Our tribute to 21st century’s female leads who broke every stereotype in Tamil cinema…
by Mani Prabhu
The obsessed lover
Film: Paruthiveeran Director: Ameer Sultan
Muthazhagu’s childhood fascination for her cousin Veeran metamorphoses into mad love over time. Veeren at first tries to ignore her, but slowly starts reciprocating her affection. One evening, Muthazhagu returns home after meeting Veeran to learn that her father, who had always nurtured a deep-seated hatred for Veeran and his family, had seen them both together. Knowing Muthazhagu’s father, we instantly grasp that a violent showdown is on the cards. And as expected, the man goes all out with his anger, terribly hurting the girl with both words and brutal force. If she were just another female lead, she might have scurried up to a room, thrown herself on the bed and burst out crying. But she is not. She is Muthazhugu. She continues to defend herself from the outburst, while standing resolute in her decision. The determination in her eyes is kind of unsettling. Simmering with anger and cornered to choose between her parents and her lover, she still manages to reason out. And as her father leaves, frustrated over her obstinacy, she instinctively picks herself up and sits on the floor. When she proceeds to voraciously gorge on her dinner, we just can’t take our eyes off this insanely strong-minded girl, who would go to any lengths to get the life she wants.
The wily opportunist
Film: Aaranya Kandam Director: Thiagarajan Kumararaja
Subbu is introduced as the hapless girl of every movie, being subjected to the psychotic whims and fancies of her impotent gangster husband. She seems to be viciously trapped as the man’s plaything, badly waiting for a hero to save the day for her. As she attempts to convince one of her husband’s aides, Sappai, that the hoary don was merely using them, they seem to relate to each other’s predicaments. We expect them to fall in love, and it happens conveniently. Meanwhile, the gangster gets into a tussle with Sappai over a bag of missing money and tries to kill him. Sappai does rise to the occasion, shooting the gangster at a strategic moment. So, is the timid and butter-fingered Sappai the unlikely hero in this tale? The villain is murdered. The girl has been rescued. Happy ending? Seems so. But then, it happens. Subbu emerges from the shadows and shoots Sappai. And then, shockingly, things begin to fall into place. We learn that it was Subbu who had orchestrated the whole episode. With a big smile on her face, she retrieves the money bag and quietly leaves the city. We literally hear her thoughts. When all the men were mistrusting, scheming and slaughtering around her, a girl had pulled off the greatest heist of them all. Well, the best thing about being a woman is that it’s a man’s world after all!
The conniving adulterer
Film: Naan Sigappu Manithan Director: Thiru
When we first see Kavitha in a party with her husband’s friends, she seems like a happy woman and a loving wife. So, when one of the millionaire friends attempts to get close with her, we expect her to snap back. Well, how else would a heroine react? So, we are caught totally unaware when she goes on to encourage him. Is she having an affair with him? Now, that’s adultery. Is she unhappy in her current marriage? Soon, we get to know that she is troubled by her drunkard husband. Why not a divorce then? Why all this under the rug? The millionaire keeps spending lavishly on buying Kavitha expensive gifts. He seems to be totally smitten on her. But is it true love? But why would Kavitha take the risk of getting caught? How would her husband react if he comes to know of her betrayal? Questions keep mounting. But wait, all erstwhile doubts go for a toss when we realize that Kavitha had all along manipulated the millionaire with the knowledge of her husband to realize her husband’s ambitions of running a business in US. Taking advantage of the friend’s deadly infatuation, she had suggested him to give Rs 2 crore to her husband, the amount he would need to settle permanently in the States, so that they could start a new life together. And the rich friend almost falls in her smooth trap.
The femme fatale
Film: Pachaikili Muthucharam Director: Gautham Vasudev Menon
When we first chance upon Geetha, she seems to be a smart, intelligent and attractive woman. The middle-aged Venkat, with an ailing son and an exhausted wife, is on the verge of a critical mid-life crisis. When they meet on their way to work on a regular basis, they learn that they share a lot in common (like borderline stressful relationships). An inevitable bond takes root. Initially, it seems like Geetha has her share of personal issues and comes across as equally reluctant to get into another relationship. He talks… she listens. He confides… she comforts. But slowly, we see the lengths Geetha would go to find some private moments with Venkat. By the time she hesitantly suggests a day in a hotel room, it doesn’t seem like just carnal desires anymore. What we seem to witness is more of an intimate expression of mutual empathy. Destiny here seems to interfere. A knock prompts Venkat to open the room door. A goon barges in, beats Venkat up and robs the couple. He also rapes Geetha at gun point. But wait; before we could get our thoughts straight, the tables are turned at this point, audaciously. We learn that Geetha is much more sinister than what she projects of her – an intense combination of vice and seductiveness – and that she had framed Venkat for the money. Deception at its charming best!
The cold-blooded avenger
Film: Yuddham Sei Director: Mysskin
Dr. Purushotaman, a cardiac surgeon, and Dr. Annapoorni Purushotaman, a professor, are a happy family with two teenage kids. One fine day, out of the blue, an inappropriate sexual advance is lodged against Annapoorni. Her straightforward husband is arrested on charges of bribery. Their missing daughter is alleged to have eloped with her boyfriend. What would we expect from such a family in our cinemas? Yes, they commit suicide. Meanwhile, we are given a peek into some insane coldness in the form of maiming and display of several severed arms in the city. Is there a connection between these two events? Our jaws drop when we learn that the calm Annapoorni and her husband had faked their own suicide and literally forced themselves into isolation and brutal vengeance, when their only daughter had taken her life after being forced into a peep show and raped. Realizing the dangerous repercussions, Annapoorni finds herself going on a killing spree on the people responsible for her daughter’s predicament. In a gruesome spectacle, she, a learned mother of two, almost tears up one of the accused into shreds with a sharp surgical knife. Shocking would be a euphemism.
The psychotic captor
Film: Julie Ganapathy Director: Balu Mahendra
The middle-aged Julie lives alone in a hill-bungalow, tending to her own needs. With lots of time to kill, she spends most of her days watching television soaps. Over the years, she comes to identify herself obsessively with the main character of a popular TV show. On witnessing an accident on the hills, one day, she rescues the lone driver and brings him home. We expect her to call someone for help. But instead, she goes on a horrifying spree of emotionally instability. That’s when we realize that she had identified him as Bala, the author of her frenzied TV series. Getting delirious about the fate of the lead character in the show, she pleads Bala for a glimpse of the subsequent episodes. But, it doesn’t end there. On learning about the lead character’s imminent death, she manipulates him to re-write the ending. Bala is caught unaware, as all hell starts breaking loose. When he attempts an escape once, Julie secures him to the bed. We know that she is hysterical, but how crazy can she go? In a stomach-churning sequence, she murders the investigating officer visiting her house, and then suggests killing each other to Bala. Insane stuff!
The resolute fighter
Film: Kannathil Muthamittaal Director: Mani Ratnam
The setting is a rustic village in Sri Lanka. Shyamala gets married to Dileepan, a soldier in the Tamil Tigers separatist movement. When their home gets attacked soon after by the Srilankan army troops, they both part ways. Shyama, realizing that she is pregnant, waits in vain for her husband’s return. But the villagers convince her to seek refuge on one of the boats to Rameshwaram for the sake of her unborn child. She later learns that Dhileepan had suffered bullet wounds during a gun fight. She gives birth to a baby girl in Rameshwaram, whom she leaves behind to return to her land in hopes of possibly finding her wounded husband. Nine years later, when Shyama is called by an unknown couple with the news that they have brought her daughter from India, conflicting emotions strike with vengeance. She reaches the spot to meet a confused little girl hiding behind her foster mother. What could be running in Shyama’s mind now? Elation on seeing the child, she had once deserted? Or gnawing guilt over her irresponsible action? As the little girl reads out a series of questions she had dutifully scribbled in her scrapbook, Shyama finds it tough to find words. We expect her to hug her child and cry her heart out. We anticipate the stretch where she offers to be with her for a few weeks. But they don’t happen. Declaring that her life had always been dedicated for the people of her country, she gets up and leaves, without looking back.
The girl with a guard
Film: Mozhi Director: Radha Mohan
When Karthik first chances upon Archana in the streets, it’s literally admiration at first sight, as he watches her voicing out for justice. Its only later does he learn that Archana, who has an aversion for relationships after her parent’s marriage collapsed, is actually deaf-mute. Karthik however gets introduced to her and attempts to strike up a friendship. Things go well, until he decides to learn sign language with plans of communicating with Archana. All excited about it, he tells her that he could now hear her voice clearly – the voice he had so far only imagined in his mind. Any other girl in this situation would have probably blushed like crazy, totally floored by such sweet words. But Archana is not any other girl. She is terribly pissed off that Karthik is trying to compensate for her disability. “If you have to imagine my voice every time you speak to me, you might as well not talk to me at all!” she walks away. The belligerent attitude is conspicuous. She wants people to accept her as she is. Adjustments and compassion just won’t do. She is bold and independent. But she is not flawless. Her obstinate nature and her troublesome ‘commitment’ issues make her a tough candidate to connect with. But that’s just her. One of a kind.
The practical pragmatist
Film: Kallappadam Director: Vadivel
Leena was once a busy actress. But now, with no offers coming her way, she is forced to take financial support from one of her producers, even with a hurt ego. The producer in turn demands a live-in relationship. We expect her to retaliate, but she stays in his home, with a faint hope that he would someday cast her in his next film. It seems to be an easy decision for her. When we see through the empty nature of the man’s promises, we expect her to leave in self-respect. But she still stays on, holding on to some strange hope. What kind of coward is she? Hell, is she planning something? Just when questions overflow, we almost do a double take as she reveals her plan to loot the producer along with her boyfriend. So, she did have a motive to put up with the abuses all along! But things don’t go according to plan, and another group escapes with the money. An investigation is set up, and while desperately trying to retrieve the cash, she is propositioned by an ogling cop. This is stretching it too far, we think. We expect her to walk off, but she doesn’t. She is not the type of girl who would recoil in shock. She wouldn’t plead in agony either. Knowing that it’s the only way ahead, she just concurs. No sweat. No drama. She needs to get her job done, at any cost.
The masked avenger
Film: Aayirathil Oruvan Director: Selvaraghavan
Anitha is introduced as an intelligence officer, who is assigned with the task of setting up a team to investigate the disappearance of a renowned archaeologist. The mission takes her on an adventurous journey to an island near Vietnam. Right from the start, she is projected as strong-minded, ruthless and determined; someone who has no qualms about flaunting her sexuality to earn what she rightfully deserves. Once she crosses all the obstacles along with her team, we get to see on-screen, what is perhaps, one of the best-con- jobs ever played on the unsuspecting audience. Anitha’s character, soon after intermission, metamorphoses into this savage and mysterious brute – a descendant of the Pandiya clan – something which could barely be guessed from her early characterization. As she counteracts the mysterious force that is thwarting her actions and proves her lineage by exposing her back to the mob of grisly, blood-curling barbarians, we are all eyes. Much of what happens from there, with Anitha unleashing her fiery avatar speaking chaste Tamil and ravenous for revenge, is the sort of stuff right out of surreal, fevered dreams.