Rolled Monk

Archive for July, 2015|Monthly archive page

Feminism: From fantasy to reality

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2015 at 4:32 pm

There was a dialogue in a movie which I remember vaguely. Well I don’t exactly remember the dialogue, that’s what vaguely means doesn’t it, but something about it stuck; something about how we regret everything we’ve said and done five years ago. I’m struck by how true this is for me; I regret everything I’ve written here 5 years ago and this regret is not just constrained to the quality of the writing. How much can somebody’s thinking change in five years however?

Apparently a lot. The most drastic change which I’ve noticed in myself is my becoming a feminist, at least in the way I think about things. It is drastic because from my current vantage point I was a chauvinist five years ago. Maybe I’m taking myself too seriously? That’s bound to happen at some point anyway and the sooner I let this phase – taking myself seriously phase, not feminism – run its course, the better. I hope this will serve as enough context for this post you are about to read.

So I saw Papanasam and before I go on and say anything else about the movie I want you to know that I liked it. It is as close to reality as Tamil cinema has gotten in its portrayal of characters in a long, long time. Sure it’s a remake of a Malayalam movie and thus it is bound to be closer to reality. However it is thisreality that is scary. The dynamics of a real husband-wife relationship made me sit up and take notice of a few things which are very true in everyday life but are also very detrimental unless we change that way of life; that and what happens to a girl when she is caught naked in the shower.

The first instance in the movie which steered my thoughts into the realm of feministic fantasies was the one where Suyambu (Kamal) comes home one night for some sexy time with his wife. Rani (Gautami) is all ready for it too and just before they proceed to do it she subtly drops a request for a new car (or is it to go shopping with the kids to Thenkasi? I forget). However he is mock-pissed by this request of hers and claims that he is a man who doesn’t succumb to his wife’s every whim and fancy just because she is offering him sex. Succumb is what he does though within the next 30-seconds. They have a phrase for this in tamil: ThalaiyanaiMandiram, which literally translates to pillow magic and is the surest way for a woman to get what she wants from her man.

My initial reaction to this scene was laughter; like everyone else at the theater. I mean the mere prospect of Kamalahasan saying no to sex is funny. After some time though, once I really thought about this, I cringed. Is that how we think of our women? Somebody that uses sex to get her way? And I was mighty insulted by someone like Kamalhasan pandering to this stereotype; sharing the screen with Gautami no less after the kind of relationship they share in real life. Further rationalization (I’m not sure I’m allowed to rationalize this. But it is a habit), however restored my faith in the man. It wasn’t Kamal and Gautami; it was Suyambu and Rani and that is how most of the Suyambus and Ranis are in our country. Cinema is just a mirror that reflects (and also shapes some would argue but I highly doubt that) society. Whether we use our reflections to correct our mistakes or validate them further is entirely up to us.

Take a step back and look at how deep-rooted this stereotype is. Women have been sent to distract even sages with their beauty and sex since the beginning of time. Women have been portrayed as rewards to men who give up their lives for some holy cause. Therefore I un-cringed myself and forgave the world. Only, I had to rant this to the world and hope that at least one person will see some sense in this.

The next scene in the movie which really ticked me off was that interaction between Suyambu and his father-in-law. The fil played by Delhi Ganesh is fretting about how he was unable to give a right dowry for his daughter at the time of marriage. While the concept of dowry itself is something to be looked upon with disdain and is again nothing but a manifestation of the patriarchy overflowing in our society, Suyambu’s response to this steals the thunder.

He says: “I am a business man. I know a good object when I see one and I also know that it is unfair to buy an object as well as get paid for it.” Porul – meaning object, was the word that was used to describe Rani. And I shit you not, this scene was written in to show us, the audience, what an amazing person this Suyambu is. Of course he is. My respect for Kamal the actor grew because he held the mirror right up to our faces. And it was scarred beyond repair. Unfortunately nobody seems to notice these scars.

Noticing the scars brings me to another important point: A few days ago, I was ranting on twitter about how irrelevant feminism is in real life and how Papanasam made me realize it. I was only majorly thinking about these two scenes at that time. However nobody else seemed to have noticed these and I too had failed to notice anything beyond these: the bigger picture that is. Someone had to ask me how feminism is related to the movie to make me really think. Sure the women are bold and courageous and independent. These small instances can be dismissed away as over-thinking things; as a contrived attempt to retro-fit feminism. But is that it?

So for anybody who hasn’t seen the movie yet, SPOILER ALERT: I’ve written that in bold, capital and italics. So if you read on, it is at your own risk.

The main turning point in the movie, which I’d alluded to earlier too, comes in the form of a spoiled brat taking a video of Suyambu’s daughter bathing and blackmailing her for sex with it. I’m not going to get into how the movie dealt with the situation; watch it and find out yourself. That spoiler alert was overrated. However I’m just going to analyse the incident of getting caught naked on camera and how it could affect somebody’s life.

These incidences are dubbed as MMS Scandals. Another movie that deals with this, although differently, is Dev-D (I haven’t really seen the Ragini MMS movies so no comment on those). The character is forced to become a prostitute because she loses all familial support and respect for being caught on camera. Her response is a major waving-of-the-middle-finger to society and that’s one way to go about things. But society doesn’t like people giving it the finger and that’s that. Papanasamhowever tells us a different tale. It is about how a girl’s life is over if she is caught naked on a camera: on how her entire family will have no recourse but suicide; how a girl’s fabric covering her body is also the moral fabric of civilization.

My only question is why? Let us assume I’m caught naked on camera. Sure I’ll be traumatized (so will you!); frustrated, insecure and ashamed. But the only thing I’ve got to fear is being made fun of by strangers. Nobody is going to judge my moral character; or even if they do, I’m not going to let it affect me. It could just be me but I’m sure it is also true for most men I know (false consensus bias? Maybe). So it is a woman’s problem for letting it affect her right? No! It is a collective issue. We’ve made our women that way; the female form that way; our society that way. Even if she dismissed the incident and moved on, we won’t let her to. She is either a poor thing that had to die because of this horrible incident that happened to her or is a slut with no morals for moving on. Case in point is every film actress whose bathroom videos we’ve seen and judged.

So yes! Feminism is relevant to the movie. It is the crux of it. What is the solution? I don’t know and I don’t really care about it. The solution comes only when we accept that there is a problem. Until then, feminism is and will be irrelevant in real life.