Portrayal of women in Tamil cinema undergoes sea change

What is common to Jyothika, Samantha, Nayanthara, Hansika, Kajal Agarwal, Varalaxmi and Trisha? They all started as typical Tamil heroines, who ran around trees romancing the heroes. But, today, they are part of women-centric movies and they have a say in the script.

Their roles in have broken all stereotypes.  Tamil cinema had always been men-centric. From MKT, MGR, Sivaji to Rajini, Kamal, heroines hardly had a role to play. They appear, only to disappear soon. Their only job was to fall in love with a hero. Things have changed a lot -all for the better. Today, they are part and parcel of every script.
Speaking to ‘News Today’, Ramanan, a film historian, says, “The 1980s saw women being objectified and the likes of Silk Smitha, Jayamalini, Anuradha and Disco Santhi shook their legs for an item number in skimpy costumes. Rarely came works by filmmakers like K Balachander, Bharathiraja or Mahendran where author-backed roles were written for women. ‘Arangetram’ or ‘Aboorva Ragangal’ were not regular affairs.”
However, over the years, a legion of filmmakers took centrestage. They changed the script and today women-centric movies are the order of the day.
“A month ago had someone told me that a film like ‘Kolamaavu Kokila’, with Nayanthara in the pivotal role, would have early morning shows on the day of its release across Tamilnadu, I would not have believed it,” he said.

“Even during the days of MGR and Sivaji, actresses like Savithri, Padmini, Saroja Devi, Jayalalithaa and K R Vijaya had a part to play in Tamil cinema. However in late 60s, the influence of Bollywood films and craze for movies around angry young man made sure women characters didn’t get enough prominence. Cinema became too patriarchical,” he explained.

“The role written for them was too conservative until 2000. They were shown to be deep-rooted in culture and were portrayed as the epitome of patience, welcoming even a man involving in polygamy as their life partner,” says Supriya, a psychologist. “Influence of western media and liberalisation meant change of portrayal of women in recent times,” she adds.

Savithri, an activist, says, “From the time when even self-proclaimed feminist films needed to be propped up by famous male actors and elaborate back stories, Tamil cinema has come a long way today. ‘Magalir Mattum’ featured Jyothika as the heroine who stress the need to treat women with respect and importance. Nayanthara as Madhivadhani, an IAS officer in ‘Aramm’, stands up for the people, takes on a powerful mafia, commands a police force and makes difficult decisions. ‘Aruvi’ was about a young girl who takes revenge on the world for ill-treatment, estrangement, sexual violence and disparagement.
Be it a live-in relationship, unsatisfied married life or quarrel between a couple, today’s women on screen can have their say – and can say it aloud.”

“We need more Balachanders and Mani Ratnams. Now that movies starring women in the lead command good business at the box office and television channels portray them as villains within families, films glorifying women is the need of the hour,” says Subha, a parent and a film enthusiast. Hope Kollywood is listening!


Some of the women-centric movies going on the floors:
‘Kaatrin Mozhi’
‘Paris Paris’
‘Imaikka Nodigal’
‘U Turn’