By Rajesh Rajamani
The sad thing about most romantic movies in Tamil is that there is often no romance in them. If you have regularly watched Tamil movies, you can be very sure that these filmmakers (mostly male) have never been in love or in any real relationship. Or even if they were to claim that they have been in love, you can bet all your money on the fact that the woman in question would have never known about the existence of the man or his love. And unfortunately, all this reflects on the movies they make.
Which is why in Tamil movies, the woman falls in love with the man primarily under two pretexts. One, when he saves her from being raped by the villain. And two, when he obsessively stalks her. Tired of his incessant pursuits, she eventually reciprocates his interest. If you would look at the last 3 decades in Tamil cinema, you could see a clear shift from the first pretext (primarily in the late 80s and 90s) to the second one (2000 onwards). Which actually means that, for romance to happen now, the villain neednâ€™t harass the woman and then wait for the hero to save the situation. The hero would do the harassing act himself.
The pretext for the man falling in love with the woman is equally lousy and mostly straight out of a moral science textbook. The woman is often shown performing an act of kindness, like saving or helping a kid or an old person, and on seeing this, the man falls for her. Even directors like Mysskin werenâ€™t able to escape this stereotypical narration. In his movie â€˜Chithiram Pesuthadiâ€™, the female protagonist is shown helping kids cross the road and on seeing this, the male protagonist (who happens to be some local thug!) is moved and falls for her. And in the much acclaimed â€˜Mozhiâ€™ by Radha Mohan, the male protagonist watches the female protagonist beat up a wife-beater and awed by her bravery, he falls for her. The point am trying to make is, even celebrated directors are quite terrible when it comes to portraying people falling in love or being in love. They clearly seem clueless.
Bharathiraaja often explored romance among rural couples. But then, he often took the route to portray them in a lyrical or poetic fashion. While his style was certainly interesting, it still didnâ€™t quite capture the everyday-ness of romance. At the other end, Maniratnam focused on urban, middle/upper middle class couples. While his romantic movies have sure been popular, the situations and conversations in them are more charming and aspirational than real. One often finds people saying â€˜I wish I spoke in real life like Madhavanâ€™s or Shaliniâ€™s character from Alaipayutheyâ€™ and not â€˜Their conversation is so similar to mine in real lifeâ€™. As a result, rather than his characters imitate real people in love, we end up imitating his screen characters.
But then, I donâ€™t intend to get all nihilistic here. There are certainly few filmmakers in Tamil and other languages, who have beautifully captured the mundane and everyday-ness of romance.
In Tamil, I am reminded of this beautiful scene from Mahendranâ€™s â€˜Johnnyâ€™. Srideviâ€™s character expresses her love to Johnny (played by Rajinikant). While he is equally smitten, he explains that he isnâ€™t in a position to reciprocate her love. And the mild argument that follows and how he confesses his love at the end of it is treated with such unbelievable naturalness. There is hardly anything dramatic there. But still, very romantic.
And in recent times, Gautam Menon has certainly been very good at capturing romance. His characters in love are flawed, confused and complicated individuals. Jessieâ€™s complexity in â€˜Vinnaythandi Varuvayaâ€™ confused the audience. Having accustomed to watching one-dimensional woman characters in movies, they quite had a tough time to figure out if Jessie should be loved or hated. And the house was quite divided.
To cite another recent example, in Pa Ranjithâ€™s â€˜Madrasâ€™, the couple in love converse about how they fell for each other. To their surprise, they both realize that they assumed that the other person was first interested in them. And therefore reciprocated the interest. They laugh over the silliness of it. Instead of making his characters spout dramatic statements about their love for each other, Pa Ranjith uses the light heartedness of their conversation effectively to convey the intimacy of the relationship.
Looking outside Tamil cinema leads me to one of my most favorite scenes from the movie â€˜Premamâ€™. I was quite impressed with the way Alphonse Puthren has shown his male protagonist fall in love. There is this particular scene in a cafÃ©. The male protagonist George owns the place and is sitting with Celine. And she eats a slice of the red velvet cake he has made. Itâ€™s actually a very mundane moment. But Alphonse converts it to one of the most charming, romantic moments in the movie by focusing on the minute details of the scene and letting it linger for a while. The music works perfectly and you are totally convinced that this man is badly in love. We donâ€™t know if she is kind hearted or brave or if she will help kids cross the road or whatever. But from the way he watches her eat that slice of cake, we are sure he is in love. Quite brilliantly done, really.
And this reminds me of Francois Truffaut, who probably made the most charming romantic movies while mostly resorting to mundane, frivolous and everyday like situations. In his â€˜Stolen Kissesâ€™, there is this beautiful scene towards the end of the movie where the female protagonist shows her partner how to apply butter over a toast without breaking it. A very mundane moment, again. But the way Truffaut captures that scene makes it very beautiful. And it convinces you that the characters are really in love.
If we get back to Tamil cinema and look around, filmmakers like Mahendran, Gautam Menon or Pa Ranjith are certainly the exceptions and not the norm. One has to sadly confess that majority of Tamil filmmakers still overdo the dramatic stunt in capturing people in love. Itâ€™s often about how courageous or kind or generous or sweet one is. And in attempting this, they convert humans with complex and complicated emotions into cardboard like characters.
The earlier short post which was republished here has been replaced with this full-length blog.
Note: Views of the author are his own