Water, water everywhere…

It all started during the pro-Jallikattu movement in January 2017. Inspired by the massive student movement in Chennai, Thangadurai, a school van driver in Tirusulam, decided to form the Tirusulam Ilankaalaiyar Podhunala Arakattalai (Tirusulam Youth Public Welfare Trust). They were 15 young men (“Ilankaalayar”) who decided to work towards the welfare of their town. They decided to start with clearing up the Tirusulanathar Temple tank.
“It took us three months to just pump out the contaminated water. We’ve managed to build an 8-foot high wall inside the tank. We also repaired the sewage pipe. But the rains of the last few days have damaged it,” says Thangadurai.
No health issues have been reported yet.
“We are stopping people from going close to the tank,” he says.
On the edge of the tank, spilling on to the road, one can see heaps of garbage.

temple tank
The Tirusulanathar Temple Tank

“The garbage clearance trucks do not come to this area as often as they should. People end up burning the garbage as a means of managing it,” says Thangadurai.
He says he petitioned the Collector for four consecutive years, with little effect.
“Funds to repair and conserve this tank were sanctioned to the town panchayat each time. I don’t know where the money went. The Panchayat workers would come, pump out water, and desilt, but then the rains would come and they would stop all activity,” he says.
This time, he decided, his Trust would make it happen. They placed a banner inside the Tirusulanathar Temple, requesting donations. They managed to collect Rs. 15 lakhs, which was used up for pumping out the water and repairing the sewage pipe and the tank.

Administrative pressure to give up

Thangadurai, his friend Sasikumar, and a few of the volunteers were taken by surprise when the Tirusulam Police landed at their doorstep at midnight to arrest them.
“The local leaders did not want us to do the clearing up, as it would bring their inefficiency and corruption to light. But the womenfolk banded around us and made the police retreat,” Sasikumar says proudly.
“This caught the attention of the media. The attention worked in our favour,” says Thangadurai.
The Tirusulam Town Panchayat has been sanctioned funds to start cleaning up the tank immediately.

An outcome of negligence of heritage

“The tank has been in poor condition for as long as I can remember. This temple is of historic importance, yet it suffers from negligence,” says Thangadurai.
The earliest available historical evidence of the temple’s period is the inscriptions on the temple walls. It places the temple in the reign of Kulothunga Chola I (c. 1070-c.1120 A.D.)*, according to an information panel inside the temple.
The tank too, situated half a kilometre away from the temple, is believed to have been excavated by the king. Today, the space between the tank and the temple is dotted with encroachments. One would hardly connect the sorry-looking tank to the temple if they came across it.
“The temple tank is not just for religious purposes. It replenishes the water in wells that are situated within a 100 feet radius of it,” explains Thangadurai, “which means there is a good chance that people who use those wells are drawing contaminated water.”

A tale of three tanks

He explains that during heavy rains if the temple tank fills up, the excess water would automatically flow into a small eri (reservoir) closeby. This small eri, in turn, would flow into a bigger eri, located further down, once it reaches its maximum level of capacity. This larger eri, dubbed “Periya Eri” (literal meaning: “big reservoir”), was once used to supply water to agricultural lands beyond its northern bund.

 

periya eri
Periya Eri

This description fits the typical non-system tank irrigation mode that was in use in pre-British India and was prevalent during the Chola period. The term used back then for referring to the maintenance of the tanks, “maramathu”, is still used to denote the same activity. In fact, a petition by the temple, submitted to the Town Panchayat, requests funds for maramathu activities. While this may in all probability be the ancient water harvesting and irrigation system, the links between the temple tank and the eris remain to be confirmed.

 

Not a drop to drink

Until four years ago, the people of Tirusulam depended on Periya Eri for water supply and fishing, says Thangadurai. The smaller eri is completely contaminated, as a result of which the flora and fauna it supported are all dead. Much of it has also been filled with sand, and tenements have cropped up on it.

 

chinna eri
The contaminated smaller “eri”

The contamination, naturally, spread to Periya Eri.
“When we realised that the water was contaminated, we submitted a petition to the Collector. Our water source was immediately switched to the borewells situated close to Periya Eri”.

 

 

borewell
The borewell close to Periya Eri. Photo: Sukanaya V S

 

The agricultural lands were sold by the farmers and are being developed for real estate, Thangadurai says remorsefully. Explaining that the water deficit forced farmers to take up an alternative occupation, he said that they took up jobs at the stone quarry that came up in Tirusulam around the same time. The quarry was shut down by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, the reason being that it was increasing the pollution levels in the area and affected the airport situated approximately 1.3 kms away.

 

stone quarry
The erstwhile stone quarry with its harvest of rainwater

“Explosions at the stone quarry have also damaged the ancient Tirusulanathar temple. But the authorities took no measure to prevent further damage. Once the airport was developed, things changed,” says Sasikumar, one of the residents who volunteered to clear up the temple tank.
The stone quarry collects rainwater and is a major source of water supply for Chennai.
“We have so much water around, yet we can’t consume a drop from any of them,” he tears up.

 

Work will commence soon, says Panchayat official

Sundaramurthy, an official of the Tirusulam Town Panchayat, said that Tirusulam always got its water from the borewells near Periya Eri.
He denied the claim that the temple tank was part of a water harvesting and irrigation system. He also denied that wells in the perimeter of the tank were affected.
“The temple tank is in no way connected to the reservoirs or wells,” he said.
Speaking about the Panchayat’s plan of action, he said the MLA of Pallavaram, I. Karunanithi, has promised to talk to the Collector and get the Panchayat a sanction of approximately Rs. 25 lakhs for the clean-up and conservation of the temple tank. He said that the Panchayat plans to construct a sewage pipe 111 metres in length and 6 feet in height (earlier, the height of the sewage pipe was 3 feet).
“The Panchayat will raise the height of the tank’s inner wall to 12 feet from the current 6 feet. Additionally, we plan to create a footpath around the tank,” Sundaramurthy said.
Whether the Panchayat will put the plan into action, remains to be seen.
*The consensus among historians regarding Kulothunga Chola I’s reign is 1071–1122 A.D.

A Day in The Life of A Fireworks Fair

fireworks
The annual fireworks fair at Island Grounds, Chennai, received a lukewarm response this year. Photo: Kirthika S
CHENNAI, OCTOBER 17: Amudha will not be celebrating Deepavali this time. She will work the entire day tomorrow, clearing up the debris that collects outside the temporary stalls set up for the sale of fireworks at Island Grounds, Chennai. She is from Aththur, a town in the Salem district of Tamil Nadu, and has travelled to Chennai to work as a cleaner on the Grounds during the 10-day fair.Her work at the fair starts at 8 a.m., when she clears up any remaining garbage that may be lying around, and ends at 10 p.m. She has only a lunch break in between, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.“I will have to work here till tomorrow night. I will travel back to Salem after that”, she rues. “I miss being with my children, and this is heightened because I’m not going to be there with them for Deepavali. I feel lonely.”Amudha decided to let her emotions ride pillion when she made the decision to forego celebrating the festival with her children.“I am the sole breadwinner of my family, my husband takes up coolie work only occasionally. I have three daughters and a son, and they have to be fed, clothed, and educated. We need this money.”She is paid Rs. 400 per day by the vendors who have hired her.“I can’t even buy new clothes and crackers for my children this time”, her eyes well up as she watches a couple coax their children away from the cracker shops.

. . .

Back in the stalls, the mood is not very different from the overcast sky. R. Munusamy, the proprietor of Krishnaveni Fireworks, Sivakasi, has been selling at the fair for six years now, apart from being in the business for 14 years. His factory ships fireworks to many states in India. He says that sales have dipped in the last two years, and that the rains are to blame (Chennai is expected to have a wet Deepavali this year). “This year is still better than last year,” he explains, “Last year we lost a lot of stock due to heavy rains.”He says that people haven’t ventured out to buy crackers in the city as it has been raining in the past two days and that the prediction of rain on Deepavali has also stopped people from buying crackers.“Why would they spend Rs. 5,000 to buy crackers and not use them? From their point of view, it doesn’t make sense”.The least expensive product is the Bijli Vedi, priced at Rs. 10 per pack, and the most expensive is the Panorama 500 Shots cracker, priced at Rs. 15,000 per piece.The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is also a dampener for the sellers. The sellers pay GST on procurement but do not work it into their selling prices, because they do not want to discourage buyers. Shankar, the proprietor of SRM Traders, wholesalers of fireworks based in Chennai, says that he is not very optimistic about making profits.“We do not collect GST on sales. Couple it with reduced sales due to rains and we have a clear indication of loss.”Each vendor pays approximately Rs. 2,50,000 to Rs.3,00,000 as rent for the stalls for the ten days. “We pay it out of the sales we make here”, Shankar adds.  . . . 
The Standard Fireworks stall seems to attract the most number of buyers. One can see a bunch of men in canary yellow polo neck t-shirts, with the Standard Fireworks brand on it. 58-year-old Shahul Hameed, an employee, stands outside the stall calling out to people as they walk past, asking them to check out the stall. He takes up this job every year with the fireworks giant.“I do many odd jobs to earn my keep. Retirement didn’t suit me, I realised I hate being idle. I earn Rs.10,000 for working here for 10 days”, he says. Once the fair is over, it is back to routine for him—he lends a hand at his son-in-law’s plastic bag shop in Parrys Corner. He says that the dip in sales is majorly due to GST.“The 28% tax has increased the prices of our products, and most people are not willing to shell out that kind of money”, he says.He also sheds some light on how this affects sellers, the labour involved, and people like Amudha.“Lesser profits mean lower salaries for us and lower wages for the cleaners”, he says.Watching a young boy point to the biggest box of crackers on the rack, Hameed observes wistfully that Deepavali celebrations in the city have scaled down. “It used to be grander, and more fun back then. I think it had a lot to do with affordability. My grandchildren will never experience the kind of fun I did as a boy during Deepavali.”
According to a report by The Hindu, K. Mariappan, secretary, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association, said that the firecracker industry was on the verge of collapse due to the measures taken to control pollution. He also added that “the production has been reduced by half” compared to last year due to demonetisation, high GST and the banning of firecrackers in several States.

Security in Chennai’s Railway Stations to be Augmented, Nirbhaya Fund Backs Initiative

Source: pixabay
 
CHENNAI, JULY 20: As a step towards ensuring safety round-the-clock, the Nungambakkam railway station is in the process of installing 14 CCTV cameras on its platforms. A control room, from where the station surveillance will happen, is also being set up at Mambalam railway station.

 

 The CCTV installation comes a year after 24-year-old Swathi was stabbed to death on the station’s  platform. It is financed by the Nirbhaya Fund, which was created by the Centre in 2013 to support government and NGO initiatives that ensure the safety of women. RailTel, a public sector undertaking, has been tasked with executing the project. The execution and implementation is being supervised by the Railway Protection Force (RPF), Southern Railways.
“13 cameras have already been installed, but they are not operational yet. The wiring and connection process is underway. Railway Police personnel have been deployed across stations and they can be contacted in case of any emergency”, P. Sethu Madhavan, Assistant Security Commissioner, RPF, Chennai, said.
The Nirbhaya Fund has allocated a total of Rs. 500 crores towards the installation of CCTV cameras in railway stations across India. Of this, Rs. 68 crores has been allocated to Southern Railways.
Nungambakkam is the first station under the Fund to receive finance towards safety and security measures.
 A total of 136 stations in south India have been indentified for the project, of which 82 are in Chennai, including Nungambakkam. Other major stations that will see CCTV cameras installed are Trichy, Madurai, Salem, Trivandrum, and Palakkad.
“The measure is definitely late but it will ensure the safety of commuters”, says Balasubramaniam, a daily commuter.
While some commuters are confident that it will help improve safety for women on the station, others remain skeptical.
“Ensuring safety in just the railway stations will not suffice. During specific hours of the day, trains are virtually empty save for a few people in each compartment. It can be unsafe for women. Clearly, no one came to Swathi’s rescue; no one will do it for another Swathi”, said Abdul Hameed, another commuter.
 
Integrated Security System
In 2016, the Indian Railways also identified a number of stations that come under the umbrella of Southern Railways to implement the Integrated Security System (ISS) of the Indian Railways, which involves installation of CCTV cameras, under vehicle scanners (UVS), door frame metal detectors, and baggage scanners in “sensitive” stations.
 “We identify stations with heavy influx of commuters and high crime rates as ‘sensitive’”, an RPF official said. Of the 15 stations identified for ISS implementation, six are in Chennai: Chennai Central, Egmore, Beach, Tambaram, Mambalam, and Moore Market Complex.
These stations account for 262 of the 778 cameras allocated to Southern Railways.  
The impact of security initiatives under the Nirbhaya Fund and ISS remains to be seen. Dhananjayan, the Chief Public Relations Officer was unavailable for comments regarding the subject. 

P.S. This report is part of my assignment at college. I’ll publish more of my write-ups subject to approvals from lecturers. I’d love to hear how I can improve my skills! Do leave your comments on this post.

Examining Cultural Ideas of Women and Work in Urban India

Source: Wikipedia


CHENNAI, JULY 17: Karen Pichilis, Professor of Humanities at Drew University (New Jersey) and a Fulbright-Nehru senior scholar, spoke on the cultural and social factors influencing how women in the workforce are perceived in India. Speaking in a seminar titled ‘A Conjectural History of Cultural Ideas on Women and Work in India’, hosted by The Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), she said that she has been studying the cultural notions of working women in urban India since 2015. She began studying the narratives that define socially acceptable vocations for women, and the moralistic views of the society on women in the workforce. She said that she chose Chennai for her study because of its cosmopolitan nature.

 
The history of social views on women in the workforce
To understand the roots of how women in work are perceived by the society, Pechilis studied the social roles of women before and after Independence. She began by studying classical Tamil literature, and stated that “Karaikal Ammayar was a true feminist”.
For information on how society defined roles for women during the British Raj, she studied literature from the era, mainly articles published in Stri Dharma. Pechilis observed that before Independence, the emphasis for upper class women was to stick to household work, while underprivileged women were expected to work and contribute to the family’s income. Talking about male social reformers who had fought to abolish evils such as child marriage, widow abuse etc., she said that though they had fought to do away with the injustice meted out to women, they did not further the cause of women by promoting gender equality. They held a moralistic view that “educating women is good”, but this view didn’t help the cause of gender equality, as they did not think about gainful employment of women as a means of true liberation.
 
Findings from the study
Pechilis  categorised her sample of working women into three types: “the post graduate working professionals, the educated, middle-class workforce, and workers from the poor, backward sections of the society”.
Based on her interviews with 30 middle-class working women in Chennai, she said that the moral values of our society dictate that women are duty-bound to serve their family, and that “a woman has greater social acceptability if her job required her to work with women and children”. The women she interviewed perceived work as a tool to achieve independence and fulfillment, she said.
In conclusion, she outlined the direction her study was taking, stating that she would “include aspects of work becoming a fundamental right for women in India, and a wider history of cultural attitude towards women in the workforce”.

P.S. I attended this seminar as part of my assignment at college. I’ll publish more of my write-ups subject to approvals from lecturers. I’d love to hear how I can improve my skills! Do leave your comments on this post.

P.P.S. MIDS hosts a lot of interesting seminars and lectures. Check your daily newspaper and try attending them: they’re enlightening and insightful.

For Zakir Hussain, Spirituality Brings Self-acceptance

Photography: Kirthika Soundararajan

Thith thai tha tha

I hear the pleasant jangle of anklets set to motion and peep in awkwardly to check if I’m at the right place. Zakir Hussain, seated on the floor, is almost done with his class. With a warm smile, he asks me to step in. I sit down on the floor opposite to him. Dressed in jeans and a white shirt, he comes across as rather laid back and unassuming.

 

Zakir asks me what made me pick him for my personality profiling project. I’m no Bharathanatyam cognoscente, I told him, but I’ve always admired the dance form. And so one Margazhi festival day I got to watch his dance recital in my college. It was a scene from the Mahabharata, where Dusshasan disrobes Draupadi in the royal court. A common subject, but there was a catch: the dancer was male, and he played both Draupadi and Dusshasan. I’ve never seen a more seamless storytelling before. The audience was transfixed. Later, after the recital, the Principal of the college introduced him to us. He was Zakir Hussain.

 

I was intrigued. A male dancer, from a traditional South Indian Muslim family, who has devoted his life to Bharathanatyam. Must have been quite a journey to where he is now. Zakir chuckles, amused at my observation. “There’s no difference between a male and a female dancer in Bharathanatyam,” he says. He adds that male dancers have to make sure they carry themselves in such a way that they don’t come across as feminine. He works out every day and makes sure his team maintains a good physique too. “It’s part of the aesthetics,” he says. “It’s just like Bollywood. No one wants to see an unfit, out-of-shape hero.”
Over the 20 odd years as a Bharatanatyam dancer, Hussain has won admiration and recognition: he was honoured with the Social Recognition Award in 1994 by Sri R. Venkataraman, the President of India of that time, and with the Kalaimamani Award by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 2009, to name a couple. In recent years he has gained respect as an expert in Vaishnavism. I ask if his being of a different faith created roadblocks, initially.
“No,” he says. “Everyone I met has welcomed me with open arms,” he insists.

 

Zakir doesn’t just stop with choreographing his dance recitals: he single-handedly designs the costume and jewellery, the props and lighting effects. He counts among one of his best projects Cinderella, a fusion of Western and Bollywood dance forms, which he choreographed himself. He says he was inspired by Delhi’s Kingdom of Dreams. “We had LED walls for the background, including the side wings. The lighting effects on the side wings were meticulously coordinated with that of the background walls. No one in Chennai has attempted a project of such a big scale. We spent up to Rs. 12 lakhs on costumes alone.  If we’d pushed ourselves a little more, we’d have produced a movie,” he laughs.

 

Facing opposition from his family towards his passion for Bharatanatyam, this fibre technology graduate from Salem decided to put his foot down and follow his dreams after graduation. He says Andal, the 7th Century Alwar saint, drew him to Vaishnavism.
“I see Bharathanatyam and Vaishnavism as tools to unearth the purpose of life. As a means to find God within me. I call this Vaishnava Sufism,” he says.
“My Vaishnavism is not about waking up at 4.30 a.m. and reading the Thiruppavai. It’s not about performing sandhyavandhanam (prayers performed three times a day) and chanting hymns. At the same time, I abstain from meat and liquor. These are purely my values, beliefs. I don’t force my values on my circle. For me, it has been a journey in self-acceptance. I am like any other human being. I have my share of flaws. And I’m happy being me. I feel accepted by Andal. And that’s all I care about.”
Who introduced him to Andal, I ask.
“She found me,” he smiles enigmatically. He says he worships Andal throughout the day—”She’s always there at the back of mind. Even when I hear a cuckoo sing, I remember a verse written by her on the song of cuckoo birds, and contemplate about her state of mind when she wrote it, wonder why she chose the words she did… For me, Andal is a way of life.”

 

Zakir performs recitals of Andal’s stories and begins his recitals with a prayer to her. “I was the first to bring in Andal’s stories, around 10 years ago,” he explains, “now many dancers have started doing it, and they tell me I inspired them.”
And this is not the first time Zakir has led by example. For instance, he used colourful costumes and jewellery at a time when people were still sticking to conventional colours, and was criticised for it. Now, costumes have gotten so colourful that “every thread, every stitch seems to be of a different colour”. His style has found acceptance now.
This, Zakir claims, is his biggest achievement: inspiring people to think out-of-the-box.
So what’s next, I ask him.
“I want to upgrade my audience. I want my audience to come in with a certain level of knowledge. My performances are nuanced. I want to make them learn more. And this need helps me grow. I push myself to come up with new stuff. I want to give to my audience what Christopher Nolan does to filmgoers”, he says earnestly. “Life would become monotonous, and I, complacent, if I stop wanting to learn and grow.”

P.S. I interviewed him as part of my assignment at college. I’ll publish more of my write-ups subject to approvals from lecturers. I’d love to hear how I can improve my skills! Do leave your comments on this post.

How To Know If You’ve Got The Ideal Girlfriend, Courtesy Kollywood

Have you ever asked your gal pals if the woman you’re dating is right for you?

Or, you’ve always wanted to ask for third party validation, but haven’t found the courage to apply for one?

Fear not! I’ve put together an exhaustive list of things that indicate that this girl’s The One, based on Kollywood’s fine and respectable representations.

Are we ready?

.

.

.

.

.

1. She’s religious

Well, duh! How can a woman who doesn’t go to a place of worship ever be a nice person?

 

Guys, she’s The One!
Girls, get your arses to the nearest temple! Why? Coz “nice” boys always go there! C’mon now. Get to work.

2. She wears “desi” or “sanskaari” clothes wonly

 

Who wouldn’t want to marry such a woman?

3. She luuurves kids…

Submitted with no comments…

4. She puts up with your a-holeness and truly, sincerely believes it’s love

 
Thamizh kalaachaaram!

5. Anyone else would’ve called it sexual harassment, she understands you’re wooing her

Well what da ya know, telepathy!

6. She tries to fit into your vision of the perfect woman

All. The. Time. Girl doesn’t have an identity without you.

 

7. She’s all coy around you…

Coz, you da man, yo!

8. She’s dumb as a dustpan

Because otherwise how’re you gonna feel better about yourself?

9. She lets you act cool around her, when you actually want to… should I get there?

She coddles your “I’m too cool for you” shenanigans.
And finally…

10. She celebrates you for fulfilling the basic requirements of a good human being

Aaaand that’s the definitive guide.
If you have one such girl and you think all those filters made perfect sense, don’t let go of her.
Coz not everyone is going to put up with the kind of person you are!
On second thoughts, do her a favour and let her go.
All GIFs created with GIPHY
 
Videos from good ol’ YouTube
P.S. Did you notice that most of my sources are Nayanthara’s/Danush’s movies? High time I had a talk with them about their choice of roles…

Being Leela Abraham

Image source: Google
SPOILERS AHEAD
DISCALIMER: I’M A CINEMA NOOB
___
 
 
Like every other Mani Ratnam fan, I was super-excited about Kaatru Veliyidai. The trailer took expectations up by notches. Finally, a movie, and a mainstream one at that, will be tackling domestic abuse without normalising/defending the abuser’s actions. So is that what the movie does? Well, yes and no.
You see Leela, a starry-eyed, hardcore romantic, level-headed doctor. And then you see VC, charming, witty, attractive. And as the movie progresses, egoistic, arrogant, and narcissistic. The movie is narrated through VC’s eyes. To his credit, Mani Ratnam makes VC stress that he wasn’t a “hero” after all. You find VC apologise to Leela (in his head, of course) for all that he’s put her through. Props to MR for making his male protagonist unlikable. And for making the moviegoers side with the female lead (and rightfully so), for once.
The story unfurls with the Indian Army in the background. Some of VC’s colleagues are as chauvinistic as they get: for instance, when VC recklessly takes another Army guy’s daughter on a date and he gets hospitalised due to an attempt at showing off his heroic skills, the daughter gets packed off to a different State. VC’s boss recounts to him proudly how he defended VC: “He asked me how you can control a fighter plane when you can’t control a car. I asked him how we can trust him with a troop when he can’t control his daughter”. VC sniggers appreciatively. That’s the circle he cultivates: pervasive toxic masculinity, feeding his ego forever. And then Leela Abraham happens. She’s fiercely independent, and won’t let him control her. For VC, control is an indication of his superiority. And Leela will have none of it.
Right from the word go, he resorts to asserting his power to win her over: the reckless first date sets the tone. Leela is too smitten to notice when he makes her run with him towards the plane, arms pushing her shoulders. As strange as the human mind works, she finds herself drawn to him. And then the abuse starts. It starts small, when he manhandles her to save her from an impending snowstorm. Ah well, you think, she was being incredibly unreasonable, he didn’t have a choice. And then they make up almost instantly. This is how the relationship goes: he draws her in, hurts her, she distances herself, he shows his passionate side, she is drawn in again. We see how VC publicly abuses her. We see how he serenades her into reconciling with him, only to find later that it was all about proving his friends’ speculations of her not coming back, wrong (Aditi does an amazing job of emoting her shock and disbelief here). We see her resigned, unemotional “I love you” to him, the day after he asks her why she hasn’t uttered the three words yet. That one scene captures the essence: Leela realises the relationship is about VC. They both love him. She realises she’s too attached, and resigns to the fact, and decides to tell him she loves him. There’re other scenes worth noting: some of VC’s colleagues are uncomfortable when he mistreats her. We even hear a “Not cool, Officer” after one such episode. And then you see Ilias, Leela’s admirer, fret to Nidhi about how Leela has to pull herself together and get out of this relationship.
These scenes are juxtaposed with contradictory ones: you see VC explaining away Leela’s addiction to this toxic relationship as “love”. Heck, even Leela’s friend, Nidhi, calls it “love”. This has been a point of contention for many people, but you have to keep in mind that Mani Ratnam never makes conclusions in his movies: he leaves it for the viewer to decide. He just states society’s norms and standards as is, his movies are mirrors. How many of us have asked our friend who is close to giving up on their partner, to try harder? That relationships are hard work? That love is pain? I’m sure we’re all guilty. This movie is a conversation starter around domestic abuse and toxic romantic relationships. It shows you how the guy you like can be your brother’s hero but to you, he’ll be an ultimate beast.
VC is charismatic, a charmer, everyone’s favourite – but none of this comes through. That’s where the movie fails. It fails to show how there’s no black and white, and unhealthy relationships are a grey area: VC could be your cousin, your brother, your best friend, your father. Your brother may literally worship him, create an image of perfection in your head. But you wouldn’t know this person, unless he lets you in. What you know about such people is what they want you to look at them as. This doesn’t come through. And there’re more Leelas in the world than there should be. And why won’t there be? We’re fed a steady stream of romanticized love, where the woman is all-forgiving, where the good girl brings about a positive change in her jerk of a boyfriend. I’m not kidding. Chennai has a statue for Kannagi. You even find VC saying, “Nee enna mathiduva!” (“You’ll change me!“) to her when she tries leaving him. And she takes him back. Again. And again. And again. You get exasperated with her. I found myself wondering how she hadn’t died of emotional exhaustion already. What is a low point is when they reunite at the end (Karthi is brilliant here, though). You see, personality disorders can’t be switched off. You can’t just become a better person. You can’t stop being narcissistic at will. It takes therapy. And lots of self-awareness and work. But unlike everyone else, I found it totally believable that Leela took him back, yet again. Of course she will.
Here’s why:
Women in India grow up having very low expectations of men. Most of them heave a sigh of relief when they find their partner doesn’t have a “weakness for women”. But is that all? We need to expect from our men sensitivity, thoughtfulness, respect, and empathy. We need to remind ourselves that being entitled, privileged, and chauvinistic is not “normal” or “natural” for men.
This movie should ideally have us talking about how we should raise women to have self-esteem and self-respect. How we should be teaching them that it’s okay to leave a relationship that is destroying them. How abuse does not mean just physical harm, but also emotional harm. That romantic love is good only when it’s between equals. That the woman is no lesser than the man. But we haven’t focused there yet. I find reviews that say the movie glorifies misogyny. I think it doesn’t. As I told you earlier, it mirrors the dark side of societal conditioning. It attempts to show us the ugly, chaotic, tangled backside of a beautifully woven tapestry. It’s a starting point, so I’ll not nitpick. Thank you Mani Ratnam, for showing us how our society is fucked up.

Perfect Imperfection

A still from ‘Aye Sinamika’

SPOILERS AHEAD

I’m in love.

With this amazing song called Aye, Sinamika!

The song opens with the guy looking at the girl go away on her tour, from up in their apartment. He has a smile on his face, the smile that you smile when you realise someone’s got you hopelessly falling for them… And he walks into their room, and he seems to see her everywhere. No it’s not as corny as I describe it. You’ll see for yourself.

Now I’m going to follow my train of thought and tell you that Karthik’s voice lends the right mixture of yearning, affection, and a certain confidence that comes with the knowledge that you have the heart of the person who has yours… And yet, he almost immediately croons “nee yennai neengadhe!” (crude translation – “don’t go away from me!”), registering the uncertainty of live-in relationships, which forms the crux of this movie. That line is a constant refrain in the song, and makes up for most of the lyrics, and he sounds so endearingly, happily, vulnerable every single time. Complete surrender, hangups and emotional baggage be damned.
He’s so convincing, that it would make you go hug this person right away if he were your partner… If that makes sense…

Anyway, moving on from the voice, the guitar strumming all along, combines with Karthik’s dreamy voice, painting a picture of lazy, golden evenings. The sort of evenings you’d spend in your balcony, basking in the last rays of the sun, with that special someone. Probably sipping a cup of tea, while admiring the brilliant pink bougainvillea blooms that complement the white railing. Don’t go listen yet! Let’s get onto the lyrics…

Oh, my! The lyrics… I’m not a fan of Vairamuthu, but he got me admiring his skills with this song. He establishes that the girl here is feisty with the quirky “Seerum tsunamika“, and then goes on to tell you how the sort-of-passive, ready-to-surrender (“nee ponaal, kavidhai anaadhika“), admirably patient guy can easily read the (seemingly complicated) girl:

“Imaigalin thaazhvil,
Udaigalin thalarvil,
Ennodu paesa mattum
kuyilaagum un kuralil..
Varanda udhattin varippallangalil
Kaadhal thaanadi en meedhu unaku…”

“Varanda udhatin varipallangalil”, especially, has you admiring how three words can convey the intense passion they share for each other.

Now if you have to fully understand why the song is so beautiful to me, you’ll need to watch the movie.
I’d say don’t watch the song if you haven’t caught up on OKK yet, because there are these li’l moments you’ll not spot if you’re not familiar with Adi (Dulquer Salman) and Tara (Nithya Menen). I know because I didn’t.

I, like most fans, was ecstatic when the video promo of this song came out. And I was mildly put off by the weird things they were doing… And how Tara seemed to laugh/giggle at almost everything. Or how she was generally a bit too… umm… boisterous?

Like here…

Or here…

Okay… That was kinda adorable…

But then you’ll find the song interspersed with amazing choreography, like here:

And moments of tenderness so realistic, like here…

And you’ll be left wondering if you really like the visuals…

However, watch the movie and you’ll understand the subtle ways in which Mani Ratnam tells his audience they’re going beyond short-term commitment.

Like this one, where he buries his head in the nape of her neck affectionately, and she looks at him, her eyes and the slight smile conveying she knows he’s falling for her:

Notice how she starts wiping her face just in time when he looks up? In the movie, both are commitment phobic, Tara more so. She is afraid of his love, she’s afraid she’ll lose him. She’s not ready to let him in just yet, but is enjoying the process of developing feelings for him nonetheless.

That scene was less than three seconds, by the way. Ah, Mani Ratnam. I’m so glad for your movies.

Adi is mature, patient, has a great sense of humour. Tara is irritable, erratic, moody, and intense. What a departure from the usual mellow Tamil heroine and testosterone-pumped hero!

For all her commitment phobia, she gets attached to him as quick as a child does. He, on the other hand, takes his time. She has zero inhibitions, and has no qualms showing how happy he makes her, while he is more subtle. This one song, ladies and gentlemen, brings out all of this about them.

Aye, Sinamika is a masterpiece in itself, where music, lyrics, and visuals combine to bring out the essence of the movie.

Convinced enough? One last piece of advice: listen to the audio version first, then go watch the movie. Makes you appreciate the music more.

Anything I’ve missed out about this song? 🙂

‘Kabali’ Is Every Woman’s Dream

I’ve always been a fan of the Superstar. But never his movies. Except for less than a handful – Aarilirundhu Arubadhu Varai, Valli… I’d be lying if I say I didn’t enjoy Baasha or Muthu, but almost all his movies have a strong misogynistic undercurrent. His character in the movie was always morally policing women, or spouting lines that humiliate women/put us down. In most of his movies, the heroine is amazingly pretty, and will always fall for his antics. He is always the Alpha Male. He would be a jerk to her and she’d still love him. Because hey, he can’t be wrong.

It is this aspect of Rajinikanth’s movies that make me stay away from watching them. I was like the proverbial ostrich that buried its head in sand in the wake of danger – if I didn’t watch the sexist parts of his movies, it didn’t happen. Right? Well, Rajini being Rajini, his movies are everywhere. And all these Tamil TV channels air only those annoying, anger-inducing women-bashing scenes. I was traveling in Shadabti once and Mannan was playing. He literally is every feminist’s nightmare in that movie. I started resenting him for picking such roles and agreeing to mouth those horrid lines. And that stuff where Padayappa literally coaches Neelambari on what a woman should think and act like? What was that? Not cool, Superstar! And Sivaji! Let’s not even go there please!

This much-loved, deified actor could’ve done much much better. He had blind followers who imitated every single thing he did. Including woman-bashing. And the tactics Rajini used too woo his love interest will annoy any woman in real life. Yep. No wonder that poor lass ran away from you when you sang “figure-u figure-u thaan, nee super figure-u thaan” to her.

So it was with much dread that I agreed to watch Kochadaiyaan with friends. I was in for a surprise – it was a refreshing story, and had a strong female lead. But I digress… This post is about ‘Kabali’. I’ll cut to the chase…

Warning: Spoilers ahead

My friends told me Kabali is as un-Rajini as it can get, and told me I’ll like it. The Superstar’s old guy avatar was intriguing enough, so I decided I’ll go watch it anyway. And I’m glad I didn’t miss it. Because for the first time, I saw a Rajinikanth who was human. Vulnerable. And emotionally dependent on the women in his life. And that was extremely likeable. He was breaking stereotypes like nobody’s business, throughout the movie!

  • Almost immediately after he gets out of prison, he misses his wife terribly. Revenge and action can wait, Kabali needs his Kumudhavalli.
  • The flashback sequence emphasises how his wife shapes his persona. The Rajinikanth from Mannan days would’ve done it for himself, I’m sure. “Aambala di!” would’ve been his retort if the wife had offered suggestions 😛
  • The priest in the flashback again tells him his wife is his strength, that he is safe with her by his side.
  • When the bad guys hold her hostage and ask him to give up, she refuses to be the Achilles’ heel. The dangerously pregnant woman shakes the evil people away with all her might and fights to save Kabali’s honour. How cool is that? If Kabali were made during the same timeline as Baasha, or even if it were a Shankar movie, she’d be wimpering “ennangaaa!” a gazillion times.
  • His daughter shadows him, posing as an assassin, but really just saving Daddy Dearest.
  • No in-your-face duets and “romantic” sequences. Subtle and natural is the flavour.
  • No misogyny. Yaey yaey yaey!!!
  • And Rajini’s acting. OMG. He makes you fall in love with him. Especially the scenes that lead up to his reunion with his wife. Again – the vulnerability comes through, Rajini style! There’s just something very appealing about men who aren’t afraid to show emotions and are unashamed/unapologetic about it. And if it’s Rajini, that’s like the best thing to happen to Tamil audience, who are constantly fed detrimental gender stereotypes. Who better than The Superstar himself to lead the way and set an example?
  • The climax hints at Kabali’s death. No, really.
  • Kabali has regrets, apologises, doesn’t beat up 5 men in one shot. Enough said.
  • He is self-deprecatory in the movie. Every other movie was him blowing his own trumpet, you’d think he was just giving himself the constant reassurance and motivation he needed.
  • He allows himself to get tricked, betrayed, hurt… Yep, not invincible.
  • He looks his age. More power to you for that, thalaiva!

Thank you Rajini, for doing this movie. I don’t know what made you pick this movie, but please keep doing such stuff. We will repay you with more and more louve.
Fangirl-ing big time❤