Consider the following story.
A beautiful lady has had deep passionate interest in dance right from when she began walking. She is about 30 year old and has been married to a sweet compassionate man(aged 35) for the past 8 years. Theirs was an arranged marriage. He is a Chartered Accountant and not somebody who is really into the Arts. He has a knack for the culinary skills, especially exotic milk sweets. He indulges in it as a weekend hobby. Our heroine does not relish his dishes for weight maintenance reasons.
She is a sort of pedant when it comes to the dances and is mostly into the Indian Classical Dances. You can also say that she is quite partial to Barathanatyam. Her skill in her chosen art is positively legendary. Enter an energetic dude who is about 28 years and is a dance teacher in an elementary school. He challenges her pedantic outlook and argues about the story telling and fluidity that is available in Ballet and the richness of folk dances across the globe. He convinces her that she can grow in her own skill by learning a bit more of the European Dance forms. She admires him for he is so well-learned that he can have any extent of fame, and that he only wants to teach children and be be taught by children. She also begins to admire him physically as he is a dancer and very much in shape. Soon she gets obsessed with him and finally admits his feelings for him. An affair ensues.
Now Question Time. How much do you think that the three parties of this story be blamed for this affair? Woman vs Husband vs Lover, whose fault is it?
I think it is a fairly straightforward story. The fault should be placed predominantly on the woman and to a lesser extent on the loverboy. But what about the husband? Is he to be blamed too? I am sure that the very idea sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? But this is what happens when the tables are turned. This story is (if you have not guessed it already) the ulta of Sindhu Bairavi. The dancer is JKB, the Chartered Accountant Husband is Bairavi and the Dance Teacher is Sindhu. The truth is, people do place a certain extent of blame on Bairavi for not satisfying JKB’s intellectual needs(whatever that may be). Ok, it may not be as much as we blame Sindhu herself, but a little. You can think of other stories like Chinna Veedu or Sathi Leelavathy too were the weight-problems of the Wife is seen as the reason why the Husband strays.
My question is basically this. How much of this blame throwing comes from the movie/story/director and how much from the prejudices of the audience themselves? How much of what you see in a movie is actually coming from us, rather than from the screen?
26 thoughts on “The Dancer and her Muse”
yeah… and Bollywood took sathi leelavathy to another level altogether – with Karishma Kapoor turning from a demure home maker into this “hot chick” grooving to peppy songs, to get her husband Salman back (cringing even as I write this)
I am reminded of another movie – Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. AB Jr. is not necessarily a bad husband, but Rani simply cannot connect to him in that way at all. She leaves him for SRK, but I remember most people not liking the fact that she didn’t try enough to make the marriage work..
So my point, irrespective of who strays, somehow the onus always seems to be on the woman, isn’t? Of course this is no surprise considering this is exactly what the majority of the Indian society believes in.
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Woman vs Husband vs Lover, whose fault is it?
– No one actually. It is absolutely normal for any man or woman – who already have a partner – to get interested in another. This concept of one partner for the whole life is something practically impossible. Not for a normal man or woman, who are independant, intelligent and passionate about their body, mind and feelings (even among the weakest, there wont be a person who at least wont dream about another person while sleeping with the partner).
The only way, this can go exactly as it is – a pair who wont fall for another – is, if the pair is having absolutely brilliant sex life and general life. There is only a very small percentage of such couples.
This could also happen, like in many arranged marriages when a lesbian girl or a gay man is married to a straight or an asexual is married to a normal, provided these two realises, knowingly or unknowingly, that they can never be happy but feel forced to live out their fate, simply because they are too weak to walk out of the marriage because of all the issues around family and society.
Now please dont say that in India, and in some other communities, especially Asian, you have life long marriages and bla bla. In 99% of them, they remain couple just because of the patience and perseverance of the wife. Sure, there could be a very small number of men too, who just bear everything.
Indians movies can never be so bold enough to point the finger at anybody than the women, though. Our audience strongly believes in this Elizabethan culture, and movies are one reason which substantiates their belief in it and anything which is against, is considered immoral or not right. I still remember all the fuss about Sindhu Samaveli. So, our movie makers will be very careful to play against.
Rajesh, Thank you for your comment.
The topic here is more regarding the concept of the inequal blame-throwing game than anything else.
Surely Real Extramarital Affairs are a wider topic and each case maybe completely different from the other. That is the reason I gave a reasonably detailed story in the beginning. So you can decide based on these characters and decide where you place blame in this particular case.
I was reading today BR’s review of bajirao mastani and got reminded of this post.
I think Balachander does showcase the point that bairavi is not able to match upto his genius and hence his affair ( intellectual & physical). Opening scene …where she is asking “kilo enna velai”. Another scene is where JKB is listening to lata Mangeshkar and bairavi is grinding parupu podi. I don’t think its the audience perception alone. The only 2 things which bairavi lacks is musical knowledge and kid. Both of which sindu fulfills..
I do get the feeling that the extra marital affair is condoned because he is not able to have the kind of talks he has with sindu.
Also one thing which stuck out for me is that all people surrounding JKB try to pull him up for his drinking habit but when it comes to his affair everyone approaches sindhu and asks her to leave him . The dialogues suggest that she is to blame for the affair. But in your story ( if filmed ..,as many hits are being remade) the blame will undoubtedly lie still at the dancer’s door.
The reason i thought abt this post is that in bajirao mastani everyone is saying that mastani was so much like bajirao( a warrior ) ,which his wife is not, and so the justification for his love for mastani
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nithya: Thank you for revisiting this page. There is no question that KB does paint Bairavi as umm.. too boring for JKB. Please note the following quote from the old rediff page
Balachander wanted the same artistes to reprise their roles on television. Unfortunately, Sivakumar was committed to a daily soap. Suhasini was willing to play Sindhu but Balachander decided to have a different face — he felt if Suhasini played Sindhu, viewers would expect Sivakumar to play JKB. “You cannot separate JKB and Sindhu. Sir [Balachander] felt if we are going to have a different JKB, let’s have a different Sindhu too,” says Subha. – Link
KB refused to re-cast Suhasini in the role as people would expect Sivakumar in the role too. Then there is no problem in Sulakshana reprising the role? Why? Because she is a nobody. JKB and Sindhu are the pair. Bairavi is obviously the inconvience. So what you are saying is right. She is portrayed as completely without juice. A bore, a gnana sooniyam et al.
But here are the things I see in the movie.
1) The childlessness bothers Bairavi, not JKB. They have a reasonable regular sex-life and that much is mildly hinted upon. He does not seem too happy that she is doing a lot of vendudhals for this. But he does not interfere with it either. He knows that playing with children makes her forget everthing else. When he says that, we see JKB’s love for Bairavi. It is not unbridled passion. It is not maddening love. But it is love. The tame kind.
The doctor confirming that Bairavi can never have children stops Sindhu from aborting hers. But when Sindu gets pregnant, she is not thinking of all that. She got pregnant because of passion. It seems believable if not acceptable.
2) I believe we should take the angle of “Considering this is a movie about an extra-marital affair, has the writer/director done justice to all three characterisations?” Rather than, “Is it fair to have affairs?” I can believe Bairavi exists. I know women who would react exactly like she does to the various situations that she faces. She is real. That is what I look for in movies.
3) Does the movie condone it? Well the movie does acknowledge that Sindhu is the soul-mate. That is for sure. But seeing it along with “Pudhu pudhu arthangal” I should say that KB’s angle was, “If you meet your soulmate after your marriage, have the courage to say that my marriage vows keeps me away from my soulmate.” That angle sounds alright to me rather than the “All women other than your sweet wife is out to get your money” angle that most directors like Bakyiraj are known to employ. Lots of different reasons make people stray. Nothing wrong in a movie checking out one of these angles.
4) Also one thing which stuck out for me is that all people surrounding JKB try to pull him up for his drinking habit but when it comes to his affair everyone approaches sindhu and asks her to leave him . The dialogues suggest that she is to blame for the affair. But that is how they do it in real life too. I saw that section as “After Sindhu and JKB start spending time with each other, the whole society turns against her. Even her mother turns hostile”. If I am not wrong, Delhi Ganesh does confront JKB after pretending to intoxicate himself. So people turning against Sindu and blaming her is the right direction for the movie to take to make it exactly as in the real world. That is how good story telling feels like.
5) I think Balachander does showcase the point that bairavi is not able to match upto his genius and hence his affair. So what happens if she does? What if JKB and Sindu are married? What if there is no paruppu podi to eat on his journey but enough talk about Lata Mangeskar’s songs? Would JKB not stray? Trust me, it is possible to write an equally convincing movie with the “My wife never gave me paruppu podi, but the servant girl did and so I had an affair” angle. That angle is covered in the movie “Oru Veedu Iru Vasal”. What if Bairavi becomes even more popular than JKB after their marriage? Will that sit well with him? I don’t think what happens is because Bairavi is not well versed in Raagas. Athu ellam excuse. Avalo thaan. But within the universe it is situated, it is a belivable excuse.
6) bajirao mastani is one huge closed book to me. I am skimming the comments but I can not say I understand much there.
7) But in your story, if filmed, the blame will undoubtedly lie still at the dancer’s door Undoubtedly. Irrespective of what angle the movie itself takes, we react with anger towards the women involved as if men have no say in it. I see it happening all the time. I see that even casual flirtatious non-affairs. Everyone blames the lady.
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” angle is covered in the movie “Oru Veedu Iru Vasal”. What if Bairavi becomes even more popular than JKB after their marriage? Will that sit well with him? I don’t think what happens is because Bairavi is not well versed in Raagas. Athu ellam excuse. Avalo thaan. But within the universe it is situated, it is a belivable excuse.”
i agree . Though not in this topic, would love you to review oru veedu iru vasal” and “kalyana agathigal” at some future date.
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Sure. Reviewing KB movies one at a time is very much in my to do list.
I did watch a couple of his movies but yet to review them.
* What if Bairavi becomes even more popular than JKB after their marriage? Will that sit well with him? *
Rahini, thats exactly the story of Amitabh -jaya starrer Abhimaan. have you watched it?
And reg:the sexual politics detailed in the film, i thought it was pretty even.it is one of those rare films that treat both the wife and the mistress\muse with equal dignity. KB is such a sensitive feminist director, i dont think he is capable of putting across a cliched caricatured version of man -woman relationship.its just that all the 3 characters in the film are flawed, i dont think he pins the blame on any one of the characters on what happens.. And KB does not judge anybody imo, it is just the characters in the film do. but his pov as a filmmaker is unbiased.whether its about the purity of a marriage or the dignity in the extramarital relationship that an artist has with his muse.
MANK: I just read the synopsis on Wiki and yes it sounds pretty much the same story. I felt that the movie Aashiqui 2 handled something similar and I liked the way it was handled there. Men not being about to accept relatively successful women, especially in their own field is a sick trend. I did have a post specifically on that topic. However, I don’t know exactly were to start. 🙂
And Sindu Bairavi, yes. It is a phenomenally good movie IMO. It handles Sindhu’s hero worship towards a Karnatic Musician and Bairavi’s relative helplessness wonderfully. I never felt Bairavi was THAT dumbed down. She is not that into music, many people aren’t. All this learning music to keep the husband faithful and losing weight or glaming up to keep the husband interested does not work. It is his business to handle his temptations and opportunities.
And the thing is, that is handled well in that movie too. He tries to beat temptation. He is no rake eager to have one affair after another. He does have scruples and things just go out of hand.
Marupadiyum/Arth was pretty good in that aspect too. Rohini maybe selfish but not shallow. She feels guilty, feels insecure and has a turbulent life herself. It is supposedly a real story. It surely feels real.
And sorry I had not replied to the slap thread comment properly. I will do it today. I somehow missed it.
Rahini, Marupadiyum/Arth is a real story. it was director mahesh Bhatt’s extra marital relationship with actrees parveen babi who was a schizophrenic character in real life. have you seen the hindi version. Both shabhana azmi and smitha patil gave knockout performances, much better than revathi and rohini IMO
And reg:I never felt Bairavi was THAT dumbed down
yes , just watch the character in the climax, she takes the initiative to get the other women married to the husband. well the entire climax belong to both the women while sivakumar just sit there inactive, usually its the man who does the choosing or worse one of the women would die. KB does not go for any such cliches.. i liked both the character and the performance of sulakshana there, the way she leaves the child and then picks it up as cant bear it crying anymore.of course suhasini gives the tour de force performance of the film, but again thats expected of her.i wonder is there any other actress who could have pulled of the role of sindhu with such class.
Hi Rahini, continuing from the Iraivi thread on BR’s blog…I remember reading this post by you before and thinking to myself “If one wrote a synopsis of Sindhu Bairavi, it sure comes off as very patriarchal”.
Now, I think there’s an interesting parallel between SB & Iraivi in fact – where the cinematic genius of the male protagonist is taken to be an excuse for his ‘eccentricities’, which may include not treating his wife with the respect a partner-in-life deserves. I don’t agree that JKB not ‘interfering’ with Bairavi’s venduthal indicates his quiet love for her. It certainly depicts a reality where men in Tamil brahmin households stay outside matters of reproduction, childcare, food and even religion because that’s considered to be ‘pombalainga samacharam’. Mind you, if the women didn’t care about these things, then the men would care very much. Imagine a situation where Bairavi is unconcerned about their childlessness and is not so attached to children, that she may even be secretly happy that they don’t have to raise a child. Would JKB ‘indulge’ her then? Maybe she just enjoys making paruppu podi. I can only think of English Vinglish which touched upon this a little bit – Sashi loves her children, but also takes the opportunity to break free of them for a while.
Iraivi’s Yazhini does understand films, in fact, and there’s a hint that that’s why she married Arul, the filmmaker. But, when Arul makes a plea with her later on why he is unable to get over his ‘canned’ film, he gives the analogy ‘How would you feel if I asked you to have another baby when you were still pregnant with the first one?’. As if, reproduction is the only activity that women understand, at least if they happen to be married and took care of the practicalities of everyday living. Unlike JKB, Arul is madly in love with his wife – it almost never occurred to him that their relationship does need him to treat her as more than just an indulgence, his love for her notwithstanding. ‘Love’ is not the same as treating someone as a partner, an equal partner at that – and that’s the subject for a discussion on gender. Whether a man loves a woman is irrelevant there.
Bairavi may be a sensitively handled character, but KB must know his audience – because she is often just an adorable dunce in their eyes, and JKB’s as well. And here, I think we cannot separate audience reaction and filmmaker’s intention. They are mutually constituted. Otherwise we could keep playing this chicken & egg game of ‘oh, the film only shoes what audience wants, the audience need to change their expectations for the filmmakers to respond’ or ‘societal reality has to change for the filmmaker to depict it’. We need to recognise that in Tamil cinema, the hero if often a deified character, a musical genius definitely so. So, filmmakers have to be sensitive to that as well the reality. All of this is not to say that Sindhu Bairavi should have been done differently, but only to point out that if Bairavi is shown as a mildly amusing housewife, then it is only to be expected that she will be less respected in the audience eyes than JKB or even Sindhu.
Although Leela of Sathi Leelavathy also falls in this ‘mildly amusing’ category initially, her resolve to fight back – her ‘sathi’ – showed being fat is not going to make her less deserving of respect. Her effort at ‘glamming up’ and failing were also done in such a way, imo, that you immediately realise how absurd it is to blame her figure for Arun’s cheating. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that Arun is not an artistic genius. It is also interesting that Pazhani is unlettered and knows nothing about her husband’s medical profession. But, Sakthivel is the guy who is ‘vala surutittu pondatti pinnadi poravan’.
Priya is also an interesting character – why does she continue to sleep with Arun even after she finds out he is married and has two kids? She knows he is an old man, then, as well. Is she only a gold-digger? Sure, she gets back together with her boyfriend when she feels vulnerable at the end. But, her repentance isn’t overdone – which gives me the hope that the character would probably dump him to find her moneyed man and be smart enuf to find one who isn’t already married this time around.
Typed in a rather long comment here – either it is still under moderation; or lost in the ether 😦
Neena: retrieved it from spam.
This is one terrific comment. I only hope to do justice in the reply.
Thanks 🙂 Look forward to reading that one…
Neena: I am not commenting on Iraivi for now. I do hope to see a good print and form good impressions sometime soon. But I could not really agree with “As if, reproduction is the only activity that women understand“. I say this as the metaphor he is using is meant more to depict how HE feels about his work, the gestation period and how it takes time and pain and not that SHE can’t understand stuff outside the womb. Of course, I am making that judgment based only on what is written on paper. It is possible to make it sound condescending on screen. I will start with Sindhu Bairavi now. But we can continue to discuss the tropes associated extra marital affairs after I write about Sathi Leelavathy.
I quite agree with “Love is not the same as treating someone as a partner, an equal partner at that.” and “it almost never occurred to him that their relationship does need him to treat her as more than just an indulgence” applies to JKB as well. JKB is a regular guy. He may be more successful than the guy next door and more famous than the men in our lives but for all that he is a regular guy. He treats his wife like most married men do after a few years of marriage. I am not justifying it. It just is the way it is in that household and it looks normal (for want of a better word). And this is the 80s. You have to cut a certain slack for old movies that you would not for newer ones.
And though I do agree that Tamil Cinema deifies its male protagonists by default, and that men who specialize in Carnatic music are deified even in real life, I would not think that Sindhu Bairavi deifies JKB. In fact, I should say it does the opposite. Both women deify him, the pakka vaathiyam people do, the society and sabha people do. But the movie is happy to kick him out of his smug pedestral. He is a man who is not above temptation and a man who is very much punished for his behavour.
And the worst thing JFB does is not cheat on his wife, or spoil Sindhu’s ‘reputation’ and make her seem a home-wrecker. Those things do happen. But his worst behavior is his chauvinistic, high and mighty attitude towards a socialite- the one who eventually makes him sing “thanni thotti thedi vantha”. She drank, yes. She flirted about Carnatic music with a man whose religion was Carnatic music, true. But a man who treats a socialite like that deserves to sing “thanni thotti thedi vantha” for her eventually and you can quote me as having said so. 🙂
People who live in patriarchal societies will more often than not have patriarchal notions. So I do recognize that JKB would not have ‘accepted’ Bairavi if she was a free spirited woman who did not abide by the rules of patriarchy. But then why do we want to be JKB to be that guy? I think our protagonists should have flaws that make them relatable and JKB does. He is no hero. I don’t think he is meant to be one.
Bairavi is more than just an adorable dunce. She is a stand in for narrow minded people who formed JKB’s friends and family until then. It is not just the point of her not knowing the difference between a couple of raagas. She does not know the significance of the paasi maala that an old fisherman gives JKB. She can only think of one thing about Lata Mangeshkar, that Lata is unmarried. I recently met a Bairavi. A person who cannot go beyond when women got married. Let me tell you that if I were married to Bairavi, I would be drowning myself with music or more too. This does not mean that she deserves to be cheated upon or that she should be something that she is not. It is just that such women can be exasperating if you don’t share their enthusiasm about the importance of marriage or children.
And most of what we can say about Bairavi is going to be extrapolation anyway. She does not exist much in that 2:30 hrs that we are given. She exists so that JKB can be a married man, thereby rendering his relationship with . She is innocent as JKB can feel guilty about cheating on her. She is vulnerable so he can come back to her after her suicide attempt.
She exists as a character only when she goes and fetches Sindhu back and when she makes peace with her not being her own spouse’s soulmate. Now this is where the real patriarchy of the movie sets in. Bairavi wants to get the love birds married and see them happy. What makes Bairavi a ‘character’ sounds like a male fantasy trope – a wife who invites the ‘other woman’ over. It is not a typical “Engirunthalum vaazhga”, it is an “Ingiruthea vaazhga”.
Our reaction to this part of the movie depends on our attitude towards marriage and relationships in general. You can well say that she is assertive now and she calls the shots. But her decisions make her a martyr of sorts. If Bairavi had a unique and loving sisterly relationship with Sindhu already, I would be more than just ok with this. Even if they didn’t have common topics in the first half of the movie, it is ok. But even during the whole de-addiction game that Sindhu plays, Bairavi does not improve her relationship with Sindhu on a person-to-person basis. They remain women who share a man, but not a single common topic.
And, why is keeping a bottle of booze and the girl he has the hots for in his vicinity going to help JKB get de-addicted with either anyway? Bairavi brings the girl in and Sindhu brings in the booze. So both de-addictions happen and everyone is happy. –Head to Desk– Itha pathi solla vera onnum illa.
…Give me some time for this…
Hmm…that is a new light to see Bairavi in. I don’t remember exactly how the character was played. In fact, it’s been so long that I forgot about the socialite plot! The paradox of a patriarchal marriage is that if the woman is too smart, then the man looks for someone to make him paruppu podi – as you rightly pointed out happens in Oru Veedu, Iru Vaasal. If the woman is so schooled in marital traditions that she sees herself and every other woman only through the lens of marriage, then she is too boring. That’s how our long tradition of courtesans and devadasis came about. Never mind that the wives were boring because that’s what they were expected to be.
That is to say that Bairavi is a natural character and doesn’t need a justification – and JKB straying also fits the movie’s plot and the period and setting it is made in. My point was only that, given this real and cinematic history, it is only to be expected that the audience justify JKB’s actions and blame Bairavi for his straying.
Don’t worry about taking time – in fact, I stopped commenting on blogs & social media coz I thought I was getting too involved with that and spending too much of time there. Already I’m thinking, I should go slow on the commenting again!
Extremely time consuming, is it not? I have a thousand things I would write about if only it didn’t take so much time to make these posts. I think the other parts of the comments should be up within a week. If at all, I take longer than that, I will make it a point to drop in a mail. 🙂
Never mind that the wives were boring because that’s what they were expected to be.
I know, right? It is like “You did your job well, no bugs, on time delivery, happy team mates, happy customer… Naturally, you are fired”.
What I like about Marupadiyum, Sathi Leelavathy and Sindhu Bairavi (in that order) is that they highlight how complex emotions are. So much to dig in, such varied reactions.
I’m not sure I buy the ‘he would’ve cheated no matter which one he was with’ argument. Not that I think it is implausible (I would’ve made the same guess, to be honest), but that we bring into that hypothetical discussion our ideas of what a generic man would do there, not necessarily what JKB would do. (I’m tempted to start talking about the Bayes theorem here, but let’s not go there 😀)
Here’s another hypothetical I’ve wondered about. Would the film have made a stronger statement if Bairavi had walked away from the marriage, rather than Sindhu? In some ways, arranging to get Sindhu back into her husband’s life is her first proactive move. Would her walking away have completed her character arc? As it stands, she gets what she started off wanting (domesticity, husband, child), but not necessarily through her own actions.
Ramsu: I was actually going more for the point that a woman can not stop a philandering husband by polishing herself either physically or intellectually. Even if Bairavi covers a few bases in Carnatic music and can make reasonably intelligent conversation, Sindhu will come along and be better as Sindhu has REAL interest in music. Certain things can not be faked. And we can’t deny that certain other points cannot be altered at all. Sindhu is an orphan and a completely self made woman and will be different from Bairavi who led a more sheltered, pampered life. If she had a narrower view of life, it is because she was exposed to a narrower slice of life.
And also, I am saying that if fate dealt with Sindu as first wife of JKB already, he would not have been a happier man. Bairavi keeps an impeccable house. Sindu doesn’t. Her saree blouses are strewn on the furniture. The house is full of books. It is easy to lust after Sindu whilst sitting on Bairavi’s bed. But if Sindu’s bed was the official bed, it is entirely possible to tire of that too. And if Sindu becomes more popular in, say folk music and all the channels want her as a judge on their talent shows, I can imagine JKB grudging her her popularity. And though I am extrapolating, you can see that I am keeping within the available character sketches. Is it possible that they have a relationship similar to the one in Aashiqui 2? Maybe, but I we intend to keep within character here and this is how I can picture JKB.
And I am saying that it would not have been an awesome soul-mate relationship, not that he would have actively seeked out a Bairavi-type woman. Some men seek temptation, temptation seeks some men. JKB is the second sort and he didn’t give in immediately as a lot of other men would have. You HAVE to give him that.
Ramsu: Would the movie have made a stronger statement if Bairavi had moved out? If the movie had had Bairavi as the protagonist a la Marupadiyum, then yes. Unlike real life, where everyone is their own protagonist and so everything makes sense, fiction is complicated. We have shown a domestic goddess. We are showing her walk away. Where to? Back to her parents? To a ladies hostel? Is she going to receive alimony? No? What about fulfilment? Who is Bairavi? What is going to be Bairavi’s passion after her domestic goddess status is stripped down. how does the society treat her after this? Does she have friends? All this can’t be fit into a 20 min climax. If a writer tries this, he starts to look like a prick. I don’t think it would have worked here.
But it is possible to make a movie about this separately. That is exactly what Marupadiyum is. Domestic Goddess finds a job and sets the guy free to marry the mistress who is an actress.
Wow! I would watch that movie about Bairavi 🙂 Not directed KB style, but maybe by the realistic sensibilities of present day filmmakers. I think that’s what KB tries to portray with the Simran character in Parthale Paravasam – what happens when she walks out of a marriage – but that so didn’t work.
We don’t know enough to tell how much he values the different things these two women are good at. There’s just enough to say that he is used to one life, and those are the cards he’s been dealt. That’s probably the only gap in the argument: it’s hard to say that he wouldn’t have been a happier man or that he would, based on the available data.
That being said, I find myself agreeing with your assessment that he didn’t jump into this right away, and with some of your other speculations. His initial reaction to her performance is actually one of annoyance and grudging respect, so the Abhimaan/A Star is Born scenario might well have been replayed. The Aashiqui 2 scenario probably requires a slightly different mental make-up.
I thought about the walkout scenario some more and here’s what I came up with. True, if Bairavi had walked out, it would’ve become the focal point of the story. One would’ve asked what she would do next, or how others would’ve reacted. She doesn’t know either, but it boils down to: is she a strong enough character to have walked out without knowing what would happen to her?
From a scriptwriting standpoint, I guess that boils down to three choices:
a) Show what happens to her next (a la Marupadiyum), so the movie basically has to change tracks from there on. (But I wonder: When Revathy walks out in Marupadiyum in the beginning, she doesn’t know what would happen. Had she had a much rougher time or it after that, or a much easier time of it, would we have viewed her differently?)
b) Simply end with her decision to walk out, like with many Bharathiraja movies, were a meek, conformist character finally summons up the gumption to say, enough is enough. But to do that, the focus of the story itself has to be her struggle to come to terms with his infidelity, and her decision to walk out. Only then would it seem plausible that someone like Bairavi would actually walk out.
c) What KB actually wrote.
I guess the reason why we like Sindhu Bairavi is that it finds a way to make option c work on screen.
Neena: Siragugal starring Radhika was that story. Almost. Two daughters. Husband dumps his family. They live in America. She becomes a cook, I think. Vikram is a platonic friend and someone who wants to marry her, but she refuses. It was a good but predictable movie and I don’t remember much about it. Marubadiyum was surely more nuanced.
Ramsu: The final scene of Pudumai Penn does have Revathy walk out of the marriage and into the streets and does not go into what Revathy intended to do after that. It had a slightly more school-play-ish feel in my opinion. The focus is on her final speech of independence, not the reality of what comes next. It is sort of similar to showing the love birds run away from the chasing villagers. I could not completely get over the “What next?” But it depends on the tone of the movie.
Also, it works only if the mistress dumps the guy a la Marupadiyum. If not, it will not FEEL right, no? If JKB and Sindu do get together, Bairavi being alone AND with no significant relationship for herself (whether with a guy or not) would make me feel as if some real injustice was done. That is the thing about movies. They have these climaxes and the climaxes should pack a punch. In real life, I am fine with Bairavi starting it anew. Maybe a good “10 years later” epilogue will do. But which angle is good for Bairavi? Slowly finding a guy who really and truly finds her interesting? or her being a teacher of students in the slums? Actually, IMO, it should be a combination of both.
I kind of hate it that loads of people think that Revathy turning down Aravind Swamy in Marubadiyum shows her strength. IMO, it shows that even educated people don’t REALLY like the idea of women getting a second shot at marital happiness. Siragugal was the same. One failed relationship does not mean that you do not deserve the simple pleasures of being in a relationship, no? But I do understand why Raaja’s introduction in Sathi leelavathy was too rushed. They wanted some thread to tie up the loose end and it shows. And again, it will make sense only if we SEE the story of Heera and Raaja after both their personalities are shown with plenty of shades. As of now, I hate it that people insult Raaja’s character by putting the word understanding inside double quotes and imply that he is a soft choice unworthy of Heera.
I don’t think it is necessary for the mistress to dump the guy, but I agree that the current script could not have ended with Bairavi walking out. For it to seem plausible, for us to root for her, she would have to have been pushed to the point where she is way too pissed to want to work it out. Right now, the film is relatively even handed in its treatment of the three characters.
I also thought the Pudhumai Penn ending felt amateurish in its execution, and for that matter, that has been the case with some other Bharathiraja films as well (his heroines have a very affected style that they grow out of later to become good actresses). But even then, it worked for me. It felt like the right decision, after all the crap she had to endure up until that point.
I guess it boils down to this: if you want people to focus on the decision, then you have to show how someone arrived at it. If you want them to focus on the consequence of the decision, then you have to show what happened next. As long as the film earns its ending, I don’t think open-ended endings are a problem.
Marupadiyum: I don’t think it’s a question of whether one thinks she’s entitled to marital happiness. Her line about having always had a surname (her dad’s, then her husband’s), and now shedding it, is probably the strongest one in the film. (Reminds me of an old feminist Telugu novel by Volga called Ayoni, actually — very molodramatic, but a good read nonetheless.) I don’t think she closes the door on a future relationship with him. She’s just gotten to the point where she doesn’t see it as an immediate necessity. The key isn’t what she decides, IMO, but her realization that it is her decision to make.
Sathi Leelavathy: I completely agree with you on this one, and the Raja subplot was especially lousy. Then again, it’s not like the writing had done the Heera character any favours to begin with. I found it to be a curious script: it’s like he wrote a reasonably good comedy with Kamal and Kovai Sarala and a bad drama with the other characters, and mixed them up with uneven results. Whenever the film focused on Kamal, it worked for me. Whenever it focused on Heera, it didn’t. The mixture felt inorganic. (In contrast, Rettai Vaal Kuruvi felt more consistent.)
Aside: While on SL, I remember a scene in its Hindi remake (Biwi No. 1, a very even film where practically nothing works) where Sushmita Sen (Heera) meets Karisma Kapoor (Kalpana). This is the standard wife-meets-mistress melodramatic setup, but it remains in memory for a curious reason: Sushmita always addresses Karisma with the word aap instead of tum. Somehow, it adds a dimension to the character that is unexpected.
ps: Given all of this discussion, maybe you should blog about Aval Appadithhaan sometime.
I think we agree broadly on how a woman whose husband has found another soul mate for whatever reason should just move on rather than continue to make weak attempts at impressing the guy. Her life can and should be more than what he was already providing.
And also, I think we agree that a person who has been cheated upon should neither rush into the next relationship without some time for closure nor close gates completely for good. A different relationship should be seen as a blank slate after a healing period.
That said, I think the minor differences we see in these individual stories that we have discussed is because of the slightly different angles at which we choose to shine the light. It also has to do with both of us discussing rather old movies. Very improbable that we saw ALL these movies very recently. Our take-away and the way we filed those info in our minds are bound to be different.
With Marupadiyum, the reason why I felt that the Aravind Swamy relationship is stopped mid-way is because if they wanted, they could have done away with his proposal completely. Or they could have shown him contemplating proposing to her and not show her decision and left it open-ended. This last scene almost seemed to REASSURE the audience that all is well and no second relationship happened. Also, it has to do with the reactions I see around me. Many are ‘relieved’ that Revathy didn’t accept the proposal. And the relief I sensed in real life people around me pissed me off and that colors my thought about that climax.
Many saw that the proposal should not have been there as it seems to ‘taint’ the relationship. Why is it seen as tainted when both are single? Aren’t platonic friends entitled to start a romantic relationship if the spirit moves them?
And I think we can agree that Chinna Veedu screwed things up big time. Fat shaming, the second woman being a manipulative bitch with no redeeming qualities at all, etc.
Also, I think they wanted to make Heera BOTH a gold digger AND to show her as a sympathetic character who only accepts Ramesh Aravind as she was under the assumption that he was single. They didn’t not think it out fully and and it shows. The balance between comedy and drama worked for me in Sathi Leelavathy for some reason though not COMPLETELY.
Yet to watch Aval Apadithan.
“Many saw that the proposal should not have been there as it seems to ‘taint’ the relationship. Why is it seen as tainted when both are single? Aren’t platonic friends entitled to start a romantic relationship if the spirit moves them?” – ah, this is a pet peeve of mine as I ended up falling in love with and marrying a high-school platonic friend. Many of our friends were shocked and found it unethical for some reason. And some uncle said smugly that he always knew that men & women can never be just good friends. Aaaaaarghhhh! But, maybe it is because of this taboo that we have over opposite sex relationships a la Sathyabama college rules that young people particularly try hard to prove that it doesn’t have to end in a sexual relationship?
Having said that, I’m not sure Marupadiyum can be read that way – it was also set at a time when Tamil movies routinely showed heroes ‘vaazhkai kuduthufying’ to women betrayed by other men or who were not virgin. So, it might be progressive to show that this woman didn’t need anyone – like Sujatha in Avargal. That’s what bothered me about the hurried closure of the Raja-Heera link in Sathileelevathy as well. But, I really liked the way the Heera character was handled until then – as just human, you know, and not a caricature of virtue or evil or sacrifice or pity.