Allegedly Problematic: The feminist analysis of Ramarajan's Paattukku Naan Adimai no one asked for
One of my favourite kinds of Tamil cinema is the heavy-handed, predictable and alarmingly dramatic kind with aggressive songs, precise, staccato dishum-dishum sounds and wounds that look like smears of ketchup. Paattukku Naan Adimai was one of those movies.
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.
Read part 1 of this column.
Hello friends! We are back with the second, succulent instalment of this column. Previously, we spoke about how we were going to watch a Ramarajan movie called Paattukku Naan Adimai.
Now, one of my favourite kinds of Tamil cinema is the heavy-handed, predictable and alarmingly dramatic kind with aggressive songs, precise, staccato dishum-dishum sounds and wounds that look like smears of ketchup. Paattukku Naan Adimai was one of those movies. And I enjoyed like anything.
I am going to try and recap the story. I’m not saying it’s going to work, I’m just saying that I will try. So there is Paneer the hero who sings well, eats a lot and is a simple, innocent village fellow with ‘milk-like heart’, as we would say. His moustache was pretty bad though. Then there is Sandhya who is the illegitimate daughter of a panchayat president and a lady called Ganga Bai who is a singer and therefore extremely shameless. Sandhya lives in a village full of gross men. In fact, her mother is killed while trying to stop her daughter from being raped. Fam, I’m already tired and this is just the first few minutes of the movie. Sandhya goes to live with her dad and because she is a forward kind of girl, she tells Paneer, I love you bro. They meet on a train btw. I forgot to mention that. They decide to elope, at the last minute she’s like nah, he’s like you’re so mean and goes by himself, becomes the lead singer of a band where the drummer tries to beat himself to death with his drumsticks? Anyway, they all go to America, this other girl from the band falls for him but he’s like nah I’m good so she becomes a nun. Eventually Paneer and Sandhya live happily ever after. Oh and Paneer gets shot. And he starts wearing pants wtf!
I’m not going to say this movie WASN’T problematic. Because it was. But in the absence of the usual kinds of overt sexual harassment, molestation and violence, it’s easy to think oh! This movie isn’t problematic at all! Because that is where we are, fam. We see a movie where the hero doesn’t act like an outright psychotic stalker and we are immediately concerned that this could be one of those woke films that turns people into feminists. EW! So if this movie isn’t sexual harassment problematic, what kind of problematic is it? Well, let’s see.
— There is an awful lot of rape going on. Women are raped in their homes. In other people’s homes. In storage containers. It’s something that happens often and easily and there is absolutely nothing these women can do about it. Only dudes can stop rape. I guess that is sexual harassment problematic.
— In one scene, a Muslim man appears. And I noticed this because this was, as always, an overwhelmingly Hindu movie. He was there for a joke about Dubai. And that’s it.
— The strange band that Paneer meets in the city is a bunch of youngsters who often say things in English, play Western instruments, wear pants and say YAAAAAAAH when excited. In other words, they are Christians. And continuing the long tradition of having the Christian girl be “that kind of girl”, Julie (obviously) is awfully touchy-feely with Paneer. Like they roll around together. Repeatedly. I don’t want to talk about it.
— Illegitimate daughter’s father? Oh, dude just made a mistake in his youth. Illegitimate daughter’s mother? Slut. Shocking, right?
— There was an item number where Disco Shanthi and Paneer were having a dance competition and he won because he squished a lime with his forehead. Anyway, there was a line in that song that went ‘Everything gets ruined because of girls.’ That is true though, right?
I did enjoy this movie. But I also know all these problematic things were there. And I didn’t think they were that big of a deal because the hero didn’t outright assault the heroine. There were lots of rape scenes but for some reason they were not registering as problematic. Which is very problematic! To paraphrase Whitney Houston, it was not right, but it was ok. I mean it wasn’t ok either.
Anyway, do join us next time when we will delve into more deliciously problematic things and go hey! You can’t do that! I’m telling! Bai fam!
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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