In Tamil films, we’ve seen actresses as friends in every film that revolves around a group of people. April Maadhathil (2002), Boys (2003), Kalloori (2007) Santosh Subramaniam (2008) are some of them. The characters Asha (Richa Ahuja) in Dumm Dumm Dumm (2001), and Vanmathi (Seetha) in Goli Soda (2014) really made their presence felt as great friends. Otherwise, like in Badri (2001), Pandavar Bhoomi (2001), Poovellam Un Vaasam (2001), Piriyadha Varam Vendum (2001), we would see the only female friend to the hero aka the heroine, fall in love with him. No comments.
While Tamil cinema has always nurtured male-male friendships (Remember Thalapathy’s song that had verses like ‘protect friendship like virginity’…urgh!), to see that it’s possible for the hero have a woman as his friend and confidante was radical – Shriya Saran as Reshma in Ennaku 20 Unakku 18 (2003), Sandhya as Suchitra in Vallavan (2006) were definite trendsetters. As we are finally ready to give our women more to do than be distressed, need saving, or run around bushes, we also have them walking with and talking to their ‘friend’ in numerous films, usually about the men (bombing the Bechtel test). We can safely say that between the times of actor Aarthi in Arul (2004) and Vidyullekha Raman in Vedhalam (2015), we’ve got most heroine-friend roles covered.
But these are not the kind of friendships I’m talking about. I am pointing at the under-representation of honest, equalising, everyday friendships that aren’t steeped in power dynamics and developed organically between women in their own contexts. “Where are films about the sisterhood? Where are those that give the women equal screen time and those that do not project one woman as the more important of the two or more characters?”, I asked people.
Five films emerged out of this discussion. Magalir Mattum (1994) is the most popular of them. Snehithiye (2000) is remembered for being a good thriller, which it is, but it also portrays life and times, friendship and fights, pally and politics in a girls college in a never-before (and never after) way. Oh, the film was based on harassment and abuse. Three Roses (2003) and June R (2006) came and went, and aren’t remembered by most. Amma Kanakku (2016) came up, but I haven’t seen it. These are the films that will be played on TV year after year on Women’s day, but never for Pongal or Diwali. We don’t use the phrase ‘man-centric films’ — though they are made by men, about men, and for a predominantly male audience. We place unfair pressure on ‘women-centric films’ to be more than just that, while unrealistic and sometimes terrible films about men are consumed without a flinch.
While top-paid heroines queue up to romance the Thala’s and Thalabathis in the film industry, we don’t see any top hero rushing to act in a film that gives the woman equal screen time. But worst thing is that we could collectively come up with only five films about female friendships, when I can name about 50 in every other category and is telling of a sad state of affairs.
It’s not about the business of it, I’m positive – a good film today will make money, women-centric or not. More films that celebrate women, tell their stories, and stress on female friendships will change the dynamics of the industry. Films like that will bring more women to the theatres, and put them out there, with or without male-protectors. There will be introspection, socialising and questioning. There will be liberation. And that’s what we are afraid of.
(The writer is a Chennai-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton)