Kajol plays the main antagonist in the recently released Dhanush starrer VIP 2 directed by Soundarya Rajinikanth.
As Vasundhara, the rich businesswoman who manages a top-notch construction company, she locks horns with engineer Raghuvaran (Dhanush).
There haven't been too many female villains in Tamil cinema, so how does Vasundhara fare against the ones we've seen so far?
'Arrogance' has always been the downfall of the woman antagonist. When it comes to the male villain, his undoing is usually greed. Rajinikanth's lines from Padayappa, which translate to, "There is no history of a man who has too many desires and a woman who gets too angry ever living well" might as well be the guidebook with which directors and scriptwriters come up with such storylines!
Whether that's Easwari (Sriya Reddy) of Thimiru or the memorable Neelambari (Ramya Krishnan) of Padayappa for whom those lines were written, the arrogance of the woman antagonist is always called to question.
VIP 2 also follows this tradition by making Vasundhara, a woman who supposedly built an entire business empire all by herself, lose her cool just because someone turned down her employment offer. Are empires built on such shaky temperaments and frivolousness? Apparently, the answer is yes.
Ambitious women are not desirable in Tamil films. It's the one who worships the hearth and the home who is marked out as 'good'.
In Kodi, where Trisha plays Rudra, an ambitious politician who will stop at nothing to achieve her dreams, it is her desire for power which makes her evil. And remember Sornakka (Telangana Shakuntala), the iconic woman don from Dhool?
In VIP 2 as well, it is Vasundhara's need to have the No.1 people working for her No.1 company which leads her to make fatal mistakes. However, we're also shown shots of Vasundhara at work - she isn't just a "glam doll" sitting at her desk, she actually knows her job.
Disappointingly, Shalini (Amala Paul), a dentist who was making over a lakh a month in the first VIP becomes a homemaker in the sequel just so she can look after the three men at home.
When she suggests to her husband Raghuvaran that she go back to work because of a cash crunch at home, his first response is, "No, there's no need of that!" She then has to tell him that she wants to do her bit for the family, too. Which normal woman would want to go to work because she's ambitious? Not the average Tamil cinema heroine.
The woman villain is also characterized as someone overly lustful. While it's all right for the hero to pursue a woman who is clearly not interested in him (this is 'sincere' love), the woman villain's attraction is portrayed as something demonic.
Julie (Saritha) of Julie Ganapathy, Arundhati (Sangeetha) of Uyir and the villains from Thimiru and Padayappa fit this stereotype. However, though Vasundhara is a single woman in VIP 2 and she ends up spending a night in the company of Raghuvaran during the Chennai floods, she's not shown to be lusting after him.
She asks him if he's married but the question comes casually and she doesn't display any insecurity or jealousy when she meets Shalini, his wife. The wife doesn't pass any judgmental comments about Raghuvaran spending the night with Vasundhara either.
Interestingly, Vasundhara and Raghuvaran drink together when they are stuck in office because of the rains - there is no moralising about women drinking from Raghuvaran and neither does Vasundhara act like she cannot handle alcohol. A pleasant change.
Also, the men in the film don't find Vasundhara repulsive despite her "thimiru". Raghuvaran is not attracted to her but the other men are. Sadly, the director chose to show this by having them refer to her as "figure".
Clothes play a significant role in determining whether a woman is "good" or "bad" on screen. You just need to look at what they're wearing and their make-up to know how the script will play out. Remember the ridiculous clothes in which Ramya Krishnan was stuffed into in Padayappa? Kodi, that way, came as a pleasant surprise. Trisha wore clothes that fit her role as a politician and did not objectify her in any way.
Similarly, Vasundhara, too, is dressed in corporate clothes for almost the entire film and there are no close-up shots of her cleavage or navel. However, there is a subtle contrast established between her and the simply dressed (and good-hearted) Anitha (Ritu Varma) who plays Dhanush's woman boss in his first company.
Anitha is always dressed in a salwar kameez when compared to the expensive suits that Vasundhara wears. In telling us how a woman boss should not behave, the film also gives us an ideal woman boss - someone sweet and nice, who needs Raghuvaran's hand to get up when she's pushed by a thug! Vasundhara would have probably kicked the thug in his crotch but well, that's the problem with her attitude, ain't it?
The woman villain usually dies at the end of the film, preferably not at the hands of the hero because killing a woman isn't "manly". VIP 2, however, lets her live because the hero mansplains how a woman's struggle in the patriarchal world should be seen in the "right" way and she turns a new leaf overnight.
We may take some comfort in the fact that Vasundhara is at least allowed to live.
Overall, the character of Vasundhara has its hits and misses. Considering it was a woman director at the helm and we've seen what Dhanush is capable of as a scriptwiter in Pa Paandi, Vasundhara should have been written much better. Padayappa came out nearly two decades ago and it is sad that we're still looking to the film to draw inspiration to create woman antagonists.