Rahul's blog:
Catalyst Kumari
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23 November 2015

When our economy opened up in the early 90s it also brought with it many changes to our social fabric. So many products were being introduced that were alien to us.. Those that we seemingly had no use for in our daily lives. Advertising stepped in and started selling new lifestyles. Made the western way of life very desirable. And buying these brands and products became an expression of subscribing to this changing lifestyle.

The more concrete catalysts were creation of new jobs and a drastic change in corporate work culture that the multinationals brought with them. Suddenly, one strata of society, out of genuine need, began living lives that mirrored the western way of life. Away from home in a big city in search of better opportunities... Living alone and dealing with not having a family structure at home to take care of domestic needs etc. With this came a need to adapt to these changes and relook our cultural paradigm.

This strata was also beginning to gobble up Western cinema and TV shows for they began relating to them genuinely. Most notably, The global smash hit TV show 'Friends.' That certain strata began to not just relate with such content but also began to be influenced by them. That way of life was practical considering their new lifestyles. The whole paradigm of what was and not acceptable began shifting. Be it relationships between people of different sexes or socially acceptable behaviour.

This, however, was only one strata of society. The other classes saw no such need to change and were not exposed to these changes in the first place. The gulf between classes of the notion of acceptable behaviour began widening. Our own filmmakers began observing this gulf. Some understood it.. Some didn't. Some began making films with sensibilities that belonged to this side of the gulf and the majority with those of the other side. The very point of view was markedly different.

There was an uncomfortable social silence so to speak. It was reflected in our cinema. And then boom!

Around 15 years back, the majority began addressing this gulf. Filmmakers began making caricatures of this new lifestyle of the affluent class. Many realised it was an easy way to draw whistles and cheers from the crowd. The crowd that still loyally patronised Indian films. Then they went a step further. Women became a soft target. Men can usually get away with anything. Women have the pressure of being bearers of our culture. They have the added pressure of constantly being under the microscope.

No class was right or wrong. But there was palpable friction because of the alien cultural influences. Women of the more 'yuppie' strata began to get brutally stereotyped and flogged with morality in our movies. The whistles grew louder and the claps more thundering in cinema halls. Filmmakers grew more scathing in their attack. Audiences that were earlier just silently observing this class with amusement and confusion from a distance were being fed these stereotypes. They internalised it and began forming easy opinions.

'Modern' clothes became a symbol of a decadent and debauched lifestyle. The hero by the end had to humiliate the heroine and make her change her ways. Nah.. 'Mend' her ways. The whistles grew louder still. Around the early 2000s.. Along came a film in Tamil, and many other similar films in various languages, that took it to the extremes. It espoused that such women are abominable creatures of zero morality that will ruin your lives. The hero would sexually use such women and murder them. Audiences weren't just whistling anymore. They began aping. It seemed perfectly justified to harass and eve tease women who wore a certain kind of clothes. Not just justified, but heroic and manly. One was mending them after all like the hero in the film they had watched that Friday. And you know..such girls were 'asking for it.' Mutual hatred and disgust followed. Objectifying by then had become staple content in our films.

All this only because of a lack of understanding of each other. That people who subscribe to a very different lifestyle from us are human too. That each one of them is different from the other. That one must at least get to know a girl before confining them within brackets of stereotyping.

I would often encounter perfectly good natured men who wouldn't think twice about making a spiteful comment about 'such' women. These men wouldn't hurt a fly and would be most respectful towards the women they met in their lives. It was the films they watched that were talking, not them. I'd feel the urge to sit them down and point out that they were in the wrong. But I'd always be at a loss for words. Such notions couldn't be changed by a discussion. They had really taken root. The problem needed to be tackled with a tool far more powerful. Cinema.

This is why I was filled with an endless sense of joy and satisfaction when I walked out of Kumari 21 F.

This is not a problem that could be tackled by a film made with sensibilities on the other side of the gulf. It needed to be from this side. The makers employ the same tactics that have been drawing whistles for a decade and a half now. They speak the same language. The makers employ the same notions that its audiences have internalised. The hero is one the majority will relate to. The heroine is one the majority loves to chide. I was squirming 15 minutes into the film. It began by feeding all these stereotypes. And then bam! The makers turn these notions on their head and slam it on the audience's face. Not with violence.. But with affection and understanding. With a sincere intent to make them see the other side. I clapped when the titles began rolling. It was effortless genius.

What a telling title too. It all made sense in the end. Even the heroine's habit of evading questions about her with unrelated answers. Does Siddu really need to know anything more about Kumari other than her name, age and sex before getting to know her first hand? Why cloud your understanding of someone with notions? Get to know the real person. She doesn't need to spell out anything more than her name, age and sex. She wants him to discover everything else about her without prejudice.

The film also deals with other themes like trust and unconditional affection with so much élan and poignancy.

Raj Tarun is an actor with superb talent. He's a complete natural who understands the ethos of his character. My Ala Ela co-star Hebah was a revelation. Couldn't be happier for her. This is not just a great role but a memorable role that I believe will be a social catalyst. I hope it becomes fashionable to say "rei adi kuda ammayiye ra.. Mundu aa ammayi gurunchi telusuko" about a tank top clad girl after this movie. Kumari is a not just a new age Sita.. But one that makes many realise that a girl doesn't have to be a Sita. It's all about perspective. And Siddu gets to do something in the climax that even Lord Ram could not do back then. Hats off to Sukumar sir, the director and the whole team.

- Rahul Ravindran (Andala Rakshasi, Ala Ela and Tiger)

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