I’ve been informed that this movie is getting crazy buzz, like “best film of the decade” buzz. Huh. I just don’t see it. It’s good, but it also has major flaws. If you saw it and want some help following the plots, or if you aren’t able to see it but want to know what happens, you can read this review. If you want to go in without knowing what will happen, you can read my other review. Or I guess if you didn’t like this movie, you should also read this review and see if I can articulate what bothered you, if perhaps it is the same thing that bothered me.
We open with a black screen and the sound of a phone conversation, Samantha Ruth Prabhu is talking to her ex-boyfriend, saying she is worried because he sounds sad, inviting him to come over and let her “cheer him up”. And then the first visual of the film is Samantha having sex (fully clothed, as you do). She finishes and asks her ex why he is worried, he says he borrowed money from mobsters for his business. She suggests going again since he isn’t relaxed yet. And then she looks down and sees he has died. And hears her husband arriving outside. We cut away at this point, and then cut back to find her husband Fahadh coming home and the body is hidden. Until the neighbors stop by and Fahadh offers them a cold drink and finds the body in the fridge. Samantha tells him the truth, that it is her old boyfriend who she hasn’t seen since their wedding, she invited him to come over and have sex, and then he died. Fahadh is furious but suggests they hide the body together to save face so they don’t have to explain what her ex was doing at their apartment, and then get a divorce. Samantha agrees. They get the body out of the apartment hidden in a mattress and then put it in his car, planning to drive the car somewhere with the body and leave it. While moving around, they start to talk honestly about what was wrong with their marriage and slowly come closer together. But then they get a call, a scuzzy police officer has been following them. He has video of them with the body. He wants Samantha to sleep with him in return for his silence. Fahadh encourages her to do it, Samantha doesn’t want to, Fahadh has a change of heart and suggests that they just string the cop along until they get something on him. But then the cop changes the plan, says Samantha has to sleep with him right then, in the abandoned warehouse. He pulls out his phone to film it, Fahadh is handcuffed to the car yelling for him to stop, and then a TV comes out of nowhere and hits the cop on the head and kills him. Fahadh and Samantha leave the cop and the other body together in the car, and walk away, indicating that they will stay married and make it work.
Second story, is about 5 dumb young men. They are getting together to eat snacks and watch porn. Only the first movie they put in, one of them freaks out because the lead actress is his mother. He breaks the TV and then runs off, furious at his mother, and one of his friends follows him. The other 3 kids freak out about the broken TV and go off to talk to the local goon and get a job to raise money to buy a new TV. They mess up the job, and the goon chases them and they end up breaking his TV too. They go to the local rich man’s house, planning to sneak in and steal money from his drawer. They succeed, but it is demonetized notes and they have to go back. They are caught by his daughter who reveals herself to be an alien. She offers them all the money they need, but wants to keep one of the boys as her companion. He agrees, but he has responsibilities. So she uses her powers to split him in two, one stays with her and she tells him about her mission to observe earth and wait for the people of earth to discover they are all one thing. The other goes with his friends to watch a porno in theaters that opens with a fake doctor talking about how everything is connected, and therefore we should all have sex. Which is the very end of the film.
Third story, about a priest, Mysskin. He survived the Tsunami by holding on to a rock that turned out to be a statue of Jesus and it made him believe in miracles. He left his family and founded a small church. At the start of the film he is in the middle of a crisis of faith. But then he gets a call that his son was injured in an accident. His son is the young man who recognized his mother in the porn movie. He rushed home angry with her and wanting to kill her, grabbed an ice pick and ran towards her, but tripped and fell and impaled himself. His mother Ramya Krishnan is desperate for the money to pay the hospital for his operation, his father Mysskin wants to pray over him and save him that way. The parents fight and Ramya brings in a local politician to help her get the boy back and to the hospital. Mysskin gets angry at the Jesus statue, hits it and declares it is “just a rock”. The statue falls over and cracks and diamonds fall out. He uses the diamonds to pay for his son’s operation. His story ends with him confronting his crisis of faith, did God put the diamonds in the statue or was rejecting God how his son was saved? Ramya’s story ends with her confronting her son and refusing to apologize for being in porn, pointing out that he watches the movies along with millions of other people. She did it because it was a job, and he needs to understand that and accept it.
Fourth story, the best story, about Vijay Sethupathi, a Hijra, and his son. His 6 year old son and his wife and his parents and his in-laws are all waiting for him to return after 6 years away. His son is especially excited. He finally arrives and steps out of his taxi cab to reveal he is now a Hijra. Her family is shocked and stunned, but her son does not care, is just excited to meet his father. She offers to take her son to school, but on the way they are stopped by a police officer who finds them using a bathroom together. She is taken to the police station and the corrupt inspector forces her to perform oral sex. She is released, shaken, and reunited with her son. He takes her to his school, where the guard refuses to let her in. She goes across the street to a travel agency and books a ticket back to Bombay. She starts walking her son home, giving him final lessons before saying good-bye, but he suddenly disappears. She searches the marketplace for him, then goes back to the police and begs for help. The corrupt inspector laughs at her and takes off her wig, and she is finally infuriated, attacks him and half a dozen police officers are not enough to hold her back, she curses him with death, then takes her wig back and leaves. In a flashback from Mysskin’s story, we see that after that she went to the underground tunnels in misery and the priest met her. She confessed to him that she was afraid this was her punishment for unknowingly transporting two street children to a gang that blinded and crippled them in order to make them better beggers. She also confessed that she was saved from the Tsunami too, which is what set off the Mysskin’s crisis of faith. In the tunnels, she is found by the same police officer who initially arrested her who volunteers to help her look, and suggests the first place to go is back to her home in case her son made his way there. She goes back home and her son is waiting, he explains he saw the ticket she bought to Bombay and was teaching her a lesson, the misery she felt not knowing where he was for a few hours is the same misery her family felt not knowing where she was for 6 years. She must promise never to leave them again. Vijay agrees to stay and the last shot we see is of her comfortably and happily talking to her wife while her son plays in the background.
The more I think about this movie, even just writing out the plot descriptions above, the less impressed I am by it. Vijay’s story is by far the best, and I love the little touches like the aging constable who first arrests her turning out to be the most sympathetic police officer. When she says she doesn’t want to go back to her family house with a police officer the first day she arrives, it will embarrass her, he goes to change into plain clothes. He searches her out after she is thrown out of the police station to help her search for her son. Kindness can appear in unexpected places. And even the kindest person can still be trapped by society, the police officer has to bring her in to the station because she does not have ID or any way of proving she is the boy’s father, and because she had to go with him to the public men’s room. If there was a separate bathroom available, or if she could have legal ID, or even just felt able to stay with her family and be a recognized part of them, than the police officer would not be so trapped. All of this is lovely and good. And Vijay’s performance is of course excellent. And I especially like that it ends with her and her wife happily talking together, showing that whatever they had between each other, it is still there and they are still happy to be reunited.
But this story, the more I sit with it, disturbs me a bit in that it only seems to consider Vijay’s situation as a woman because she used to be a man. And because of how she relates to the men around her. There is a growing body of work discussing the problem of trans stories in this way, that trans women bring with them the confidence and privilege they enjoyed from their lives as men. And perhaps that the male storytellers can relate better to their stories because they used to be seen as men, than they can to stories of women who were born in female bodies. Yes, trans women have terrible problems. But over the course of Vijay’s entire story, we never see her interact with a woman, not even her wife until the very end, and never with her mother. The focus is on the parent-son relationship, and her relationship to all the men around her from the snack shop man she convinces to give her a donation, to the corrupt police officer, to the good police officer, even to the priest. At a certain point it crosses from “reflecting the reality of society that only men will be in public spaces and interact with Hijras” to “a creator who does not see the women in the world as women, unless he thinks of them as women who used to be men”. None of this takes away from so many things that this story does well, but I also don’t see it as the end all-be all story of a Hijra’s experiences. A large part of the transsexual/Hijra experience is interactions within the community of other transsexuals/Hijras, and we never see that, and interactions with women who were born into female bodies, and we never really see that either. Imagine how different this tale would be if it was a story of a young girl who is eager to meet her father for the first time. Or if the sympathetic police officer was an older female constable instead of a male one.
That same problem echoes through all the stories. I appreciate that the film attempts to address gender issues, but I do not think it fully succeeds because the filmmakers still seem to be looking at women as the “other”, trying to explain them to the audience instead of thinking of the audience as half made-up as women. The treatment of Samantha’s character bothers me more and more as I think about it.
The groundbreaking part of Samantha’s character is supposed to be that she has sex with her ex-boyfriend and the narrative never really punishes her for it. Only, the problem is, I am never clear on if she desired that sex. She is still treated as a non-sexual being, in an odd way. Over and over again, she repeats that she had sex with him to comfort him. Towards the end of the film she says the line that I know I am supposed to find groundbreaking, “I wanted to make him feel better, he isn’t a child that I could just give some candy”. This is a really gross way to look at sex. That it is a gift a woman gives a man because she loves him. She gets nothing from it herself. Even in the opening scene, we hear Samantha say she is worried about her ex because he sounds so sad and insist that he come over so she can “comfort” him. The film never questions this either, at least not that I saw, Samantha acts as a female fantasy providing warm undemanding sex to a man when he feels bad. Samantha is never punished for this sex, yes, but I am not sure if the narrative is accurately describing what sex is, if she is avoiding punishment for her female desires or avoiding punishment for her female generosity and kindness.
Later in the film, she and Fahadh are talking honestly about their marriage and she whispers to him the number of boyfriends she had before marriage and he looks shocked. This is followed by the scene where she expects him to sleep with the police officer in order to protect them from prosecution. I feel like the movie expects me to be on Fahadh’s side, to think “well, if a woman had many boyfriends and was willing to sleep with them, why not with the police officer?” The film then builds on the horror, lets us see Samantha crying and miserable and Fahadh slowly coming around to thinking this unacceptable. This sequence goes on and on and ON, far longer than any one scene in any other part of the film. It was torture for me, relating to Samantha, and then became kind of boring because it just lasted so long. But now I think I wasn’t supposed to be relating to Samantha, she had no emotional journey in that sequence, she went from fearing rape to continuing to fear rape. But Fahadh had the journey, I was supposed to be relating to him, starting out thinking “well, if she slept with her boyfriends, what’s the difference?” and slowly coming around to sympathizing with her distress.
Not only can I not relate to Fahadh’s emotional journey in this scene, I find it quite gross that the director thought I would. But then, with the understanding the film had of female desire, I suppose it makes sense. Women agree to have sex as a gift they give men they care about. Samantha gave sex to her boyfriends when they needed it, what is the difference between giving sex to this police officer? It’s not so much a lack of understanding of consent, as a lack of understanding of desire. A woman does not “give” sex like some kind of transaction, she can desire and initiate herself, she can receive sexual pleasure herself, the man has to do some of the work too. Sex with this police officer would not be much different from sex with her boyfriend as we saw at the beginning, because in both cases it is all about the man and not about her. And that just tells me that this filmmaker has no idea what truly making love is like, and expects his audience to think the same as he does and not understand why Samantha doesn’t want to do it. Most of all, I do not see how a woman could laugh off and reunite with her husband after he was about to force her to have sex with another man, and the film suggests that would happen.
This same male desire focused attitude is present in how Ramya Krishnan’s story is presented. She is a woman who did pornography in her past. But rather than allow her to speak for herself about that experience, it is only seen through the eyes of the men around her. Her husband tried to kill himself when he found out, her son tries to kill her. And the film sympathizes with both these poor men and their suffering and shame. Ramya is not allowed to speak for herself until the very end, and only then after having established herself as a divine mother, fiercely devoted to her son and willing to do whatever it takes to save him. If she had not had the opportunity to prove herself, would the film expect the audience to forgive her? Would her son forgive her? Even her speech in defense of herself looks outward towards the male gaze, saying that she should not be shamed because someone has to make the porn for men to be able to enjoy it. Her speech does not say “I had sex voluntarily in order to make money for my survival, it is wrong that there was no other way for me to earn an income, but it is not my fault that society pushed me to this position”. It is supposed to be about her, but it isn’t really, it is just about the men watching her again.
And this whole use of women as a magical other being reaches its zenith in the culmination of the story of the 3 young men trying to make money for a TV. This story is one of my favorites because the men are described so perfectly and accurately in all their stupidity. But then at the very end, they run into the most magical of all Manic Pixie Dream Girls, an alien who unlimited powers who is disguised as a woman. I disapprove of this plot twist in general, it is just too off the wall and ruins the grounded tone of the film, and frankly feels lazy. But I especially disapprove of it as a symptom of how the film treats all the women in it, except for Vijay. They are all magical creatures put here to fix the problems of men. Samantha has sex so men can feel better. Ramya does porn so men can feel better. And now this alien creates money and uses her powers so that these 3 stupid young men can have better lives.
There are a lot of things this film does well. The visuals, the editing, the camera work, it is all phenomenal. And as I was watching it and in the afterglow of watching it, all of that visual beauty swept me away. If I wrote this review within a few hours of seeing the film, it would be glowing. But it’s been 3 days now, and the more I sit with this movie, the more I have a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. All the visual and narrative sparkle, all the great performances, they are in service of covering up an ugliness at the core of it all.
It’s not just that I am disturbed as a feminist, or as a woman, by how these characters and stories play out. It ruins the stories themselves, to have these massive empty parts at the center of them. Fahadh’s character has great monologues, but he has no one to act against, because Samantha’s character is a blank. Vijay’s character has no backstory, because that would include his fellow Hijras and his wife, and those people are invisible to the director. The Alien woman has a long monologue and many powers, but no clear motivation for anything she does. And we never learn exactly what Ramya’s experiences were doing pornography, or her feelings about her son and husband both blaming her for doing it, her character is simply the saintly suffering mother and is boring to watch. I feel no need to rewatch this film, I have processed the visual fireworks already, and there is nothing left without them, no heart to it.
It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. Early on the film shows a poster for Kill Bill, a little nod to the Tarantino influences. I have watched Kill Bill more times than I can count, and there is something real there, under all the pastiche and genre switching, the characters have a goal to them and a heart. The same is true of Pulp Fiction (even more of an obvious influence than Kill Bill). Closer to this film, I can also think of Vijay’s last movie I saw in theaters, Vikram-Vedha, with the jumping back and forth between stories and timelines. That managed a complex narrative, while still having a firm grasp of character and a moral message. Or Awe, which I just watched, which had its own flaws but at least gave me some characters to root for and left me with a warm feeling instead of an ugliness. Angamaly Diaries, combined black comedy and male coming of age, without needing to sell out its female characters. You do not have to choose between intellect and heart, between visual and surface and emotional depth. The film should always serve its characters and story, not the story serving the film.
When I got to you mention of “alien” I first thought you meant someone from a different country.
Actually, that probably would have worked better.
When I got to your mention of “alien” I first thought you meant someone from a different country.
Actually, that probably would have worked better.
Errrr… I’m not entirely sure where you got the references that the director and audience were supposed to root for the Myshkin/RK’s son Or Fahadh. The film was pretty clear that it was firmly on the side of those termed amoral by the general society and why it’s a folly to sit on a high horse and look down at them.
Also don’t really understand your rationale in wanting Shilpa’s to interact more with female characters. Do you honestly believe hijra’s are treated better by females than males in South India?? In the metropolitan cities among the elite educated maybe? As things stand on the ground, women are equally cruel in dealing with hijrahs. (This is something I never understood though, moral policing seems to be the one thing in which both genders unite in the south)
On the prolonged scenes portrayed by Berlin/Bugs; I agree that they were long and made your skin crawl, But they were entirely necessary to show the disparity in power handed to lawmen vs the common folk and how helpless the masses in tight situation are (Berlin might also be a highfalutin allegory of God, the “alpam” who makes you suffer in order to grant your wishes.) Also noone in their right mind would say it is alright for Samantha to sleep with him earlier just because she had sex with her ex. There is something called consent and the movie went to great pains to highlight to us not to mock people just because they fail by your morals, because morals aren’t universal. (It seems you are one of those this film was made to mock.)
Is the movie nihilistic? Extremely.. Is the movie misogynistic? No way in hell.
Maybe one should stop watching movies with a feminist agenda, maybe you might be able to understand and enjoy movies much more.
Thank you so much for commenting! Especially in such detail.
I realise that a lot of reviewers have broken down the themes of the film and pointed out its ‘the system is broken’ stance. This is almost definitely the big picture that the director was going for as well.
But the individual stories are what have been carefully critiqued (after a lot of rumination too, evidently) and reasons stated as to why the Fahad-Samantha and Ramya plots were lacking; without disagreeing about the nihilistic nature of the film.
Margaret might have Misogyny in the title, but it doesn’t allude to women hating in the review, but rather, the othering of them.
The ‘Shilpa only interacting with men’ and the point of male privilege even when you’ve transitioned is such a revelation and elaborately broken down, and you chose to gloss over all of it, with a ‘urban women see Hijras as abnormal too’ rejoinder (which I’m not explicitly disagreeing with btw).
//There is something called consent and the movie went to great pains to highlight to us not to mock people just because they fail by your morals, because morals aren’t universal. (It seems you are one of those this film was made to mock.)//
This seems uncalled for, especially when
//The film then builds on the horror, lets us see Samantha crying and miserable and Fahadh slowly coming around to thinking this unacceptable. This sequence goes on and on and ON, far longer than any one scene in any other part of the film. It was torture for me, relating to Samantha, and then became kind of boring because it just lasted so long. But now I think I wasn’t supposed to be relating to Samantha, she had no emotional journey in that sequence, she went from fearing rape to continuing to fear rape. But Fahadh had the journey, I was supposed to be relating to him, starting out thinking “well, if she slept with her boyfriends, what’s the difference?” and slowly coming around to sympathizing with her distress.”
appears in the review.//
The warehouse scene really seemed overly drawn out, not from a ‘squirm in your seats’ perspective. It carries on for so long and underlines the same ‘Women have to consent’ point (which most audiences for this particular film would already agree with anyway) so thickly, that it becomes emotionally disengaging. Their story really would have come dead last amongst the four in terms of quality and politics, if not for Ramya’s plot and how the core of her story is seemingly resolved with one extended monologue at the end.
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Thank you for this long and detailed analysis about your problems with the film. You’re awesome, and your perspectives are always refreshing in their insight.
Thank you! That is so nice of you. I really appreciate your reading this review, and your lengthy comment above.
You’re welcome! And I’m relieved you didn’t find my lengthy reply presumptuous.
I’d really recommend Aaranya Kaandam btw, the director’s first feature, which is a cinematic achievement, but also a little better in its treatment of women and a more cohesive experience on the whole.
Oh, Aaranya Kaandam is definitely on my list now! The visuals of this film were so impressive that it is worth it to watch anything else the director made.
And your reply wasn’t presumptuous at all, it was very kind. And a relief, to know that my points were understood and appreciated by a reader.
That’s good to hear, both about AK and the comment. 🙂
Its a dark comedy. see “DARK”…… You laugh at morally disgusting things that’s the point of the genre. Consider Pulp Fiction, did’nt we laugh at Marcellus Wallace getting raped. So why bother about feminism, genderism or anything…. stop destroying Good cinema under the name of morale values.
I think you need to rewatch Pulp Fiction, we didn’t laugh at Marcellus Wallace getting raped, that was one of the most important moments of the film. We pitied him, and Bruce Willis went back to rescue him. It was a carefully built sequence that started with a laugh at the shock of the coincidence, slowly built into suspense and horror, until the final moment when Bruce Willis makes the moral decision to return and save Marcellus. The brilliance of Pulp Fiction is that it is able to balance black comedy with a moral core, it is ethical not nihilist.
Interesting points! I agree, the writers just couldn’t get into the heads of the women in some of the scenes and their characters end up falling flat without any layers in many of the scenes.
PS – Vijay Sethupathi’s character, Shilpa, does interact with a woman in the film though. When Shilpa is not even given a chance to speak and asked to get out of the school, she comes out humiliated and sits down for a short while, thinking about the rejections and unfair treatment she faces from the society. An elderly woman (played by Kasthuri paatti) who is a poor street vendor speaks to her and tries to comfort her. This actually reminded me of an old Neeya Naana episode where many transgenders confessed that apart from the (men and) women who are below the poverty line, other women don’t even come near them or talk to them to better understand them. I’m not saying that this one conversation with a woman in the film is enough, but maybe these transgenders really feel that men understand them better because they were men once too. Anyway, in a way it’s good that they didn’t add more scenes with Shilpa’s flashback and interaction with her transgender friends to make this 3 hour film even longer.
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Thank you for commenting! and good catch, I totally forgot about that one interaction. And you point out something I missed entirely, it’s not just female characters that are poorly served, lower class characters are forgotten as well. The 4 teenagers are pretty low, but are still going to school instead of working full time. It’s the same as most Indian films with the desperately poor being erased from this vision of India, and that would be okay, except that it seems to aspire to be something bigger than that, to make a statement about all of Indian society.
Long comment alert…
I finally watched this movie yesterday and I agree with most of your points on the treatment of women.I saw the accusation above of viewing everything with a feminist agenda and honestly that bothers me.As a woman,I dont know how else I am supposed to view.I felt for Shilpa and her troubles in life but I was also wondering what about his wife?The woman who waited for 7 years for his return,took care of the son as a single parent and is now a mute spectator to the proceedings,is she just supposed to live with Shilpa,suppressing all her desires and only on the consolation that her son has a father?I want everyone to be happy-not just Raasukutty & his father & seems like the mother is a collateral damage.
In Ramya Krishnan’s story,the final exchange between the injured son and his friend is so lame.The son calls his friend whore’s son and the friend retorts that thats you,not me and they laugh.The porn star is still labelled a whore,even after that monologue or that boys will be boys who will continue to slut shame cos they are boys and all that hormones justifies them.I dont see the point.
I agree with your take on Fahadh & Samantha’s story.At many points I was wondering how can they carry on like this& the ending just put me off.The movie while trying to make a huge point about not judging,consent and all that conveniently forgets the psychological,emotional impact it has on the characters that makes them seem like real people and not just dolls that move according to the director’s whims.
I am realising that the Tamil directors,especially the ones branded as geniuses-Selvaraghavan,Thyagarajan Kumaran-all connect immensely with the cinephile males.I had loved Aaranya Kandam-it did have a woman triumphing over a set of men but i think it was more for the twist than a genuine wish to see women triumphing.I am not one for deciphering clues and hidden references and I liked the straight forward story telling in Aaranya Kandam and the genuine questions it raised rather than the very philosophical& generic rants on system & morality.Characters imparting wisdom via politically correct monologues is a lazy way of making audience think.
What I did like about the movie is the dark comedy in the first two rounds of the parallel stories,the phenomenal acting by all of the actors(Vijay Sethupathy & his wife’s reactions in the scene where he changes sari is out of the world)
the music,the world it is set in.But it is over indulgent and long.We dont have many Indian movies like this,and that itself sets this apart.Also if at least one person treats transgenders and porn actors better after seeing this,it is a big win.Other than that I would rather watch Aaranya Kandam than go looking for clues in Super Deluxe.
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Sometimes when movies like this get praise, it feels like an example of how men are trained to not even see women. It’s a real story, it’s a universal story, it understands people as they truly are, blah blah blah. But what that is really saying is that it understands and tells the story of men, the women aren’t included in the “real” story, it’s not universal for them, it doesn’t understand them as people, and so on. Calling it a “feminist” reading feels like it is saying, “The normal reading is to ignore all female characters, doing something different is weird” in the same way the film itself just skates past all women as though they are invisible, as though they are not worthy of consideration in this fictional world.
I still love Gautham Menon for instance, and his movies are fully in the male identity. But they don’t feel like that, they feel like they are fully in the perspective of the central character who happens to be male. This movie argues that it is showing the whole world through all these many stories, and doesn’t seem aware of how the female characters are never really shown in full. Heck, now that I think about it, Samantha’s first love dies while in the middle of having sex with her, and she is mostly concerned (and the film is mostly concerned) with respecting and considering her husband’s feelings about her cheating. How is his distress considered greater than hers? Or rather, how is her distress erased completely in favor of his? That just doesn’t seem right, that seems like someone who is simply blind to the concept that women might have emotions and those emotions might be more important sometimes than the feelings of the men around them.
On Sat, Jun 15, 2019 at 3:21 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
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Oh yeah,Gautam Menon’s heroines are these beautiful, unreachable,perfect women who has mostly no job other than being the end goal or support system that is required for the hero to realise himself. Come to think of it even Imtiaz Ali’s heroines are similar. I think we discussed once that when the majority of the theater going audience are males of a certain age group,these directors who make stories that resonates with that core group are hailed as geniuses. I am part of the Filmcompanion Filmclub and man the amount of adulation
for Tamasha, Rockstar and Imtiaz Ali is disturbing.
I am so glad that at least the new age Malayalam movies acknowledges and treats women as individuals even if it’s only on screen. There’s a movie called Ishq which deals with the after effects of a situation similar to Samantha & Fahadh’s,how the man & woman reacts differently and what the reactions reveal about them as people. Even first time Malayalam filmmakers these days show a deeper understanding of women & ensuring they are included in the general proceedings than the genius directors in Tamil & Hindi.
The Malayalam industry is really wonderful that way. My true test for if a film had good female characters is if I watch it and assume the writer/director is a woman. That is true more times than not with the Malayalam films I watch, and most of the time it turns out the writer/director is actually a man. Just a man who is able to see women as people, with all the flaws and virtues and depth as men.
Imtiaz Ali is an interesting case because I feel like in Socha Na Tha, Jab We Met, Jab Harry Met Sejal, he had fully realized female characters. They had slightly less screen time than the male characters, but they definitely had motivations and conflicts and stuff. I knew their families, I knew their jobs, I knew their hopes and dreams. And all of them end with the heroine taking the definitive step and choosing the hero, not him “picking” her (running away from her wedding in Socha Na Tha, kissing him in JWM, canceling the wedding in JHMS). And yet it is Rockstar and Tamasha, the movies where the women were merely tools in the hero’s journey, that get more critical accolades. I’d love to see Imtiaz do a hero’s journey movie like Rockstar or Tamasha where the hero happens to be a woman, partly just to see if it gets the same critical appreciation as his male focused movies, or if it is written off as a shallow chick flic just because of the switch in gender.
On Sat, Jun 15, 2019 at 8:42 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
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This movie is not misogynistic in any way. From all the points that you have made, the only thing that is clear is that the director did not think in your way. Is that a crime? Is that even always possible? Why do some of us get offended on grounds that the director’s thoughts didn’t match/cover ours?!! Maybe they too thought about your points but decided to show other angles and moments, and not cover your points. Is it wrong? If yes, then who decides that it is in fact wrong? Please don’t forcefully bring misogyny into this.
My comment to a friend who happens to be visiting, and thus was forced to watch the last hour of this movie with me, is that, “This is a South Indian film made by the kind of director whose favorite directors are Christopher Nolan and Tarantino.” So I’m glad to see that feeling confirmed here.
Yes, overall the movie felt very pleased with itself, in just the way that drove me away from mainstream Western films to Hindi films to begin with. And it definitely centers the male perspective and story arcs, including Shilpa’s as a male who has transitioned into a socially non-masculine role.
Agree with everything you’ve said related to the young men’s/boys’ storyline (what age range were they, do you think?) Love the idea of the alien woman as the ultimate MPDG.
For the husband/wife/corpse story, I enjoyed the dark comedy involved in the logistics of moving the body, and their initial deeper discussions about what didn’t work in their marriage, driving around with the corpse in the back of the jeep. But I agree that the warehouse scene went on and on. A fun role for the actor playing Berlin though–he was very good indeed. Some of his expressions and body language have really stayed with me, almost as though he were the villain in a horror movie.
I think both the husband and wife were fairly shallow people. It is only in the survival situation that they both finally connect. I think the line about “is he a child that I’ll give him candy” may be more about denial/rationalization than how she actually sees it. I think she was bored, missed her old boyfriend, wanted to get laid, and invited him over, without much thought. But that might be hard for her to admit to herself. After the trauma of the almost-rape, I didn’t really have any feelings about the end of their arc except relief.
Finally, I think that Shilpa’s wife and son are equally accepting of her–her wife once over the shock. It is not out of the question that they would continue to have a physically affectionate and even sexual relationship if Shilpa decides to stay. I think the film deliberately leaves that undetermined. And Shilpa’s mother was weeping openly when the son and Shilpa were talking through the door and reconciling. I think that this story did a much better job of touching on the impact of transition on family members of transitioners than any Western TV show or movie I’ve seen. In American, Canadian, and English media it’s almost forbidden to mention because it complicates the narrative. It can both be true that transition helps people to live more authentically as who they perceive themselves to be, while also being very difficult for the people who have known and loved them pre-transition.
I really loved the way the film handled the little boy and his father. He was so young, he just accepted what was in front of him. This was his father, who was a woman. But she was still his father and he was excited to show her his world and show her off to his friends. That feels more realistic to me than implying there is some innate horror and shock at gender transitions, something beyond what society teaches you as you grow up. On the other hand, the pain of the rest of the family also felt realistic because they were mourning their “son” and “husband”, everything they thought this person was and would be.
To go completely off topic for a second, that’s one (of many) reasons I think it is so great that more and more children are identifying and starting the transition process young. Their families never build up that false image of them as something other than they are, and then never have that image to lose later.
Love your description of the movie feeling very pleased with itself!!!! Like that guy who won’t shut up at a dinner party because he has so many Important and Original thoughts.
On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 1:20 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
Haha, yes! It’s a mansplaining movie! I also love that Shilpa and Rassa Kutti (spelling?) have a little discussion about what RK should call Shilpa towards the beginning, and then at the end RK just calls her “Shilpa”. Very sweet.
The kids in my Sunday School class whose father transitioned landed on just calling her by her new name. Which is none of my business, but I wondered about it, because they knew her as “Dad” or “Daddy” for the first 10 or so years of their life. Another way that Shilpa was right to leave before her son got to know her in the wrong gender, he could meet her and call her whatever felt naturally with nothing already known.
On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 2:22 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote: