While we have squandered years whining about its appalling crudity, sex and violence, Bollywood is puréed babyfood compared to South Indian mainstream cinema. Down there, it does not count unless it's third degree. The Tamilians win the Olympics for Horrific Crudity, Sexism and Violence. Take Subramaniam Siva's Thiruda Thirudi, offered for the Panorama. It features Dhanush, a pigeon-chested paavam who looks like a paanwala on probation, but gets the bombshell girl in the end. The lyrics of its hit song, Manmadan Raja (O Cupid Prince!), go something like this: "O Cupid princess, I've tasted you...I flooded you/ Engulfed you/I peeled you off in bits and pieces/Why are you so hasty?/I hit you, I hit you/You tanked me, torpedoed me/I've kept it for you tight at night/I've reserved my steam for you/ Don't tell me you're a virgin/Like a spicy guy, I came, I came.... The song ends with the girl telling the boy, "I'll settle your account!"
How interesting then that the Chennai censors enthusiastically passed this film, while holding up Manu Rewal's Pani for a scene in which a woman smokes, and another where someone says bastard or f****** bastard. The Tamilians have a telling phrase, "Ni loosa (Are you loose/crazy)?" That's what we'd like to ask the censors. Or were they, in fact, tighta?
In M.R. Ranjith's Bheeshmar, an inspector twists a corrupt cop's head "like an idli-grinding machine", then sets him afire, then jams him in a lift door, then hacks him with a sickle 11 times, then bashes his head against a jagged windscreen. Still, he looks unsure he's achieved the desired effect.
Outtake # 2: My favourite credits include Bank Janardhan and Mico Sitaram in the Kannada film Teenagers. But the prize goes to the assistant director in the Kannada film Chandra Chakori—Tension Nagaraj.
(Meenakshi Shedde, who was on the national jury for the Indian Panorama/IFFI 2004, is a freelance critic and consultant on Indian cinema to the Cannes, Berlin and Venice film festivals.)
As for the maddening dilemmas of women in love, there was Anjan Das’ deeply affecting Iti Srikanta. It examined contrasting philosophies of love: one, a possessive love, and another that believes that if you really love him, let him go. And Ligy Pullappaly’s Sancharam (The Journey) in Malayalam, on a lesbian relationship between two girls in a middle-class Kerala family. The characters are entirely credible, and there is an immense dignity with which the director handles the subject.
The embers of parallel cinema continue to burn. Lenin Rajendran’s Annyar is a daring film that examines communal violence in Kerala, through the relationship between a liberated Muslim girl, a TV journalist, much more daring than her Hindu adfilmmaker boyfriend. In Gajendra Ahire’s Not Only Mrs Raut, a woman kills her daughter’s rapist, while his Pandhar is a convincing anti-Enron activist film.
But then, in Bollywood’s Baghban, Amitabh Bachchan eloquently describes women’s status in India: "My sons are my four fixed deposits." So when lunch is served, only the men eat; their non-FD wives stand behind like dutiful dwarpalaks.
So, Malay Bhattacharya’s Teen Ekke Teen (Three Girls Three), a sort of Bong Charlie’s Angels, is a splendid attempt in a sea of sexist primitivism. It has three spunky women who, unable to raise a bank loan for a pickle business, decide to rob the bank. The end careens into mawkish bhashans about women’s empowerment. Still, it is most refreshing, since we almost never see women just letting themselves go in Indian cinema.
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