CHENNAI: I was all of 12 years old when I found love — in a story on the big screen. Kaakha Kaakha had been released; all I needed was a snippet of a song in the trailer (koottathil yennai dhan un kangal thedanum…) and I was falling head first. I wanted to grow up and have a life like Maya's — an independent woman living by herself, a sari-clad school teacher with a world of her own making. And one with a lover in Anbuselvan. I wanted to stand by the sea and tell this kallukkul-eearam kind of a man that I wanted to make love to him, casually remark that I could double as his mattress from time to time, have a wedding like that in a lived-in house, a honeymoon like that in a getaway boat house. I've always pictured myself getting into accidents, so the 'being hit by a lorry and getting to experience the gruff lover's tender side' scene fit right in (I was 12, don't judge). Save for the tiny inconvenience of Maya dying in the end, this was the story I thought I'd be telling my grandkids.
That reality took a completely different course and barely made a difference (you find out that being a mattress isn’t all that fun for you and often, the eeram just turns out to be vervai). Our tryst with on-screen romance is one for the ages. In a culture that brings religion and worship to the streets and bolts up love behind closed doors and euphemisms, it was these stories that offered some fodder for the imagination and plenty of colour to a taboo-laden aspect of our lives. “Mostly, parents do not talk to kids about this directly. Then, cinema becomes the first window of exposure towards love and romance,” reasons actor and filmmaker Balaji Mohan.
And the learning has been aplenty. Krithika Ramani declares that she married her boyfriend because that’s what movies preach. Ranjitha Grace has managed to nail down a few cinema-esque candlelight dinners but still has her sight set on a flash mob opening to a date, Friends With Benefits style. Aishwarya Iyer got to create a date modelled after her favourite movie — Before Sunrise — on the roads of Bengaluru. Only she had to cut short hers well before sunrise, thanks to concerns about finding a cab back home.
While Kaakha Kaakha had been my downfall, it was another Gautham Menon movie that had gotten the better of 32-year-old Raghavendra. All it took was a little tiff with a would-be girlfriend and he found himself standing outside her hostel and screaming out her name, very much like Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa’s Karthik. He’d been watching the movie over and over again and barely realised that he was playing a scene from it in real life. While he was quite embarrassed about the episode, he was surprised to find that she had actually liked the entire outburst (albeit in hindsight).
Learnings from 70-mm
Like in real life, it is this grey area that cinema too has had too much trouble with. The objectification has been taken too far, opines director Halitha Shameem. “Either we have girls who are extremely nonsensical or very classy; we do not get to see normal women on screen,” she points out, and you know there is enough evidence for this. The level of influence cinema has is, perhaps, most evident in the way men engage in women bashing, she says. “Boys are quite normal when they interact with the girls in their life. But when they are with their friends, there is this tendency to ape what they have seen in the movies. Cinema has a big part in having normalised this. The songs we see add to this too. The creators stick to the “we only want to entertain and not hurt anyone” refrain,” she says, clarifying that she disagrees with this sentiment and calls for filmmakers to take up the minimum responsibility with their work. For people are influenced by good work too, she assures. “Many people responded well to the Hey Ammu story in Sillu Karupatti. Some men said that they took their wives out for a nice dinner after watching the movie. I do not know how much they will be able to sustain it but it inspired them to do something immediate,” she details.
Stepping away slightly from this perspective, Balaji says that as long as you’re putting things in the right perspective, it is okay to show anything on screen. “I shouldn’t always be scared of what the outcome will be and how it might be misconstrued. But I have my conscience that keeps telling me what is okay and not,” he explains.
On an optimistic note, he hopes that filmmakers keep up with the world around them in terms of the content they produce too, not just its treatment. While his web series As I’m Suffering From Kadhal was certainly more mature than his previous works, he admits that he wouldn’t make a Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi today. “I want love stories to change and become more progressive,” he declares. Perhaps then, I will have a more plausible story to fall for.