu Thread.

Much of film criticism about roles written for women in Tamil films revolves around the weakness of their characters and their purpose in the narrative. While this is warranted in most cases, it is unfair to the few strong characters who are meted out greater injustice. Automatically dismissing heroines in Tamil cinema as token adornment is to be blind to the rise of a new crop of brave women who have a crusade of their own.

In this essay, I write about Malarvizhi of Bairavaa (2017), Kadambari of Naanum Rowdy Thaan (2015), Leela of Acham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada (2016) and other female protagonists and their crusades.

Beyond shaming her into submission — the female antagonist narrative

By me. Published on March 29, 2017, The Hindu Thread.

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.

Why do angry young Tamil heroes love to cross-dress so much?

By me. Published on February 28, 2017, The Ladies Finger

This line of thought — an actor’s credentials depending on his ability to play a woman — is a Tamil film staple, a residue of Tamil cinema’s history in stage-drama. Since then, even the most riotous of heroes have worn female clothing and acted as women. What role does this play in their careers?

More pertinently, what role does it play in our understanding of gender and sexuality? I write for The Ladies Finger here.

Is Indian Cinema’s First Chick Flick, ‘Mouna Raagam’, a Hindu Nationalist Fantasy?

PopMatters, October 26, 2016.

Kumudhan Maderya begins this piece in his inimitable style — big words, confusing concepts, opaque theory. If you’ve the energy to plough through it, he makes for a fascinating and compelling case for Mouna Raagam as a Hindu nationalist fantasy.

Told from Divya’s point of view, Mouna Raagam asks and answers a question straight out of ‘chick lit’: ‘Why do women love bad boys and dump nice guys?’

You can read it here.