A Loosu Ponnu is a stock character that seems to dominate the Indian movie scene. I was of the opinion that the incidence of Loosu Ponnu characters has increased in the past few years but some people claim that our heroines have always been considerably Loosu. Loosu Ponnu literally means “Crazy Girl” but this stock character is always hyperactive and seems to lack the brain cells to make any sane judgments whatsoever.
Let me list a few characters that seem to qualify and then we shall see what unifies them.
Savithri in Kai Koduttha Dheivam
Savithri in Kai Koduttha Dheivam The first example strangely does not glorify the Loosu Ponnu. It is dangerous to be a Loosu Ponnu and that is what the movie seems to highlight. She is described as “Paarvaiyilea Kumariyamma, Pazhakathilea Kuzhanthaiyamma, Aayirathil Orithiamma Nee”* and that is the absolute definition of a Loosu Ponnu. Their mental age is much lower than their real age. The story is as follows. Sivaji Ganesan and SSR are friends. There is a marriage proposal for Sivaji and SSR opposes it with all his might. The big reveal is that the bride Savitri has a reputation as a “Bad Girl”.
This in Indian Culture is euphemism for “Not a Virgin”. “Kicks puppies/kittens” or “Steals jewelry from friends” or “Does not pull strangers out of quicksand” are all acceptable actions in our culture. Not being a virgin or even having had a boyfriend is the greatest sin a woman can commit and this is what our “pure” Loosu Ponnu has a reputation for.
So how did such a pure girl come to have this reputation? Turns out she saw a man (M.R.Radha) attempting suicide. She stops him. He confesses to her that he feels this is a shorter route to die than die of hunger (as that is what he is undergoing at the moment). She offers him some money to have a meal. He glibly talks her into parting with her money every day. She thinks she is saving a life. However, his plan is sinister. He gradually starts taking money with an aura of entitlement. She does not see through it, she is too short-sighted and naïve to see his plan. He ensures that a few gossipy key characters see that she is jumping to his tunes and then one day approaches her with a proposal of marriage. If she does not marry him, he will spoil her Image. She says nobody will believe him as she is a nice person and the world happens to know this. He says (and it turns out he is right) that the world will prefer a dirty lie from a man than the truth from a woman. He proceeds to inform the aforementioned gossipy characters that she is of …mmm… bad character.
The story ends with her being shunned by one and all and finally she dies crying. There is some guff about SSR being her loving doting brother who hates her after her reputation is soiled. (Some brother.) I see this movie as a deconstruction of the Loosu Ponnu trope even before the trope became famous. Isn’t that weird? The movie is about how good sense and knowing what people are like is not optional for a woman, and how having childlike innocence just means you are the easiest picking for the creepiest of people around. And this holds true even if subsequent movies glorify the Loosu Ponnu.
Sridevi in Moondram Pirai
Balu Mahendra wanted to explore the child-woman. So before he proceeded to show her in sickening-sweet-baby-talking-hot-girl character, he gave her an appropriate bump in her head. Sridevi’s character during her sane times is subdued. You can see that in the song Vaanengum Thanga Vinmeengal. Also, this movie is not really a 2.5 hour excuse to make us see Sridevi acting like a baby. There is much more to this movie. However, that is beyond the scope of this post.
But this movie remains a prime example of a story of an elegant woman who is pretty much a child at heart for most of the movie. Also, the scene where she tells him that she was planning to run away from the brothel (while being clueless about what is going to do next or where she is going to go) is an extremely chilling reminder of how vulnerable child-women are to the whims of real adults.
Amala in Agni Natchathiram
I have often doubted whether Amala in Agni Natchathiram does indeed qualify as a Loosu Ponnu. I mean, she sticks a lighted cigarette in her jeans pocket and says things like “Oru Eli, Rendu Eli…Anjali” to introduce herself. Apart from a few niggles, she is alright. No?
I can’t think of an instance where she puts herself or anyone else in danger due to sheer brainlessness. I do not feel she exudes that all important vulnerability. With most Loosu Ponnus, we are not sure if they would have the sense to find their way back home when faced with a “Take Diversion” sign on the road. This cluelessness is missing in Amala.
Genelia in Santhosh Subramaniam
Somehow, Genelia is used as the most common example for this entire trope. Is it because her face seems to suit the character in an exceptional manner? When Genelia (character name: Hasini) wants to have ice cream in the middle of the night, she will summon Jayam Ravi with a mere “Accio Santhosh”, and he stands before her. Genelia believes that if you hit your head against someone else’s head, you must do it once more, else you risk sprouting horns. Hasini is the stuff of legends.
A quote from Baradwaj Rangan’s Review – “In Santhosh Subramaniam, Jayam Ravi gets his date with the stunt coordinator when his girlfriend Hasini (Genelia) is harassed at her college by a bunch of rowdy students. Had our hero simply charged at them and reduced them to a heap of bruised bodies, this bit wouldn’t have grated so, but what makes things worse is the subsequent revelation that these supposed bad elements are Hasini’s friends, who didn’t mean anything by their teasing. (This is clearly some kind of college that exists only in the fantasies of horny adolescent males, where it’s entirely appropriate to comment lewdly on the delectable proportions of women-friends’ physical assets.) “
Abithakuchalambal in Sethu
She believes you can make peacock feathers spawn by keeping them inside your notebook. Sethu the college rowdy instantly falls for her. Further explanation unnecessary.
The Prankster Variation
A Loosu Ponnu is different from a prankster even if she shares a few of her characteristics with the clear cut Loosus. The reason I don’t consider a prankster a Loosu-Proper is because they do their daredevilry deliberately.
Usually the story highlights that their family life isn’t all that it should be. Amala in Karpoora Mullai is a bastard child who has lived in hostels all her life. Revathy in Arangetra Velai is actually using a Loosu persona deliberately to con people. Nirosha’s parents in Agni Natcharthiram are divorced. I am not sure about Madhubala in Azhagan. Does she have some issues too?
The Fatal Disease Variation
One day my uncle walked into the room when I was watching a Loosu Ponnu movie. In a couple of minutes he said, “Wow, what positive girlish enthusiasm! I am sure she will kick the bucket by the climax of this story”. I said “WHAT!” and he said that these hyper-excited enthu-cutlets** always had a fatal disease tucked away somewhere. He was right. Nadhiya in Poove Poochoodava is not particularly Loosu and I am pretty sure that it is Revathy he was talking about. Fatal disease movies trended in the late eighties and my memory is not all it should be. Girija of Geethanjali who prances around in the rain when sporting a deadly disease qualifies (IMO).
The Ones Who Are Naïve But Not Loosu
Naivety is not the same as being a Loosu. I don’t think anyone is too confused about this. But I will cite a few examples to clarify my stance.
Suhasini as Arukaani in Gopurangal Saivathillai is a naïve village belle. Some of her actions earn the disgust and wrath of her husband. But his prejudices and beautism (rather than her craziness) are the reasons for him dumping her. Curiously, the naïve village belle character (that is, the Arukaani stereotype) is often used in television soaps and milked for drama. These characters often break all Loosu records previously set by movies. Arukaanis of the television world are known to wash their husbands’ laptops and dry them in the sun; their evil mothers-in-law are known to be able to talk them into this. Go figure.
Meena as Solaiyamma in En Rasavin Manasile looks like a frightened colt and her character is not developed beyond this for most of the movie. Considering that they marry her off to Rajkiran, I am not surprised she is so frightened. She may not be a strong pudhumai penn+ as envisioned by Barathiyaar, but the extent of her naivety is not for show. It is an integral part of the movie.
What about Heera in Thiruda Thiruda? I do not recall much about her character. Does she qualify?
Sridevi in Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari is a celestial being who does not know the ways of mortals. She acts clueless, and you would think she has every reason to act so. This conceit allows us to gape at Sridevi dressed up in the attire of Goddesses every so often, while also looking at her (almost permanent) vacuous, surprised expression. I have to admit that if there is one woman I am fine with being a Loosu, it is Sridevi. It is because she can turn around and look completely reassured and divine the next minute, and only some women can pull that off. The current breed of Loosu Ponnu cannot really achieve this.
My favorite example of Non-Loosu Naivety remains Sridevi as Mayilu in 16 Vayathinilea. She falls for a charming sweet talking doctor (veterinarian?), but she knows better than to let him take advantage of her. She is a naïve teenager who grows into a wise woman. It may seem that the movie punishes her for her initial choice, though that is just one way to look at this. It also explores the desire in a young teenaged girl.
Ditto Pagalil Oru Iravu. But, mmmmm, she just met the guy.
Examples From English Novels And Sitcoms
Please feel free to include examples from all languages and mediums. I shall stick to what I know.
The standard Mills and Boon heroine is not an intelligent creature. We will discuss these wonderful creatures and the men they choose as their soul mates in detail, sometime in the future in a separate thread. But there are two very important Loosus in the idealized girl romance genre. Surprisingly, they are not from the Mills and Boon or Harlequin Romance novels. They are Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele.
I have not read either book as I get short of breath with all the anger that is generated within me when I do try. These two women do not like to think sensibly, and any topic other than “the guy” is off-limits to them. I cannot describe just how annoying this is. Let us leave this here, shall we? Thanks.
Wodehouse uses more than a fair share of Loosus of both sexes and all age groups. You can sit and marvel at every Loosu he throws our way. We all know why Madeline Bassett walks away with the honors. She believes that (1) Stars are God’s daisy chains, (2) Rabbits are gnomes in attendance on the fairy queen, and (3) Every time a fairy blows its wee nose, a baby is born.
Are Luna Lovegood and Professor Trelawney of Potterverse not Loosus? They believe several strange things that Hermione Granger and Minerva McGonagall have no patience for.
Two and a Half Men is an excuse to show different types of women and how Charlie Harper gets to have …mm… relationships with pretty much all of them.
Most All of them are Loosus. But the ones to come out on top are Rose and Kandi. American sitcoms are a veritable mine of Loosu Ponnus. As sitcoms are essentially about crazy people, this observation doesn’t surprise me. The men and children are no different in how crazy they are. I choose not to list all the Loosus I have seen. Moving on.
So Why Are So Many Of Our Heroines Loosu?
I can’t say for sure. But here are a few things that I have been thinking about.
Is gender reversal possible?
Are Loosu Ponnus similar to the Chinna Thambi type simpletons where the man is of a similar disposition? I think both Prabhu and Karthik have had their share of simpleton characters. Kamal’s Chappani character in 16 Vayathinilea qualifies too. However, please note the following:
- The men are not growing progressively Loosu with each passing movie.
- The number of movies featuring this kind of man had a slight increase after the success of Chinna Thambi and Kilakku Vaasal, but dwindled after a short period of time (or as we like to say these days, they weren’t trending for long).
- Have you heard of women going ga-ga over characters who are a variants of Mr.Bean? These simpleton movies may work because of a few reasons. I do not think women find these men inherently sexy.
Are men really that attracted to insanity?
Doesn’t the very thought depress you? As far as the men I know personally go, not even a single one has admitted to liking a Loosu Ponnu over a sane woman. But they often soften visibly when it comes to women making crazy decisions. I can see that they feel protective about the woman. Are men lying? Nope. Men do not lie to us when they say they like/warm up to one type of woman. This is largely unconscious. But this phenomenon exists (and persists). Here are a few more points to think over:
- Not all men are attracted to the same type of women. There are few men who are just as irritated about this trend as most women are.
- Why should any man be attracted to only one sort of woman? Isn’t this question more suited to a multiple choice format? Well, yes, I agree. However, with the exception of GVM, no hero and/or director is making his heroinesprogressively more elegant. Not many directors apart from KB portrayed their heroines as self-sufficient. The presence of such a large number of Loosu Ponnus in so many different flavours shows us that many men are attracted to such women.
- We are talking about emotional intelligence only and not I.Q, and definitely not about high educational qualifications that a woman may have. Let us refrain from conflating the two…for now.
- There are some women who consciously channel their inner child to tap into this potential. I tend to feel they are making a HUGE mistake. Men warm up only to cute, young Loosu Ponnus. As they grow older, real women whodo this consciously get a rude shock. With each passing year, the effect of their carefully cultivated charm seems to fail. I have seen the look on some men’s faces when they see middle aged women indulging in baby-speak.
- I have met more than a reasonable share of Loosu Ponnus, but I do not want to bring too many personal anecdotes into the fray. Suffice to say I am not a fan of the trope.
- Now, why would any man tell me to my face that he prefers child-like women? He must be able to see I am not a fan of this trait and would naturally play along with me. So men not admitting in my little private interviews is not apoint for or against the desirability of such women anyway.
- Moe and Dojikko are a few cross cultural examples to prove that this trope reigns in Japaneseculture too.
The science behind this
Since I do not want to bore you too much with the science behind this, let me highlight a few points.
- There is a concept termed neoteny in evolutionary science. This means that humans possess the look and certain characteristics of baby apes. The baby ape looks morehumanlike in the above picture, though the reverse is actually true. Humans are more baby-ape-like.
- We also have a longer childhood than most mammals. Other mammals spend about 10% of their lives as eager-to-learn young ones. We spend close to one-third of our lives just learning to be adults. This is because our brainhas that much to learn. Our brains retain a certain plasticity for longer. This is an important in order to ensure a constant learning curve. Neoteny has been our species’ ticket to fame. Even after about 21 years, some characteristics continue. Humans never outgrow the juvenile ape stage. Our skin remains relatively hairless.
- Women are even more neotenous than men. (This may not mean that the learning curve of women is in any way better than men, but what do I know? Haha.) When the male and female of any species are quite different from each other, sexual dimorphism is at play, this is very pronounced in birds like peacocks.Heightened neoteny is noticed in the female of our species. Secondary sexual characteristics like smoother babyish skin, a voice that is more similar to teenaged boys than grown men. This means that there has been a significant selection pressure during human evolution that made men prize juvenile characteristics in the women they chose to mate with. Sexual dimorphism in physical characteristics may have spilled over to behavioral characteristics, and selection pressure might have been significant here too.
*Paarvaiyilea Kumariyamma, Pazhakathilea Kuzhanthaiyamma, Aayirathil Orithiamma Nee: A woman to look at/ A child to play with/ You, lady, are one in a thousand
**Enthu-cutlet: Hyper active/ overly enthusiastic (slang)
+Pudhumai penn: New age woman
Edited by Anu Srini