I start with two premises: 1. That you’re aware of the Rajinikanth film which released a few days ago. 2. You have watched it, read about it, or at the least heard what viewers thought of it. Spiritual politics and I are oceans apart but the spirit of a Pa. Ranjith film pulls me in like a strong current; Off I went all the way to Avadi to catch the 4 am first day first show. When I watched the film I did not intend to write about it. In the hours that followed I realised I was floored by the women in the film and just couldn’t get them out of my head. By then though, nothing but the film has been on the news and we remain choked by information with every turn of the head. The good news — you’ve heard everything there is to know about the film and there is no need to call upon the spoiler alert. The maybe bad news is that you’ll have to bear with me also writing about the film.
You may remember how I had advocated a need for a ‘Yogi Test’ following Kabali, the first Ranjith-Rajini collaboration. I had said that we need our own film analysis tools to deem the quality of women characters. After watching Kaala I thought we now have the grounding for at least three more tests named after ‘Selvi’, ‘Zarina’ and ‘Puyal’, the three widely spoken about women characters in the film. These women are everything that we want women to be, and shown as ideally. They’re strong, independent women, each holding her own fort, passing around love and respect in equal measure and demanding it back too, without shame or apology.
As I bobbed in and out of the reel world hangover I was hit by a feather from the real world. “In a society that works overtime to tie women down, what does it do for women to flourish and own the above mentioned characteristics?” I wondered. Feminism, yes, I know is the right answer, but more importantly it’s one nuance I think — men fighting the patriarchy shoulder to shoulder with women. As we need a ‘he for she’ in the real world, so do we on film. And in the movie, the women shine on screen not because a Kaala lets them, but because he fights for them to shine on.
As a husband he sees an equal in his wife, never ceasing to profess his love for her, being the man who’s never too old to stay in love — a love founded firmly with vows that grows multiple folds through a family, but one that will stand the test of time. Does he fear his wife? No. He only knows her too well. Zarina, the old-flame shows us a side of Kaala that’s taken by surprise at the sight of her, but a man with a will of steel and a wisdom gathered with age. Here is a character who does not easily slip across the boundaries, a person grown enough not to want to erase the past, but hold on to its memories, one who can still love without needing to be in love. Through Zarina, we meet the rare man with a small ego, unafraid to have his opinions challenged, and even better a man who loves that women have opinions. Puyal introduces us to yet another facet of Kaala, comrade before father-in-law, a man that places more importance on cause than cooking, on saving rather than serving.
I now ask myself, “Is Kaala a feminist?” Maybe he is. I’d love for him to be one, so we could have a first ‘kaala’ test for male characters instead of three more for women. I will be convinced he is one when I see another star talking to his wife while hanging off a cliff. I will fight for Kaala to be feminist when I see the star in his next movie. But till then, I am going to keep thanking Ranjith for turning the idea of the superstar on its head, and for showing me a possibly feminist man on screen.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton