Long hair has, for long, been considered the symbol of femininity. Whether curly or straight, jet black or wild pink, many people consider it to stand for vitality and sensuality.
No wonder then that whether Hollywood or Kollywood, female leads usually sported long and shiny manes. But just as Hollywood bucked the trend, Kollywood, too, is slowly seeing merit in short hair for women.
A few days ago, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar’s cropped look for Shakti created quite a stir online. While she is not the first to do this in the recent years, does this change signify a shift in the way movie makers are approaching female characters?
Short hair can be therapeutic
In real life, women often go for short hair after a particularly stressful period like a breakup.
Hair is the one part of a woman’s body that can be changed within a matter of minutes. It is seen as an extension of her personality and changes to it indicate that something is brewing deep within.
Emma Watson gave herself a pixie look after she completed filming the Harry Potter series. The hairstyle signified moving away from being Hermoine Granger and being Emma. Recently, Actor Oviya, who is known for her bold thoughts, was seen sporting a badass undercut after her eviction from a popular reality show.
She said that she'd donated hair for cancer patients but it also hints at a shift from the Oviya we saw on TV to the person she really is.
Signifying strength and character
Strong and bold women often sport short hair. Perhaps they enjoy not conforming to societal norms. Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher sported a bob. Princess Diana was famous for her short and practical hair.
Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Julia Gillard, Hillary Clinton and a host of powerful women continue to rock short hair.
Mayawati; PTI Photo
At home, Indra Gandhi rocked a no-nonsense bob. Indra Nooyi, Priyanka Gandhi and Mayavati continue to wear their hair short.
The hairstyle one chooses can also tell us about the personality. Rebellious women often use their hair as a canvas to show society how they feel. When Miley Cyrus wanted to break away from her Disney Hanna Montanna image, she took to chopping her hair and indulged in body piercings. Another star known for her bold choices, Ellen Degenres has been sporting pixies since the '90s.
In Kollywood, Akshara Haasan is another star who has experimented with bold hairdos and hair colours. Short hair is not new to the Shamitabhstar and she sported quite a fetching hairstyle in Vivegam. She has experimented with short hair and bold colours for a while now. Like her father, Akshara is a self-confessed atheist and a rebel.
Women in sports prefer to keep their hair short. Apart from being a practical choice, short hair also signifies physical strength.
It is hence not surprising that many of the women in the Indian cricket team wear their hair short. From Anjum Chopra to Punam Raut and Deepti Sharma, they all seem to enjoy sporting a short pixie.
Portrayal in cinema
Women in Indian cinema seldom sported short hair. Even the ones that had short hair were made to wear wigs and hair extensions. Unless of course, they play the role of a journalist or activist. Remember how Preity Zinta chopped off her hair and went short when she played a journalist in Lakshya?
In the last few years, the trend seems to be catching on. For instance, Anushka Sharma sported a pixie cut in PK. Kangna Ranaut sported short hair in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Priyanka Chopra had a wild bob for her role in Barfi!
Anushka Sharma in PK; Screenshot/YouTube
Down south, Dhansika sported short hair for her role in Kabali. Parvathy had a short messy mop for Bangalore Natkal.
What is common to all these women is that their on-screen character is that of an independent woman who is unapologetic about her choices.
While Parvathy as Sarah plays a spirited, physically challenged RJ, Dhansika as Yogi is shown as a woman with killer instincts who is not afraid to get her hands dirty.
It's now an interesting time to be a woman actor in India. More and more scripts are being written keeping them in mind.
That said, short hair continues to signify tomboyish serious women. Speculations are wild that Varalaxmi would be playing the role of a cop or a badass assassin in Shakti. It is interesting how characters with short hair are given androgynous names like Yogi and Shakti, not Kazhalvizhi or Malar.
Mandira Bedi has shown us that cropped hair need not mean you give up your feminine side. The style diva has proved that short hair can complement a saree or an ethnic outfit just as much as long, luscious hair. Will the film industry progress to showing our actors with short hair as sensual and flirty? Only time will tell.