Women becoming a prominent part of the Tamil film industry has been a long-overdue phenomenon. I say this because it’s 2023, and there are still movies with women as mere side characters that always have to be supportive of the male protagonists. Nevertheless, the characters given to Tamil women have improved, and here’s why.
Tamil movies are a staple in my family, so I’ve been watching them for almost all of my life. However, before I dig into specific movies, there is one aspect of the Tamil film industry that I’d like to address: title names. Many of the most famous Tamil actors have title names. For example, Kamal Hassan is Ulaganayagn (Global Hero), Rajinikanth is Superstar, Ajith is Thala (as in like the head in a superior way), Vijay is Thalapathy (leader), and the list goes on. These are all names that resonate within Tamil Nadu, making all these actors widely known and loved.
What about the actresses? Where are their title names? Spoiler alert: There really are none. I mean, audiences have tried giving a few actresses their own titles, but no one remembers them as strongly as they do the ones of actors. Title names for actresses are even more nonexistent in other Indian film industries.
I want to say that Nayanthara, a predominantly Tamil actress, being called Lady Superstar is a step forward, but it's just a derivative of Rajinikanth’s Superstar. Right now you’re probably wondering, “What is she even saying? Isn’t this post about women getting better opportunities now?” Yes, you’re right. It is about women getting better opportunities for movie roles, but I believe that the lack of powerful titles for women still shows the inequality that exists in the industry.
Now let's discuss the movies. One of the earliest movies that I watched, which made me contemplate the role of women, was Pokkiri (Rowdy/Thug). I’m fully aware that there are so many other movies that came before, but thinking about it in today’s world, Pokkiri resonates with me the most for the issue at hand. This movie features Vijay as the male lead (Yes, the same Thalapathy I talked about earlier!) and Asin as the female lead, although calling her a lead would be a joke considering how short her screen time was.
I want to make something clear right here. I loved this movie, and the male lead, Vijay, is one of my favorite actors. What I do not love is the lack of character given to Asin, an incredibly talented actress with so much potential. Then again, are we really surprised about that? No, not really, because most of the movies I watched from the 90s and early 2000s were always focused on the man. There were a few movies that gave both leads an equal part, but for the most part, the male always had a slight edge over the female. I could keep listing movies like Pokkiri, but there are more important tasks at hand, such as the transition into female-oriented films.
I believe that the first movie I watched where I was 100% satisfied with the female representation was 36 Vayadhinile (At the Age of 36), featuring Jyothika, a well-renowned Tamil actress, as the protagonist. The movie is about a woman finding her true self after facing the struggles of patriarchy in society.
It makes me so happy to think that a movie was finally made addressing such a crucial issue existing in Tamil Nadu and all around the world. It was specifically meaningful to me because, thinking about it now, I am starting to realize just how important that movie would have been to Tamil women and young girls in 2015. After watching movies glorifying men for their courage, while portraying women as arm candy time and time again, 36 Vayadhinile was like a catalyst for hope.
Many more actresses have helped young women like myself gain confidence and motivation. For example, Trisha, Aishwarya Rajesh, Samantha, Aishwarya Rai, and the list could keep going. I’m also proud to say that Tamil Nadu is home to Sudha Kongara Prasad, one of the very few female movie directors. Her movie Soorarai Potru received many accolades, proving that, yes, women can do just as much as men, if not more.
There are so many leading women in the Tamil film industry that I could talk about, but I’ll save that for another time. What I want you to take away from this post is that although there are still Tamil movies with females playing insignificant roles, the growing number of female-centric movies encourage the younger generation of women to fight until we get what’s ours.
Deerga Ramu, Centerton, 10th Grade, Instagram - @deerga_r
“Pokkiri.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 12 Jan. 2007, www.imdb.com/title/tt1451409/.
“36 Vayadhinile.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 15 May 2015, www.imdb.com/title/tt4684258/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0_tt_6_nm_0_q_36%2520va.
“Soorarai Pottru.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 12 Nov. 2020, www.imdb.com/title/tt10189514/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0_tt_7_nm_1_q_soorarai.
Poorvaja, S. “The Rise of the Female Star: Women in Kollywood in the Last Decade.” The Hindu, 24 Dec. 2019, www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/the-rise-of-the-female-star-women-in-kollywood-in-the-last-decade/article30377906.ece.