Tamil Features

Ms. En Scene: An Imaginary Conversation With Baradwaj Rangan’s Imaginary Conversation

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Ms. en Scene – where Ranjani Krishnakumar concedes that cinema is life. Opinions expressed are those of the contributor, and not those of the company or its employees. 

Editor’s note: You may want to read this for context Southern Lights: Baradwaj Rangan, Let’s Talk About Bias! – Film CompanionThis was Baradwaj Rangan’s response to the flak that his review of Kaala got online.

Because it is impossible to have a proper conversation in the real world, I have an imaginary tête-à-tête with Baradwaj Rangan, where I ask the questions and answer them as I imagine he would.

There may be spoilers ahead about old films that play every month on KTV and no one watches.

So, you are admitting that you are a misogynist?

Why don’t we call it tunnel vision-ism? Or what-I-don’t-see-isn’t-important-ism? Or, more succinctly, I-love-thayir-saadham-ism. After all, it is what we grow up with.

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In other words, it is steamed rice, plus curd, plus maanga thokku.

Fuck the philosophy… Do you admit that you are biased about Karthik Subbaraj and think he’s the feminist saviour Tamil cinema needs?

I tend to do that, don’t I? But that is because I believe that all films are part of a komanam. They hide as much as they reveal — and even if they don’t reveal much, we’ll know who has got the balls and who hasn’t.

Which is why my Magalir Mattum review brings up Karthik Subbaraj. So do my Joker review, Kaala review, and Diya review. Even my interview with Manikandan brings up… Oh wait, apparently Pizza has other meanings. Never mind!

But, there are many reviews that don’t bring up Karthik Subbaraj. For instance, my reviews of Kadal, or OK Kanmani or Kaattru Veliyidai. So, why pick on Karthik Subbaraj alone?

(scoffs) Are you saying no one else matches up?

As far as pure feminism goes, today, probably, not. What is feminism? To some, it is giving women their rightful equality and fair representation in society, and by extension all forms of art and commerce, including cinema.

My interest in Karthik Subbaraj has to do with my perception of feminism. That of making a man feel like how much ever he tries, patriarchy can’t be dismantled because other men — or most importantly, women themselves — don’t let that happen.

So, it is about how men feel? Not about women?

Well, for one, men are women. When a man makes a film, he conceives it (in fact, it is also often impregnated — remember komanam from earlier?), he nurtures and feeds it, carries it in his heart, and when he births it to the world, he undergoes great pain and joy!

Whoa, now you’ll say men understand female experiences!

True, not entirely, because of this niggling thing called reality, even though real-world experiences are exactly the same. For me, relatability is very important. A scale on which we measure, a language we speak in common, a misogynistic swear word that equalises us all.

This is the difference between the anxiety-inducing journey on a city bus and a comfortable ride in a valet-parked Jaguar. I would most certainly lean towards the latter.

Boss, that is sexism.

Yes, female boss. The point of this isn’t to say I am a true feminist. It is to say what I prefer. So, when I call Jyothika a pomeranian trying to be German shepherd (and delete it later), it is my utter pain at watching Jyothika. It is not unreasonable to expect that from the person who was spectacular in Jil Jung Juk, is it?

The last thing I want is for her to become like Hansika Motwani — my raisins aigres du jour.

I think part of the criticism comes from the fact that you expected a Karthik Subbaraj film in Magalir Mattum; say that if Karthik Subbaraj does it, it is ‘homage’, but if Bramma does it, it is a ‘series of placards’; take so much interest in male characters of “women-oriented” films, but believe carelessly treated female characters in “men-oriented films” as par for the course; snark at ‘you go, girl’-ness of women-driven films at every half-chance you get; write that Anushka Shetty’s statuesque presence does more for these parts than her performance; used the words ‘Kajal Aggarwal’ as an insult.

I acknowledged the komanam and where it comes from in a story about Karthik Subbaraj, which I am perpetually writing in my mind.

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Meanwhile, I will tell you about this mega serial called Vani Rani, which I hated. It is a huge hit and apparently it has been going on forever. I found out later that the huge following is for the relatability for the show among female audiences. This is not the first time I’ll be a misogynist, and this will not be the last time. There will always be a gender-al disconnect and you are welcome to point out. But these women have not chosen to be men, they have chosen to be women. So, you have to speak about their femaleness too.

So, people who want more sensitivity in your writing about women are wrong?

No. What they expect from me and what I expect from me are different. For me, Magalir Mattum should have been the story of one woman and her struggles, which are unresolvable. I wished Bala would lighten up before Naachiyaar, but he lightened too much — Jyothika also needed the tan that was meted out to G V Prakash. And come on, you get offended by my joke about Kajal Aggarwal’s voice? Man up!

While we can indulge in a few great off-hand bits, feminist discourse in Tamil cinema veers in too many directions… like Mercury, another conceptually terrific idea, but doesn’t measure up. While non-Tamilians may be surprised by these newly minted strong female characters, Tamil cinema has celebrated them from the divine times of Amman films. And these new films don’t make anything much different.

Amidst all this capital #A-R-T you are on about, can’t a director cheer for women?

People often ask me, you despise “you go, girl” movies, what is wrong with them? I am a film critic. For me, ‘you go, girl’ is a lazy story. Cheering her for her gender is also sexism, right?

On the other hand, Cheenu Mohan telling Anjali, “nee po ma” is auteur-y.

Why not the other way around? Why not expect better acting from Siddharth or more than merely good acting from Vijay Sethupathy?

I wish Siddharth nailed his role in Enakkul Oruvan. I wish Vijay Sethupathy lost weight for Vikram Vedha. I wish Kamal Haasan tweeted as eloquently as he directs films. But their testosterone transfers to me and I am able to live with their “flaws”.

So, how do you explain your love for Visu movies, while your least favourite Visu movie was Magalir Mattum?

No no, I meant that as a compliment in my review.

I see. So, you’re saying the best women-oriented film today is I…

Yes, Indiana Jones.

#okgoing

Unmistakable. Meticulous. Predominantly an essayist. Evolved from a marketer. Ranjani Krishnakumar eats Tamil films all day and fruits for breakfast. Roosts with pair in Chennai apartment. Usually found chasing Vitamin-D. Believes “Dei” or “Pch” is the answer to all questions. 

Twitter: @_tharkuri

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