For years, Tamil cinema has made it a point to hit out at women showing even the slightest independent streak. So, a song from Magalir Mattum, Jyothika's new film releasing this Friday, comes as a breath of fresh air.
Called 'Adi vaadi thimira', the song features ordinary women and girls going about their everyday lives. Diya – Suriya and Jyothika's daughter – is also part of the video and can be seen running on an athletic track.
What’s interesting about the song is that it reclaims the word 'thimiru' to put a positive spin on it. Meaning 'arrogance', a woman's 'thimiru' has for long been the hero's target and justification to treat her badly in Tamil cinema.
Dialogues like, "If a woman like you can have so much thimiru, just imagine what a man can do!" have featured in several films.
Sequences where the man "tames" the woman and puts her in her place have been part of several films. Rajinikanth’s Thangamagan for instance, has that absurd dance contest where he removes his shirt and challenges the heroine to do the same to prove male superiority. And this is an example that many other contemporary heroes have emulated.
So, there’s Vijay putting down the "arrogant" heroine in Sivakasi by publicly humiliating her for the clothes she's chosen to wear; Ajith sexually assaulting a woman who insults his masculinity in Varalaru, or Dhanush mansplaining how a successful woman should behave in VIP 2.
The character of a strong and assertive woman is rarely treated well on screen. The hero's word is always seen as final and any woman who defies him can only come to ruin. 'Thimiru' then, is the fatal flaw for women characters in Tamil cinema. Seldom have there been films like Baahubali 2 where a woman's assertive personality is considered attractive to the man.
In her comeback film 36 Vayadhiniley, a remake of the Malayalam How Old Are You?, Jyothika's character Vasanthi reiterates that her husband and family are very important to her towards the end. While the Malayalam film also has a similar ending, the dialogues in Tamil were far more placatory. This was perhaps done to ensure that the audiences in Tamil Nadu are not disappointed by the ending and to assure them that Vasanthi was still devoid of 'thimiru', despite her success.
Will Magalir Mattum break free of such constraints? 36 Vayadhiniley had a 'Vaadi rasathi' (Come, my darling) song. One hopes that the 'Vaadi thimira' (Come with arrogance) song will allow Magalir Mattum's women to own their "arrogance" without apology. With a spirited cast and the promise of a new premise, the film has the potential to break away from the long tradition of talking down to women that Tamil cinema has cherished.