The third film in the Singam franchise released last week to mixed reviews. Starring Suriya, Anushka Shetty, and Shruti Haasan among others, Si 3 was about yet another episode from supercop Duraisingam's blistering career.
While I enjoyed the first Singam thoroughly, the third one was a letdown. However, what was even more disappointing than the film itself was the misogyny apparent in many of the reviews and critical pieces written about it.
Si 3 has two heroines, Anushka Shetty and Shruti Haasan. Anushka has been part of the franchise since the first film, which released in 2010. Her role has been progressively diminishing since the first Singam and she appears only for a handful of scenes in the most recent outing.
However, many critics have been quick to point out that she looks "too mature", "too old" and even "too fat" or "too bloated" to appear alongside Suriya. At 35, Anushka is one of the few heroines in the Southern industry who still gets to play meaty roles. Since her debut in 2005, she has done a slew of characters, even shouldering films entirely by herself - something not many heroines get to do.
Given the extremely short shelf life that heroines have in the industry when compared to their male counterparts, what Anushka has managed to do is remarkable.
And she has done it because she is a talented and dependable performer. For her film Inji Iduppazhagi (Size Zero in Telugu), which is on the weight loss industry, she took the risk of piling on kilos - nearly 20 kgs - to look the part. While it's common for male actors to modify their bodies to suit characters that they play, female actors rarely attempt it. Drastic weight loss to look "glamorous" may be...but drastic weight gain? Other than a Vidya Balan who did it for The Dirty Picture, this particular hall of fame has very few members.
What's more, Anushka has reportedly chosen to lose the weight through natural means without going in for steroids and other shortcut methods (which was the whole point of Inji Iduppazhagi anyway) which are the go-to methods in the film industry. Did you really think Aamir Khan, at his age, acquired that much-touted six-pack look for Dangal merely by working out at the gym for six months?!
The response to Anushka's appearance in Si 3 is the reason why more heroines don't take such risks. While male actors routinely act with women who are young enough to be their daughters, not many comment on how "odd" the pairing looks. The wide age disparity is so common that it appears normalised to the audience.
The current top four heroes in the Tamil film industry - Ajith, Vijay, Suriya, Vikram - are all in their forties and the last is in his fifties! Their heroines, at the most, are in their early thirties. Then there are the superstars - Rajinikanth at 66 who will be acting with 25 year old Amy Jackson in 2.0, and Kamal Haasan at 62 who, too, pairs up with women at least two decades younger than him - unless he’s playing an aged character. And even then, never with someone who's the same age as he is!
It's true that many of these actors invest a good amount of time and effort in keeping themselves in shape, but they certainly don't attract the kind of scrutiny that their heroines do. Ajith could experiment with salt and pepper hair, even sport a beer belly without his market value coming down.
A heroine looking her age, however, is sadly considered unacceptable. Not even when she's in a three film franchise where her character is supposed to have aged anyway! How "young" must a senior police officer's wife look? Considering Anushka is playing a businesswoman in the film and not an athlete at the Olympics or a Miss Universe contestant, what's the problem with her looking like a normal woman who eats three meals a day?
It's true that most heroines have little to do in films other than look "glamorous" and it's a sad reality that it's their body which matters more than their acting talent. But this is not a situation that we need to encourage as members of the audience or critics.
Drop the double standards and start looking at female actors as artists and not mannequins.