Say goodbye to the ‘shy’ heroine

Women in Tamil films are growing assertive in romance. What the leading actors and directors have to say…

It’s a relief how romance in certain films is no longer cloying and disconnected.

From the Karthiks in Alaipayuthey and Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa to Tara in OK Kanmani and the most recent, Jaanu in 96, romance in Tamil cinema has stood out for more reasons than one.

We’ve had heart wrenching tales of undisclosed, unrequited love to bourgeois, urban and downright banal scripts. Yet, the genre’s larger-than-life appeal remains.

Having said that, it has taken time for new-age directors to move the premise of romance from sugarcoated to tighter, comfortingly realistic portrayals. But has it changed how the genre is portrayed altogether?

“The basic premise of film romance will never change; the crazy pining and strong feeling of belonging between two people in love will always remain so,” says actor Vijay Sethupathi, who was recently seen in the Rajinikanth starrer, Petta.

The other side

For actor-director R Parthiepan, it is a reflection of the freedom the industry has today.

“From the time when kissing was showcased with two flowers knocking on screen to a lip-lock in the teaser, the freedom and openness constitute the evolution,” he says.

A still from the movie 96 starring Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha

A still from the movie 96 starring Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha

Subtlety can be the language for romance, adds the writer, recalling an emotional scene from Ivan (2002) where the singer’s sari pallu around her neck is blown away.

The liberated woman in his 2014 film, Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Iyakkam, though in a rocky marriage, demands her husband romances her.

“It is the woman’s right too. The creator’s license to showcase it is more empowered now,” adds Parthiepan.

Today, women propose in love. They come across as powerful and equal; their decision-making and assertiveness are amazing Vijay Sethupathi

It is interesting how new-age scripts perceive love through the woman’s eyes.

Take, for instance, director Balaji Mohan’s films Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi (2012) and the recently-released Maari 2.

Looking at the lovers’ tiff in these films through the eyes of the heroines, Mohan says, “Paru in KSY gives up on Arun whereas Anandhi, an auto driver in Maari 2 is ready to endure the travails to get him, for her love is unconditional. It is the backgrounds, cultural moorings and aspirations of characters that influence their romance and make for the variety.”

Citing the unconventional romance in last year’s Tik Tik Tik, lyricist Madan Karky talks about how the pivoting presence of the woman – who is only in the plot and not on-screen – is felt by the audience.

Deciding factor

Still riding on the success of 96 (about childhood sweethearts meeting at a high school reunion), Sethupathi attributes the evolution of romance to the times we are living in and the technology that has enabled us to stay connected 24/7.

Vijay Sethupathi

Vijay Sethupathi

“Today, women propose in love. They come across as powerful and equal; their decision-making and assertiveness are amazing,” he says.

Speaking of Trisha’s character, the film’s director Prem Kumar, says, “Jaanu in 96 is very millennial and sophisticated but very acceptable too. Ram counterbalances her intensity in every way, yielding to her efforts to lead them to a reckoning, with the right emotional responses. The balance was key in the story.”

Such roles also give actors the freedom to experiment and move away from the traditional portrayal of on-screen women from glamorous props to well-rounded characters.

Aishwarya Rajesh

Aishwarya Rajesh

For actor Aishwarya Rajesh, romance in films directly reflects the sensibilities and clarity of the younger generation. “It is a sweet version of reality; not cloying, dense and disconnected.”

Of her many roles, Aishwarya relates the most to Padma in Vada Chennai, who is a strong woman, rooted in love. “When she deliberates over kissing her lover Anbu and whether that would make her an ‘item’ in the eyes of others, you realise she is rustic yet bold.”

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