There was a time in Tamil Cinema when Kamal wasn’t narcissistic, Rajinikanth re-wrote the conventions of an ideal antagonist and more importantly the heroine wasn’t just a dumb being.
The leading lady had a defined character arc with a consistent scope to perform and elevate the script. For almost a decade and a half starting from the late 70’s until the dawn of the 90’s Tamil Cinema never shied away from breaking stereotypes in one film after another.
One such film is Aval Appadithan. Despite the fact that cinema was very progressive stereotypes did exist. Women were an extension of the sacrificial lamb despite being gifted with an inherent ability to fight.
But Rudhraiya’s Manju was different. She’s vocal, aggressive and more importantly relentless. Fate colours her life with despair.The men in her life who seem to be a sign of hope eventually turn out to be false notes. She builds a wall of rebellion to escape from the chaotic mess that her life is. The wall rarely breaks down except when she is with Kamal Hassan. Even with Hassan she is guarded except one sequence in the bathroom when all her inbuilt frustrations take a different form and lead to an unexpected diversion.
Kamal does seem like the ideal progressive male that women desperately yearn for. Rudhraiya leads us on a blind trail with Hassan’s Arun until the pre-climax where he backs away when forced to take that one bold step which could redeem Manju. The timid shallow side of Arun which was invisible until then is uncovered for the viewer. Was he justified? Maybe. But to me atleast he was just a coward looking for an excuse to move away.
I loved Rajini’s Thyagu a real life extension of the star himself with vibuthi and drinks – a likeable contrast and more importantly he is a self confessed male chauvinistic asshole. The scene where he shuts Kamal with “Yes I am a male ass” says it all. He remains unapologetic for his deeds throughout the film. His dialogues too reflect what he stands for. He consistently refers to Woman as mere objects of lust and lays it out bare for all to see. There are no ways to it Thyagu is the male that we hate, the male we despise and how to use laughter to reflect Misogyny and Chauvinism ask our Superstar.
There is a confrontation between the leading lady and the antagonist. In an ideal scenario an antagonist should be filled with remorse. Rajini is filled with regret but regret lingers just for a moment as Superstar dismisses with casual arrogance rarely displayed in Tamil Cinema. The entire confrontation is nullified as Rajini re-assures that the colour is black with a simple dialogue “I like helping beautiful ladies”. Perhaps we killed one of the greatest villains of all time by making him a superstar. No over the top dialogues, no gory makeup just body language and simple everyday situations to make the audience despise a character
The one fact that really stood out was the bond the two leading men shared despite sharing different ideals. There are arguments and points of conflict but the bond remains.
Rudhraiya remains unapologetic as a maker as he elevates Sripriya’s character by highlighting the worst side of men. Aval Appadithan is almost a feminist film. The reason I say almost is because the final scene seems more of an apology note for all that happened before with Saritha’s ignorance. Neverthless Aval Appadithan is a wonderful ode to cinema by a man who refused to conform.