Singaravelan: Was Kamal Haasan's 1992 film swashbuckling bucket of family fun, or sexist stalking saga?
Singaravelan was released in 1992, a time when in our little corner of the world, the only options for entertainment were the non-AC cinema theatres and hanging out at the railway station. If you were a dude, I mean. If you were not a dude, lol.
Allegedly Problematic' is a monthly column by Kuzhali Manickavel, which takes a cheeky look at literary/cultural offerings from the past that would now be considered, well, problematic — and asks, 'But are they really?'.
Read more from the series here.
Greetings fam! It’s that sweet time again, where we look at a random thing and say hey! Why it gotta be like that though? Last time, we took a look at the playful nuances of sexual harassment in the film Monisha En Monalisa. This time, we are going to venture into riskier territory by viewing an old Kamal movie called Singaravelan. Why risky? Because you can’t say bad things about a Kamal movie omg! Anyway, like Monisha En Monalisa, this was a movie that occupied a significant place in my youth. This is not as embarrassing as admitting Monisha En Monalisa shaped my early years, because Kamal is apparently not as hilarious as T Rajendran. Seems racist, no fam?
Singaravelan was released in 1992, a time when in our little corner of the world, the only options for entertainment were the non-AC cinema theatres and hanging out at the railway station. If you were a dude, I mean. If you were not a dude, lol. The television and telephone were signs of luxury. Posh people ate vanilla ice cream cups and drank Gold Spot with a straw. Electricity was erratic and dangerous. My august schoolmates and I had not yet dumped Ilayaraja en masse for AR Rahman. Back then, there were only two heroes in our lives — Rajini (aka Rajinikanth), because obviously. And Kamal (aka Kamal Haasan), who we saw as a more posh, artsy and English-speaking kind of hero.
Singaravelan was labelled as a “masala” movie and I remember one review said that asking Kamal to do a masala movie was like asking him to eat a juicy pie. I have never forgotten those words — they were flabbergasting to me back then, they are flabbergasting to me today. I also remember that the movie was considered to be a swashbuckling bucket of fun for the whole family. Why? It had super comedy, super music and super fight. Plus, there was some kind of cutting-edge computer scene in it. This was all we needed to enjoy a film.
Now, because I am an old woman on the internet, I find myself wondering about Singaravelan. Back in the day, none of us thought there was anything wrong with it. It was just a fun movie. And even before watching it, we knew that the hero, as always, was a good guy, no matter what he did. I remember Singaravelan was essentially a boy-pursues-and-wins-girl story. But that is also how some people described Monisha En Monalisa, and that, quite frankly was just an extended montage of sexual harassment with some music thrown in.
Now you might say one person’s playful boy-pursues-and-wins-girl story is another person’s sexual harassment. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to, no? Meh, I don’t know. For one thing, sexual harassment isn’t a root vegetable. And secondly, I liked this movie! I laughed at the comedy! I thought the music was bop! And in all honesty, I have no recollection of anything problematic. So, it should be cool, right? I’m sure it’s fine.
But supposing some parts of this movie actually are problematic (thanks a lot, feminism). What exactly did we allow to fall under the purview of “family fun”? Why was it ok? Way to ruin a childhood fav, right fam? I will see you in the next instalment of this crispy column, where we will share our fun and fruity words about Singaravelan! Wow!
Kuzhali Manickavel is the author of the short story collections 'Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings' and 'Things We Found During the Autopsy', both available from Blaft Publications
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