I was scrolling through Facebook aimlessly the other day when I saw this post shared several times by many men on my friends list. It was titled ‘Dei Maidhaa Maavu’ - a disparaging term to call someone who is fair-skinned and is usually, though not exclusively, applied to North Indians. I was intrigued. I confess, I was in the mood to read something politically incorrect and the ruder it was, the funnier it was bound to be.
The post is about the blogger’s (he calls himself Tamil Payyan) experience at Ega theatre in Chennai, where he went to watch the Rajinikanth-starrer, ‘Kabali’. For those who don’t know, Ega theatre usually screens only non-Tamil films and the crowd that goes there, as Tamil Payyan points out, is usually non-Tamil. Now I, too, was quite irritated by the number of people outside Tamil Nadu who had reviewed the film and trashed it without getting any of the references or subtexts in the narrative. I was equally annoyed by the slew of Rajinikanth-mocking, patronizing jokes that these pieces carried.
So no, I wasn’t feeling particularly kind towards the ‘maidhaa maavu’ folks who often adopt a condescending attitude towards South Indians and seem to believe that all we do is sit around in lungis all day, eating our curd rice. Thanks, Sarruk Khan. Before you punch me through the screen, I’m aware that South Indians do their fair share of stereotyping about communities across the globe, too – I fully acknowledge this. I did say I was in the mood to be politically incorrect.
However, my amusement quickly changed to discomfort when I read through the post. This is what happens: Tamil Payyan goes to the theatre and sits down next to a couple. The girl, he says, was beautiful while the boy looked like Arvind Swamy. The two of them speak in English while Tamil Payyan eavesdrops. Well, we all do that, no need to get judgemental. The couple starts to discuss, ‘Kabali’, the movie that they’re about to watch, and the boy finds it difficult to believe that the girl likes Rajinikanth movies. Tamil Payyan quotes the boy: “this guy’s movies make no sense lol he’s just a 70 year old guy grinding with a 20 year old girl screaming cheesy punchlines and doing ridiculous stunts why do anyone even like him.”
Any Thalaivar fan is likely to find that offensive – except, let’s remember, Tamil Payyan was eavesdropping and the comment was not addressed to him. What follows is Tamil Payyan’s recounting of his confrontation with the boy. He addresses him as ‘Dei maidhaa maavu’, followed by ‘Game of Thrones’ (I suppose this is a reference to pretentious folks who think they’re of higher intellect simply because they watch ‘A Game of Thrones’) and then unleashes a string of filthy abuse upon the guy. This includes a comment that the boy had come with the girl for a Rajinikanth film only to feel her up in the darkness – I’m saying it in a much more refined way, if that’s possible.
Tamil Payyan has since removed these lines from his post but it was very much there when it was providing so much rollicking amusement to the mostly male readership on social media. He then goes on to tell us that the girl was amused by his abuse of her friend and even smiled at him.
Since I stopped finding this post amusing beyond the first few lines, I wondered if something was wrong with me when everyone else was enjoying it so much. So I asked a bunch of (mostly South Indian women) what they thought about it. Their unanimous response was that not only did Tamil Payyan sound plain nasty, they found it rather cinematic that the girl was amused by Tamil Payyan’s abuse of her male friend and his references to her body. Dhanush-level cinematic, as one woman put it - the ‘local’ boy putting down the fair-skinned, pretentious fellow and winning the girl’s approval for doing so.
Is this an over-analysis of a harmless, personal blog? My alarm, really, is not at the post itself but at the kind of reception it has got. Including among men who otherwise claim to be gender-sensitive and speak up against violence and abuse. I’m sure there are a few women too, who found the post funny – it takes all types to make the world, after all – but the mostly polarized opinions tell us quite a bit about how differently men and women perceive such instances. What seems funny to a privileged gender is revolting to another because our locations and life experiences are so vastly different, even if we claim to be on the same page. We only sit up and recognize something as violent or unacceptable when it is presented to us as such, in as many words.
And for the record, I’ve READ the ‘A Game of Thrones’ series. That makes me snootier than people who’ve merely watched it. I’m also a Thalaivar fan who watched 'Kabali' twice the day it was released. Just so you know. Sorry to be a killjoy.