A Tamil news channel recently held an informal survey in which youngsters unanimously cited cinema as their prime resource for learning about “love."
In case you've never watched a Tamil movie, here's a crash course on the portrayal of women and love in Tamil cinema.
According to Tamil movie wisdom, the value of the female of the species lies in "cuteness". A young woman in the average Tamil film exists primarily to look surprised, smile, help people cross the road, play innocent pranks, get ogled at, turn damsel-in-distress, and generally go about life with the naivety of a two-day-old kitten.
Tamil cinema’s de-facto heroine is the “loosu ponnu” (literally "crazy girl"), a home-grown variant of the manic pixie. Her utter lack of street smarts, her irrepressible sprightliness, and her propensity to endanger her own life are just some of the qualities that instantly endear her to the hero and audiences alike.
She has lots of free time, zero professional ambition, easily detachable ties with her family, and unquestioning devotion to the hero once she falls for him. In short, an adolescent male’s wet dream brought to life.
Her cuteness is directly proportional to how insane or incredible her actions are: talking to trees (Ninaithen Vandhai), being too terrified to cross a road (Paayum Puli), climbing onto the back of conmen (Pithamagan), casually electrocuting others (Alli Thandha Vaanam), headbutting strangers to avoid sprouting horns (Santhosh Subramaniam), falling in love for the hardest slap (Kaththi), bottle-feeding goats and imitating scarecrows (Mudhalvan), attempting suicide in full make-up when a pet dog goes missing (Sura), or conversing with clouds and counting raindrops (Mazhai, Thirunaal).
Never mind that you cannot meet a single woman resembling this wide-eyed, extraterrestrial being on the streets of Tamil Nadu.
Once the hero meets this alien female creature, what does he do but "fall in love," of course? But then, before she sees his heart of gold, she needs to be tamed and shown her rightful place.
A hero has all the choice in world when it comes to shaming his woman: for wearing "skimpy" clothes (Gentleman, Sivakasi, Ramana, among a zillion others), wearing too much makeup (Pokkiri), smoking (M Kumaran), eating too much (Thiruvilayadal Aarambam), reading adult content (Gethu), sitting comfortably in her aeroplane seat (Kuruvi), talking in English to an official (Dhool), being too orthodox and scaredy-cat (Sethu), being too independent and shouty (Padayappa), wearing designer clothes while looking too "fat" (Sachein), and, heck, while we're at it, buying expensive sanitary pads (Pudhukotaiyilirundhu Saravanan).
All this, while the hero’s sidekick can shame and silence a woman by saying that she loses the right to talk because she ain't even a good-looking “figure” (OKOK).
Do not fear that such shaming would make the woman discover her non-existent self-respect and keep miles away from the hero. In fact, these conflicts ensure that they get closer all the time.
When a man and a woman fight, he always has the last word. If he needs the ultimate put-down to silence her, he can prove his cool quotient by taking his shirt off and daring her to go topless as well (Thangamagan, Vikram).
For extra points, if she shows "attitude", the hero can class it up further – either strip her underwater and leave her seething (Kaaki Sattai) or take away her clothes while she is bathing (Alaigal Oyvathillai).
These classic Tamil cinema tropes from the '80s continue to rear their regressive heads even today, only somewhat modified.
When a woman is accidentally seen in the nude by the hero, it is reason enough to instantly fall in love and marry him (Annamalai); if seen by a crowd, though, she has to go die (Enthiran), unless the hero redeems her through marriage (Indian).
However, while female nudity has to end in either death or marriage, if a man deliberately streaks through a crowded street, it’s a cue for the heroine to completely turn into mush at how much he truly loves her (Boys).
It is a fact universally acknowledged that a man’s undying love for the heroine can be proven by how persistently he stalks and harasses her.
Methods include singing obscene songs (Singaravelan), manhandling her for fun (Thambikku Endha Ooru, Kizhakku Vaasal), and giving her lessons in Indian culture and dressing (Vandicholai Sinrasu).
But these vanilla versions of harassment are oh-so-'90s. When such antics fail to impress, it’s time to up the game by kidnapping her and fantasising about their future family, consent be damned (Sethu), beating her in public (Pistha), murdering people including her father (Priyamudan), attempting suicide when she decides to move on and then suing her (Devathaiyai Kanden), indulging in sexual fantasies about her after giving her a “choice” between two creepy stalkers (Aadukalam), sparing her alone while slut-shaming and serial-killing other women (Manmadhan).
By now, the heroine’s initial “no” should have turned into a resounding “YES” with a romantic background score added.
After all the effort that the hero put into stalk-wooing her, if the relationship ever shows signs of falling apart, it is often, scratch that, ALWAYS the woman’s fault.
She is the materialistic wretch who has abandoned him to go abroad (3), the wrecker of childhood friendships (OKOK, Mayakkam Enna), the heartless egomaniac (Kushi), the boring prohibitionist (Idharkkuthaane Aasaipattai Balakumara), the simpering daddy’s girl (Kaadhal Sadugudu) or what have you — it’s all her doing.
Her blatant treachery gives the noble-hearted hero occasion to sing sad songs while drinking and denouncing womankind in general (Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam, Romeo Juliet, Ethir Neechal). Once her evil qualities have been catalogued, the “white-skinned-black-hearted” woman usually mends her ways and returns to the hero. Unless their temporary breakup was a bigger plot point in the movie.
If the breakup has happened closer to the last half-hour, the stakes are higher and the hero has to engage in more emotional manipulation. After all, when love turns sour, the woman should gratefully remember how the hero never once tried to simply take her cherry or date-rape her.
The difference between a "classy" director and crass one lies in whether the hero himself makes this insinuation (Minnale) or a random guy on the street does (Devathaiyai Kanden).
But if the couple have had consensual sex before breaking up, it entitles the hero to blackmail her family into letting him marry her (SMS) or discuss their sexual history with her fiancé to try and scare him away (Vallavan).
Now which woman in her right mind can remain unmoved by such fine gestures of love? Cue happily-ever-after.
Contrary to popular belief, Tamil cinema has, in fact, evolved a lot from the infamous '90s when an entire movie pivoted around how the macho hero turns the heroine from “the CEO of India’s no. 1 company” to a sanskaari Indian wife by shunting her off to the kitchen by the time the end credits roll (Mannan).
No, people. It’s all different now. The man is no longer under the patriarchal burden to be the breadwinner who tames the errant heroine. He can proudly flaunt his unwillingness to complete his college education (Padikkadhavan), remain a slacker (Rajini Murugan), spend time boozing (Idharkuthaane…) and still aspire to win over a wealthy and well-employed woman (SMS) and live off her wealth or hard work (Boss Engira Baskaran).
You might be left scratching your head now as to why such an accomplished woman would even consider falling for a loser of this sort, but guess what? It works. Every. Single. Time.