Allu Arjun and Performative Gender

Oh boy! A post just for Genevieve! Who is obsessed with Allu Arjun!!!! Well, not “obsessed”, it’s not like she has a life size cut out of him in her living room (I have a life size cut out).

There’s a statement that my group of friends uses as kind of a joke, “gender is a construct”. The joke is, we actually all believe and understand that statement. But as a practical matter when functioning in the world, it’s not always relevant. If someone asks if my dog is a boy or a girl, I’m not going to say “gender is a construct”. I am going to say “boy”.

What “gender is a construct” means is the very specific male-female personality/taste/appearance divides that have been created by society. Sex is not a construct. People have sexual organs, have hormone responses, have all kinds of things like that. But those sexual differences have been expanded into this insane complicated web of nonsense, and that web of nonsense is the construct. For instance, here’s a statement that has NEVER made sense to me and yet people say it all the time, “every little girl dreams of her wedding”. NO! I never dreamed of my wedding, my Mom never dreamed of hers, none of my friends dreamed of theirs. And in contrast, I know loads of dudes who were as involved and interested in the wedding planning process as their spouse once it came time. We just say “every little girl dreams of her wedding” because someone said it one time and dropped it into that web of gender nonsense and it stuck. Even though it isn’t related to reality.

When you attack “gender is a construct”, you can come at it from two opposite directions. On the one hand, you reject the construct. You say “no, I don’t care about my wedding. Yes, my father likes to clean. No, I don’t need your help hooking up my computer. Yes, I do need your help picking out clothes”. But on the other hand, you take the construct to the bleeding edge in order to reveal it’s flaws.

This is what Drag is. It’s “performative gender”. It’s not a man dressed as a woman. It’s a person dressed as the exaggeration of what society has deemed it means to be “woman”. The rules society has for women are so extreme already (hair, make-up, clothes, speak sweetly, move gracefully, etc. etc. etc.) that taking them to the extreme quickly obviously becomes a performance. But what about “performative gender” of the male gender?

That’s what Allu Arjun does. He takes the male gender as constructed in the Telugu film industry and brings it just that slight bit farther that turns it into performative gender instead of merely playing the hero. His hair isn’t just “cool”, it is different in ever movie. He doesn’t just stalk a girl, he uses twisted logic to make his stalking into a virtue. When he is “poor”, he is the most poor ever. When he is “rich”, he is the most rich ever. All the ridiculous rules of Telugu film heroism, taken that one step father with a wink at the audience.

Allu Arjun isn’t alone in this. The best Telugu action films, for me, are the ones where the director and scriptwriter are in on the joke. Fight scenes that nod to older films, moments that break the 4th wall, etc. And the smartest Telugu actors know perfectly well that their hero roles are silly, and enjoy the opportunity to make fun a bit when they can. But Allu Arjun has put his own distinctive spin on it.

Somehow, Allu Arjun puts in a touch of both gender constructs in his performance which serves to enhance the RIDICULOUSNESS of the male gender construct. The slight body in clothes that emphasize it’s smallness, the slightly over done make up on delicate features, the sculpted brows, the slightly too colorful and too fitted and too imaginative costumes, and most of all the graceful movements. So you have the very silly male behaviors of Telugu films (super quick to anger, defeating dozens in fights, falling in love at first sight, and so on) but contained within this kind of gender fluid looking appearance. Remove the male appearances we are used to, and the male behavior patterns come into stark clarity.

The biggest thing about Allu Arjun is the same reason Drag is popular, it’s just plain FUN!!!! Gender constructs are stressful and overwhelming and constant. To get a little vacation from that by watching art that flips gender upside down and shows how silly it is, it’s FUN!!!

And you know, fun is powerful. Fighting to give your child non-gendered clothes and non-gendered toys is stressful. Fighting to be allowed to be a primary parent as a man, or fighting to be allowed into an aggressive leadership role as a woman is exhausting. But fun gives you energy! You come out of an Allu Arjun movie ready to just laugh at the idea that boys can’t wear pink instead of fight about it.

At least, that’s what I think. What do you think?

10 thoughts on “Allu Arjun and Performative Gender

  1. I’m also reeling. I love Allu Arjun and see him as the eternally youthful bad boy who hangs around the 7-Eleven looking cute and cool and making cracks about everybody going in and out, especially the girls. He’s definitely male in all that the team encompasses,
    and adorably sexy without the slightest hint of any so-called, classic female mannerisms. That he ‘s occasionally “in on the joke”, to me, is not a Telugu construct. Many Telugu actors and directors take themselves very seriously. And yes, he has a twinkle in his eye, but his acting altho not Sethupathi level, admirably fits the scene, his dancing is protean, and his romancing not shy.

    I’m an old gal and everything you said about gender roles was true back in the day. I feel for these “me to” women but they kind of missed the boat. The creeps will always be with us . Tell them to shove it where the sun don’t shine, and call your lawyer, run for office, just get busy. Most of the world is with you.

    Like

    • Oh now I’m wound up.
      Our Governor, Signore Cuomo. I’m sure is a tipsy or drunken state, at a wedding, he grabbed Cousin Altagrazia and planted a wet kiss on her mouth. I’m also sure he hinted, intimated, or outright said he thought you were hot and would like q like a little something something. But for gods sake, give him what for, if you have to, knee him where he’s detumescing, and get the hell out of there. Now, if he makes your job an issue of compliance, that’s actionable. You got a job in the governor’s office because you’re smart. Even if your job is at Walmart, you’re still smart and can tell the dif between an annoying creep who needs to be put in his place every time ( because THEY are dumb and don’t stop) and a guy you have to face in court.

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    • Gender as a social construct is interesting, because it sort of goes back before all the results, before MeToo and so on, and says “okay, when we say a ‘man’ attacked a ‘woman’, what assumptions are built into that? And how have those assumptions been weaponized?”

      If we are talking MeToo, gender as a social construct would come into play if someone says “so-and-so couldn’t have been a victim, she wears pants and has short hair and is muscular, she isn’t like a ‘woman'”. Or, “so-and-so couldn’t have been a perpetrator, he is small and unmuscular and soft and gentle and isn’t like a ‘man'”. What Allu Arjun does, sometimes in the whole performance and sometimes just for a song, is take his costumes and hair and everything else to the macho extreme in order to make us go “oh! that’s how we define ‘manhood'”, kind of making the invisible visible.

      On Thu, Apr 8, 2021 at 11:31 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Teaser for Allu Arjun’s new movie Pushpa (feminine name like Mary) got released yesterday on his birthday. He’s back working with director Sukumar after Arya,Arya2. Sukumar’s movie after Rangasthalam. Movie is based on some true stories of redwood smuggling in southern Andhra Pradesh. https://youtu.be/Lk2oDvoonUc

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  3. I think you are onto something with AA’s extreme male construct combined with visual, and sensual female constructs as well. Isn’t dance part of the female construct as a rule? I may be using the term wrong. One of the interesting things about AA, is that I love watching him, even though his chemistry with female co-stars is generally awful. (And typically I live for chemistry). Instead it is like by going over the top he is directly flirting with you, the viewer. His chemistry partner is the camera. When he does achieve co-star chemistry (like in the last video you posted) I get worried he is cheating on his wife.

    BTW I did dream of my wedding. It wasn’t until YEARS after the wedding I realized it was another day, an important day, but not THE day. There is no THE day.

    My biggest complaint with AA films is the quality of the female lead, in writing and sometimes acting. Parugu is the one movie where his female lead, at least in that film, equaled him in raw talent, and was given a role in which she could express it. I don’t know if this is an AA thing, or a Telugu thing. If he had a female co-star that could overdo like he does, with the winks to the audience and the full embracing of movie ridiculous, well then I would be very happy. I haven’t seen every AA movie because some I can’t access and some I can’t access with subtitles, but I have seen a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Dance! I feel like there is male/female dance for sure. Shahrukh always feels like a very male dancer to me, lots of strong short powerful moves, lots of shoulder work, like that. But Allu Arjun is more likely to do round moves, if that makes sense? circular, slow, bumps in them.

      I absolutely agree with you that Allu Arjun is flirting with the camera. It’s part of his 4th wall breaking, I would say. He is always kind of winking to the camera saying “watch me do this”. Which doesn’t work when he has a scene partner. I think Aarya 2 came closest, they wrote the heroine to be almost as intense as him, it just took longer for her intensity to come out. If Aarya 2 had just gone a smidge farther, really made Kajol nutty, that would have been the ideal romance.

      On Sat, Apr 10, 2021 at 1:12 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

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