CHENNAI : I cannot get the two films Kolamaavu Kokila (KK) and Pyaar Prema Kadhal (PPK) out of my mind simply because they are important films, albeit flawed ones. Both movies feature strong female leads, but the women are radically different from each other. Kokila is played by actor Nayantara, now dubbed as the Lady Superstar. She’s the older of two sisters in a lower income family, the father is a watchman and the mother is a mother (played by Sharanya Ponvannan as usual, but refreshing because it’s not a son she’s doting on).
When her mother is diagnosed with lung cancer, Kokila finds herself in the middle of a smuggling ring, carting cocaine to make the money and save her mother. The result is an unusual black comedy that banks on Nayantara’s naive face and the rest of the cast’s stellar performances.Sindhuja played by Big Boss Season 1 fame Raiza Wilson in Pyaar Prema Kadhal contrasts Kokila in all ways possible. She is from an upper class family, raised by her father and single parent played courageously by Anand Babu.
I say courageous because he plays a father who takes pride in his offspring having a mind of her own and taking responsibility for her actions — the kind of father that is booed and catcalled in the theatre for not being good enough (read: controlling). The parenting pays off because Sinduja is exactly what her father intends her to be: a pragmatic with a dream, and a person who does not consider sex, love and marriage as natural progression. The film panders when the father apologises for spoiling his motherless daughter (a Tamil cinema staple for all single fathers), but its power comes from it’s leads — both Raiza and Harish.
KK is not a ‘woman-centric’ film that preaches ‘women’s issues’ and celebrates the breaking of their shackles and I’m thankful that it did not aspire to join the bunch of them. But where it portrayed a woman’s life without putting her on a pedestal, and showed a woman making it in a male fiefdom, it disappointed because it did not go all the way to de-chastise the woman. While a man or mass hero would’ve needed no background story for the reason he became a don/smuggler/paid assassin, the mass heroine playing Kokila needed to justify smuggling as a thing that needed to be done to emerge not the successful smuggler, but the saviour of her mother.
PPK has its flaws too — in the ‘modern’ (read: result of western upbringing) woman that Sinduja is made out to be but the film is precious because it has a woman with a dream, which in the historical context of Tamil cinema has always been the vamp’s character. So to have a heroine want something and not vilify her is new. That she continues to want to chase her dream even in the face of a break up and is still the heroine of the film had me gaping open mouthed.
Nayantara the lady super star runs with the role that gives her a movie where she gets to play saviour and not the usual damsel in distress. But it is to keep in mind that this is a safe role — where a woman is a smuggler only so she can be a saviour, and a role in which she is neither objectified nor has romantic desires. Raisa Wilson plays a risqué role for a debutant movie that could risk her career in an industry known to fade away actors who play such roles and feed top actors with similar safe roles time and again. So as we are the doorstep of reinventing and rewriting women in Tamil cinema (again), we must ask ourselves how we are casting them too. Who will Raiza go on to co-star with? What roles will be written for her after this? And speaking of Nayantara, can she play a con simply because ‘somewhere out there there’s an 8-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal’? And that one where casual sex is life saving? and another where she’s spotted eating?