Three men from Valai Pechu, a YouTube channel that reviews Tamil films, faced flak on Tuesday after their deeply misogynistic review of the Ajith film Nerkonda Paarvai, which also stars Shraddha Srinath and Vidya Balan. The film, a remake of Bollywood hit Pink, is about three young women who fight a case of sexual assault with the help of a lawyer. Pink was seen as a groundbreaking film that brought to the fore the idea of consent and why it is key in any sexual act.
Contrary to how mainstream cinema had thus far presented sexual violence, by giving the audience an "innocent" and "pure" victim that they could easily pity, the women protagonists of Pink are shown to be drinking before the violence happens. It is also revealed that they have had consensual premarital sex previously. The point of the courtroom drama was to establish that no means no, irrespective of the circumstances. Pink took a stance against victim blaming which is routine when it comes to instances of sexual violence.
Nerkonda Paarvai is supposed to be a faithful remake of Pink, and the three male reviewers – RS Anthanan, C Sakthivel and J Bismi – chose to focus on the behaviour of the women, stating that they couldn't therefore "sympathise" with what happens to them in the film.
"If you ask if we feel sympathy for those women, we don't. Because they look like upper class women, further they go to a pub and drink. In another investigation, it is revealed that at age 19, they had sex and after that also they had sex with 2-3 others. By then we reach the decision that it doesn't matter what happens to them," RS Anthanan says, with the others nodding along and agreeing with him.
Calling this the film's "minus", Anthanan further says that because the women behave like this, the viewers don't feel anything for them when they are harmed. That is, when they are subjected to a crime punishable under law. J Bismi then says, "Going to the pub and having sex may be very common in the North, that's why Pink became so successful and the character of the women wasn't so grating. But when it comes to Tamil culture, these characters seem very distant. We reach an indifferent mindset towards them."
"அந்த ஊர் மேயற பொண்ணுகளுக்கு என்ன நடந்தா என்னன்னு தான் நமக்கு தோணுது"— TW ᵀʳᵒˡˡʸʷᵒᵒᵈ (@TrollywoodV5) August 6, 2019
"Girls Going to pub and having sex with boys is very much casual in NORTH but not in South" says these Tamil reviewers. #NerKondaPaarvai
Is that so @Chinmayi @dhanyarajendran @BDUTT @KasthuriShankar pic.twitter.com/uMgUxhmvQm
The clip from the review went viral, with several slamming the three men on Twitter for their sexist and misogynistic comments. However, anyone who has seen reviews from Valai Pechu previously will not be surprised by the content. The three male reviewers have routinely passed such crass views on Tamil films, pretending to be the self-appointed vanguards of Tamil culture.
After the outrage, Valai Pechu issued an apology and took the video down. Nevertheless, such views are hardly confined to these three men. Time and again, when an incident of sexual assault comes to light, however strong the evidence may be, it is the survivor who faces more scrutiny than the accused. From what she was wearing at the time of the incident, to the nature of her job and lifestyle, she is subjected to relentless questioning by law enforcers as well as society. It is this victim blaming which continues to keep sexual violence under the wraps and forces survivors to stay silent.
Tamil cinema, too, has reinforced such ideas over and over again. Women who drink are usually shown as immoral, and they're either characterised as evil, or they meet with terrible consequences for their actions. They are treated as the property of men – the rape of the hero's sister is an insult to him, rather than a violence committed on her. In the Valai Pechu review, too, one can see a version of this - women in the North may be of loose character, but not "our" women. Similarly, the hero's sexual harassment of the heroine is correct because "she asked for it" and needed to be taught a "lesson".
The hypermasculine heroes on screen have frequently lectured women on how they should behave "like women" – from policing how they should walk and talk, to how they should dress. From the times of MGR, Rajinikanth, and later Vijay, Ajith, Dhanush, Silambarasan and so on, the "taming" of an "immoral" woman has been a popular trope. The fans of these actors are mostly young men who blindly buy what their icons say on screen, adding to the conditioning that an already patriarchal society has given them. So much so that Nerkonda Paarvai director H Vinoth had said in interviews that the team did debate on whether they should show the women drinking before the sexual assault. They finally decided to retain this because the point of the film would be lost otherwise. Vinoth also revealed that Ajith was keen on doing the film to right the wrongs that he'd depicted on screen when it came to violence against women.
The views expressed by the Valai Pechu reviewers aren't new but the outrage over it is. A decade or even five years ago, their opinions would have hardly caused a flutter. The sharp reactions, in a world where women are increasingly breaking their silence, show that the time is ripe for more films like Nerkonda Paarvai to hit the screens.