On hearing it’s been 14 years since Paruthiveeran released, I queued it up humming “Iyayo yen usurakula theeya vetchan iyayo…” while rehashing the budding-romance scenes between the riveting newcomer Karthi and fiery Muthazhagu played by the stellar Priyamani who won the National Award for essaying this role. I also prepared myself to watch the difficult end. But what I wasn’t ready for was how it would play out the second time around 14 years later.
Right from Scene 1 at the temple fair, things were unsettling. Muthazhagu ensconced among her family as she prays, says so much to me now than it did in 2007. Maybe it’s because of the Social Media boom and how we get to hear opinions, thoughts and experiences of patriarchy being discussed openly around the world. It’s made us more attuned to such portrayals and pick up on the intention that has framed it in such a way - a woman as something to be protected and as belonging to someone. It’s an instinct that we’re all familiar with. Something that’s generationally passed down to us. It’s instinct we barely question. It’s instinct that sometimes comes in handy against the lurking perversions. But what makes it uncomfortable is that both the protection and predation stem from the need to possess.
Paruthiveeran doesn’t make any pretences - this is a slice of life from our caste-steeped villages. A look at Gender Hegemony going hand-in-hand with casteism while perpetuating misogyny, and its prevalence in society. Take for instance young Paruthiveeran’s lack of understanding of ‘consent’ when he kisses the girl Muthazhagu forcefully. Or, the way the young lackey who hangs around Paurthiveeran speaks with such derision to women.
But it’s Muthazhagu who keeps me watching. Within such a stifling construct, she rebels. She has a voice and she uses it. Looking at the women of Paruthiveeran, you know that violence is scheduled in their lifestyle. And they engage in it as freely and frequently as the men do. Mostly verbal and sometimes physical. It peppers their everyday and is relished quite like that peppery rasam at the end of a meal by curious neighbours and onlookers, just cupping their hands out for more.
What sets Muthazhagu apart is that she chooses the kind of violence she wants to make her home with. The choice is between her ultra-casteist father who will choose her husband for the sake of propriety and glory of caste. Or, the known devil - Paruthiveeran with his mockery-laced dialect and threats of dismembering her in the guise of love and affection.But it would take a lot more than love to break out of this pattern. For the women of Paruthiveeran including the rebellious Muthazhagu have been co-opted into the patriarchal fold. There are ones like her mother who propagate it as is evident in her shrill diatribe against education and how it poisons women. There are some who toe the line. And then there are those like Muthazhagu who choose variants of the same. If Muthazhagu was shown another world, another way of being, I’m sure she would’ve chosen differently.
What’s shocking after having watched the movie after so many years is that this is still a familiar story. While we are more vocal now and call out patriarchy, it all just seems to swirl in the comments section. Is it going to take another 14 years to feel ‘those were the days’ about Paruthiveeran?
Karthi never comes across as the hero. But did his tears glorify him? Did his guilt? I don’t think so. It is a twisted love story with a very tragic end. And as usual the woman had to bear the brunt of it. But one look at the videos on Youtube under ‘Paruthiveeran best scenes’, you’ll find the clip where he threatens to chop Muthazhagu to pieces if she doesn’t marry him titled as ’Super Scene’. Clearly, glorification has happened. It’s taken me 14 years to pick up the cues I missed the first time. Maybe another 14 will have such video clips retitled ‘How not to talk to women’, ‘This isn’t love’, ‘When Men issued threats to proclaim love’, ‘You call this a proposal?’ But I sincerely hope it takes far less time.
For more stories click here: Kollywood l Malayalam l Bollywood l Telugu