VIP 2: Kajol returns to Tamil cinema, and holds her own even as Dhanush mansplains away
By Apoorva Sripathi
The most unsatisfying part of Velai Illa Pattadhaari 2 (VIP 2) is the ending. Usually, in formulaic Tamil films, the hero fights the villain, beats up his gang of rowdies and then delivers a mass but simple message on “unmai dhaan jeikkum” (truth only wins) and “dharmam dhaan vellum” (duty always triumphs).
If in VIP 1, we saw a struggling Raghuvaran, trying his best to get employed, who then meets his neighbour, falls in love with her, watches TV serials with her mother, sings some gaanas about life, witnesses his mother's death and most importantly, fights a privileged male villain who takes over his father's business, in this movie, we see a married Raghuvaran, who loses his job and who goes head-to-head against, Kajol.
She who played the infamously vanquished lover in Gupt, returns to Tamil cinema after two decades. Last time round she played the unforgettable heroine in Minsara Kanavu aka Sapney. This time she is a villain.
Unfortunately, instead of a spectacular climax fight scene, in VIP 2, Dhanush’s character Raghuvaran takes the mansplaining route and admonishes Kajol’s character Vasundhara, about fixing her ‘attitude’ (take note please of his usage of “headweight”, which is a delightfully south Indian term for arrogance) and about how her story of a single-girl-fighting-against-all-odds-to-come-up-on-top isn’t a big deal. Why are you arrogant about it, he asks and advises her to be humble and proud about it. “Aren’t man and woman equal?”, he asks. “Women are supposed to be physically weaker, but they’re mentally stronger,” he faffs, with a glass of wine in hand.
Vasundhara, who so far refused to be undefeated by anything, including almost losing her contract (she uses a minister's influence to win it back) and the employee rebellion when she takes over Raghuvaran's company, is brought down by a 2-minute yada yada yada from Dhanush (there may have been words but I only heard yada yada yada).
Instead of slaying him with her eyebrows, she smiles and decides to become friends with Raghuvaran and hops on his bike to get breakfast. In just one short speech, the baddie is vanquished. Now it makes sense, those other reports that mentioned Kajol isn’t necessarily playing a villain, but just “locking horns with Dhanush”.
Underlying message: She always had good in her, even though she was an arrogant woman — she just needed a man to tame her and bring that inherent goodness out.
If there is a girl fighting against the all odds story in VIP 2 it’s not the character Vasundhara, it’s the actor Kajol. Even though it may be a needless sequel to VIP 1, and by all means, Raghuvaran's story, the film belongs to Kajol, despite the poor script and stingily imagined role. The movie opens with a shot of her stilettos seen getting out of a car and when her name is announced at an award function, she makes her presence known with an effortless hair flip. She stylishly removes her reading glasses and hands it over to her assistant. And she wears sunglasses with the greatest swagger since Rajinikanth. Truly, Kajol’s biggest service is to remember all the great bad women of Tamil cinema.
Vasundhara’s also an arrogant, rich, spoilt woman (by Tamil movie standards) who switches to English while making presentations, points her fingers at people (disrespectful by Tamil movie standards) while talking and uses the F-word quite liberally. She has all the makings of a modern Tamil villi (Tamil for female villains). She is merely the latest in a familiar list of head-weighty, English-spouting villis like Ramya Krishnan’s Neelambari in Padaiyappa (1999) who was the quintessential 90s villi.
Like Neelambari, who is “angry, rich, ‘modern’ (typically meaning westernised), impulsive, single/separated, hen-pecking, having an unreasonable hatred for a man or men in general,” as Ranjani Krishnakumar writes in her essay on female villains, Vasundhara too is angry (there are a couple of outbursts), rich, modern, decadent (she calls for a glass of champagne to celebrate when Raghuvaran loses his job) and importantly, single. Unlike Neelambari, who wore lovely saris and adorned jasmine flowers in her hair, Vasundhara is sleek when it comes to her outfits (think tailored suits and high-waisted pants) and calculating when it comes to her moves.
But in the end, Vasundhara too gets ‘tamed’ by the man, with so little satisfaction.
Where Neelambari chose to take her own life, leaving with a parting message that she’d "attain" (meaning marry him) the hero Rajinikanth in her next birth, Vasundhara is given just a talking down — there’s no showdown, there’s no matching of wits or power. She’s taught to eat humble pie by the humblest man of all. (But perhaps should we count as progress that the trajectory unconventional female character in Tamil cinema doesn’t end in her death? I don’t know.)
Vasundhara’s character also resembles Shanti Devi of Mannan (a 90s Rajinikanth film where the arrogant antagonist-heroine is taught a lesson by her hero-husband) in some ways. They’re both businesswomen who run successful companies; they’re ambitious and ruthless. Vasundhara doesn’t hesitate to do anything to take someone down. She snatches projects out of Raghuvaran’s hands, uses her political connections to play dirty, runs down the company he works for and even buys his shares in the company he starts. It’s expected of a male villain — professional rivalry, especially those of self-made men is never an alarming reflection on their gender. Rather, it’s intrinsic; men are ambitious, we’re informed over and over again thanks to Tamil cinema.
In VIP 2, it’s raw ambition that drives Kajol’s character — she keeps talking about how she was orphaned as a 13-year-old girl and had to claw her way out of her situation with her extended family to retain her money and emerge victorious. She keeps insisting that this made her the woman she is today. Naturally, when she comes across a boy half her age, who tries to advise her on how to be a person in the world (the moment moment Raghuvaran picks to give her this first lecture is when his company is awarded a construction contract because he came across as humble, honest and down-to-earth, while Vasundhara is haughty), she dismisses him and later, does all that she can to make him her employee to humiliate him.
Most women who play the villains or cross paths with the heroes and then become villains in Tamil cinema do so because of romantic mishaps. Either the hero spurned them because they weren’t feminine enough, like Eswari (Shriya Reddy) in Thimiru, who was boisterous and ran around with a gang of rowdies trying to intimidate her love interest Vishal into marrying her. Or because the hero preferred a simple, shy-type homely girl: In Padaiyappa, Rajinikanth invokes the three gunas in Sanskrit (or primal forces that drive our characteristics) to explain why he prefers sattvic Soundarya (patient, kind and nurturing) to the rajasic Ramya Krishnan (angry, arrogant and lustful).
There’s no romance situation here with Vasundhara the villain, but in case you felt like you are missing out on that quota, she is not the only woman in the movie who is shown her place. There are three other women in the movie, all of whom get similar treatment. Amala Paul, who is Dhanush’s girlfriend-turned-wife Shalini, is a nagging homemaker, who quits her job as a dentist and does everything around the house. His mother (who died in the earlier movie) is a kindly apparition in the sequel and offers Raghuvaran support when he’s down. His boss’ daughter Anitha is another mother to him (not for nothing did she receive his mother’s lungs in a transplant in the first movie) and checks up on him when he quits his job.
But at the end of the day, they all need help from a man. Whether it’s Anitha who needs to be saved from rowdies who roughed her up or Shalini who must be dropped off to work by her husband. Similarly for Vasundhara, who’s put in her place, but minus the trademark showdown.
Which brings me to what I needed from this movie. Just gimme a warehouse full of boxes and a smash-everything-kill-everybody final fight scene any day — it’s so much better than having a man who complains about doing housework, complains about his wife’s “nagging” and lectures about equality, emerging as the victor.
Kajol should have got blood, not breakfast.
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