The Thangachi that Lived – Part 2

Last Updated: Mon, Nov 25, 2013 11:04 hrs

In Part 1 of this article, we talked about rape survivors in Tamil movies exiting the script with a ‘respectable’ suicide or assisted death. While the trend of getting the survivor married to the rapist has thankfully changed, it has been replaced with this rather bizarre notion of morality. There have been very few Tamil movies in which a woman has continued to live despite having been raped: Mahanadi (1994) and Vaanam Vasappadum (2004) come to mind. In these films, the rape is significant to the story. The impact of the crime and what happens afterwards is very much part of the script. However, that isn't the case in most films that integrate 'rape' into their scripts. Here, in Part 2, we wonder why 'rape' is used as a crutch.

In most films which involve a rape, the crime is included just for the convenience of the script – the hero needs a motive to start beating up people, what better excuse than the quest for avenging a woman’s ‘honour’? The film does not engage with the crime beyond this and so, it’s unnecessary for the female character to be a part of it. The character is so insignificant that often, all we’re shown is a pair of suspended legs to tell us that the woman has killed herself. The next shot is that of the hero’s enraged face. It happens so frequently that as viewers, we no longer analyze why the woman had to die.

Notably, the rape survivor here is never the heroine because, of course, it’s unthinkable that the hero can continue his romance with a woman who has had sex with another man, with or without consent. Even though these movies reflect the prevalent patriarchal ideas of honour and rape, they depart from these social notions in one important way – in Tamil films, the skimpily-clad heroine is never raped but the modest thangachi is! The glamorous heroine might receive a dressing down on her choice of attire (remember Vijay in Sivakasi (2005) telling Asin that one can prevent sexual harassment by wearing a silk saree – the ultimate weapon against sex crimes, machi!) but that’s all. It’s the expendable thangachi who becomes the victim. This deviation is quite revealing – it tells us that the rape is not about the woman. It’s about the hero. It happens for his sake; it happens so his character can be built. The rape survivor is simply collateral damage.

This becomes more obvious when one looks at rape in films where the hero is on the other side of the law – if he belongs to the underworld, you can be assured that someone will come to him to talk about a girl who was brutally raped by somebody in power. The hero shows his good heart by avenging the girl’s rape. His ire sets him apart from the rest of the goons who are pretty unfazed by such happenings (from Naayagan (1987) to Thalaivan (2013), this has remained a consistent part of the plot).

It may not be possible for every script to accommodate the rape survivor’s story in detail. Every movie that has a rape scene needn’t translate into a film of the Bandit Queen genre. But it is definitely possible for a script to show a rape survivor moving on. It is definitely possible for a scriptwriter or director to give the character some integrity. And it is definitely possible for them to avoid killing off the character because they can’t be bothered to think of other ways to end her story. Maybe the rape survivor goes back to work. Maybe she finds love. Maybe she laughs at a joke. Maybe she takes a trip. It could just be that one scene, just that one moment. It happens in real life. Why not on the big screen?

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The Thangachi that lived!

The Thangachi that lived!

Sowmya Rajendran is a children's writer who occasionally offers her words of wisdom to adults. She lives in Pune.