Friday, December 16, 2005

And why is it ok?

There’s been a gradually growing trend in Indian cinema (in particular Tamil cinema) that is rather disturbing.

A trend of men beating their wives or daughters or even mothers on screen, with dialogs saying it’s ok to do that.

I can’t remember this happening in commercial Tamil or Kannada cinema from the sixties, seventies or even eighties, unless the story revolved about domestic abuse. This phenomenon pretty much started some time in the nineties, and has grown. It’s now totally ok for a man to come home and beat up his wife if she disagrees with him. Sometimes, it’s even passed off as “comedy”, but most other times it’s just a “natural” reaction of the lout.

And it’s not just the villain doing this. It could be any “character” role (hero’s still don’t do that), the heroine’s father, or the city police commissioner, or the autodriver. Doesn’t matter. Angry? Just beat the crap out of your wife. It’s your birthright.

Media, especially cinema (even the fantastically unreal “commercial” cinema) does affect society profoundly.

So, why is this ok (or even popular or funny) in the movies?


Mustang said...

So, why is this ok (or even popular or funny) in the movies?

coz smoking in the movies is considered "bad-influence"? coz talking against communalism and religious fundamentalism is "inflammatory"? coz bunking classes and playing pranks in schools is "cool"?

Amrit said...

In the old movies, when a subdued sasur all of a sudden gains confidence at the end of the movie, he beats up the villainous saas and people clap with joy. The underlying acceptance of wife beating rises from the mentality that the wife is the lesser one in a marriage -- financially, physically and mentally – and beating a wife is same as disciplining an errant child. The abuse part is totally sidetracked, and with the resurgence of “the old values” thanks to the popular Balaji-productions-type serials and films, some evil values too are being resurrected by the cinema and the television.

froginthewell said...

I hear that it is some five or six years since this trend started.

And in the US, it is cool in sitcoms etc. to portray a man as a dumb loser and to show him being publicly insulted and humiliated. In Britain the man-hating BBC was made to apologize when it telecast the show "Bring your Husband to Heal" to teach women how to control men using techniques to train dogs; still the TV regulators ruled it as non-sexist.

With economic and social progress I am confident that India will soon enough shake off the ugly remnants of patriarchy. But unfortunately the west-like anti-male attitudes might soon emerge and stay.

Sunil said...

Mustang......all of that is stupid....but this i think is ridiculous.'re right, and somehow, it seems to be getting no better even though people are becoming more prosperous (Can't blame poverty). As for Balaji productions.....the less said the better.

Frog.......perhaps India will shake off the remnants of patriarchy. I hope it does....but these new trends of depicting (and encouraging) domestic violence isn't doing any one any good. As for west like anti-male attitudes.....ooh, that might hurt. But i'll be careful and be extra nice to my wife :-)

froginthewell said...

May be the film producers and directors are getting more and more prosperous but vast sections of the society still remain poor. It is the fancies of men from such families that are catered to by the film makers. I personally think that since cinema has moved away from the histrionic ways of Sivaji Ganesan, MGR etc. and that the young men today would like to identify with the young stars ( rather than worship them, as they did to Sivaji Ganesan etc. ); hence we have many dark heroes and fair actresses ( many from the north ) today in tamizh.

As you say, the outcome of all this in tamizh nADu is this disturbing trend, but I do think that the common people will soon become better off. And finally I don't think this applies to all of India; I have seen male chauvinism in many malayALam movies but certainly the situation is not as bad as in tamizh movies.

Vishnu said...

But i'll be careful and be extra nice to my wife :-)

Sunil, that might not be sufficient. Try throwing the TV out!

Sunil said...

Frog....maybe, may be not....but hero worship is more than alive, it's kicking (at least in Tamil cinema). "Superstar" remains superstar, while Vijay is the "Ilazha thalapathi", and Vikram is a something superstar or something else :-))

And this chauvinistic trend (with domestic abuse) is there in most Indian cinema (at it's nastiest in Tamil and Telugu cinema). But perhaps you're right and things might get better. I'm not too sure...and think it's a more fundamental problem.

Vishnu.....never! I might die, but i won't throw the TV out. :-)

wise donkey said...

(i think that started as a "cure" for arrogant women.)
heros do that too - Priyasakhi .(Madhavan movie)

but the last 2 movies I saw
ABCD and Kanda Naal Muthal, the heroines slap the hero in the climax..

Though of course the context is different.

I think if the directors want to show a slap scene in domestic situations.
they can pay a fee of Rs.10000 per slap which can be waived if they show the person who slaps receives punishment:)

Domestic abuse is not funny.

froginthewell said...

sunil, you don't understand; "superstar" remains "superstar" but people are not going to elevate them to demi-god-hood/god-hood as some did to MGR and shivAji gaNEshan and even khushbU. People *identify* themselves with the actors more than they did in the past; hence there is more of "cheri ( slum ) culture" in the tamizh movies since the last decade. I don't mean to say the cheri people are bad but the social evils that flourish there due to the lack of education show up in the movies too.
Now do you have examples to claim that this domestic abuse thing is there in most Indian cinema?
Interestingly, there are some loony leftists who claim that malayALam movies feature dalit abuse; the reason being that the non-dalit hero in some movies was shown to beat ( the character represented by ) the actor kalAbhavan maNi who was a dalit.

apu said...

The basic premise is that women need *correction* or *guidance* from men, and if that requires a slap or two, thats no big deal. Not just domestic violence. Vijay movies particularly, I've noticed -portray a lot of sexist attitudes. In one of the recent movies, for e.g. he tells the heroine to cover up on the street, telling her that if she is harassed by men, she deserves it. Actors seem to have no qualms about doing any kind of regressive roles. And Vijay is a role model for any number of young men....depressing....

Sunil said...

Wise donkey.....there might be some thing in that.

Frog....perhaps you're right in that part. There is more identifying with that looking up to. There may indeed have been a subtle change in the way heroes are elevated to godhood. And the "slum culture" is part right.....but too many Tamil movies have actors in roles that clearly are not associated with slums (like the police commissioner in the recent "Tirupachi" back-handing his wife and daughter, because she wouldn't reveal the hero's identity).

As far as other indian cinema goes.......i've seen this in a bunch of Telugu movies (where the plot and situations are very, very similar to Tamil movies....same difference) and a few Kannada movies (there was this Shivaraj kumar movie some 2 years back who's name i forget). Malayalam cinema is seemingly better and i haven't seen too much of that (but then i only see Mohanlal, Mamutty and Suresh Gopi it's not a very wide selection).'re right, it's a little depressing. And Vijay movies (just like i mentioned a moment ago) seem to be especially so. Now, i enjoy a masaala flick as much as any one else....but these things annoy and depress me.

froginthewell said...

Sorry for keeping this going. What I mean by cheri/slum culture is something more general than slums. It also includes things in the fantasy-spectrum or range of mental exercise of the kind of people it targets. Let me quote some popular movies to illustrate this : for instance the song "O pODu" is not picturised in a slum but it is a slum-song. Thevar magan is not a slum movie. Dum Dum Dum is not a slum movie but has some slum aspects to it. That police thing sounds slum though I haven't seen it. Domestic abuse, illegitimate conception, rich-girl-and-poor-boy, Dappankuthu songs and associated dances, bad-behaviour-by-police, the tuLLuvadO iLamai kind of thing - these are some of the indicators ( neither necessary nor sufficient ) for cheri-ness. It is this kind of cheriness which has entered movies due to the aforementioned identification phenomenon, that I consider mostly responsible for domestic abuse to be portrayed in movies with the danger of a positive feedback into the society lurking.

Now I am not sure about this - but can it be that the movie producers do this to "reassure" men ( which would imply increase in profit for themselves ) who feel threatened and somewhat powerless by the rise of feminism? After all there do exist many movies which men are portrayed as losers ( for instance Vivek the tamil comedian typically gets ridiculed by women ). You might say this is not a big deal but not all men would view it the same way. Apologies to the non-tamizh guys around for using tamizh examples.

Old Path said...

Cinema, I think, reflects the society as in the case of any other artistic medium. I believe society influence cinema more than the other way around even though outwardly it seems otherwise. Manifestation of the symptoms should not be confused with real medical problem inside the body.

pennathur said...

The sanctification of the oppression of women in Tamizh movies has a long history. Take Pathibbhakti a 21-reeler of yore that is supposed to have a shown a pious and chaste woman standing by her husband thru all his escapades (reminds you of Silappadikaram?). And then the MGR movies. In "Enga Veettu Pillai" when the tough MGR gets around to thrashing his uncle MN Nambiar, Nambiar's wife (Pandaribai) pleads with MGR not to harm her 'deivam". MGR's movies are filled plots and narrative devices that demean women. You will find bigamy in Madurai Veeran and Ulagam Suttrum Valiban (about 25 years apart). It is the women who dream of him and lust for him - never the other way round leading many sexually suggestive sequences. While in these songs you will find MGR cavorting with his herioines in the rest of the movie when events occur at the 'conscious level' MGR acts as a pious almost hands-off person. His fans rationalise this behaviour by pointing out that 'it is the girl who goes after MGR not the opther way round. Tell them that it is the same MGR who seeks women half his age and they wioll ignore you.
In many movies when a woman gets beaten by the husband, neighbors as a rule do not intervene, "idhu purushan pondatti vishayam." And then you have all those movies where a headstrong girl is tamed by the hero who more often than not has his gang of chamchas egging him on. And then there is that obsession with 'karppu' and 'manjaL-kunkumam' (which is why the mos are out to lynch Khushbu these days). How often have you seen widows get remarried in Tamizh movies. Sexual harrassment (quaintly termed eve teasing) is the norm in all courtship acts. The current craze 'gaana-pattu' hailed by that hack S.Anand of Outlook as an expression of 'dalit artistry' is grossly misogynist. There is shockingly little sympathy for women among the general public. I have had auto-drivers tell me how women bring all the harrassment upon themselves. All cultures have frowned upon women expressing their sexuality (while for men it is acceptable) and try to prevent this through violence and even by getting women to rationalize the restrictions placed on them. The Tamizh 'culture' especially what you see in its movies takes this to extremes. Movies in other languages either in the South or in Hindi can be bad at times but not this bad. Telugu and to a lesser extent Kannada movies tend to confront issues while in Malayalam you see a more modern society.

Sunil said...

Frog......i don't disagree with you at all really, you've got a very valid point........but why should producers have to reassure men? They seem to do so...but it's such a silly exercise!

Madhu....yes, you are right in a way. But why should an escapist drama about vigillante justice (with a holier than thou protagonist) have a need to encourage domestic violence?? Makes little sense to me.

Pennathur....phew! that's quite a comment, almost a post in itself. You have taken it to much deeper issues on the status of women itself in tamil cinema (and perhaps society). And you're quite right about that.......long history of sanction of oppression. And yes....violence against women (in reel and probably real live) is just one little aspect of it.

I'll have to disagree about other movies in the south not being as bad. Clearly you don't watch as many Telugu movies as i do :-). There's little difference between them and Tamil movies.....perhaps why so many of each other are dubbed in to the other language. :-)

Anonymous said...

there was this vijay movie which i happened to see on my long trip in an 'air-bus', in which he goes in search of his lady love. alas ! that place happens to be a meditation hall and the kind of dialogues and arrogance he exerts!! there was absolute insolence and indifference to a rich culture there...i guess, he comes from a chery in the movie ...i was wondering for the rest of my trip how such movies (with such scenes) are tolerated or applauded...

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I've really enjoyed reading this blog! I am writing a paper on the portrayals of domestic violence in hindi cinema and am struggling to find specific films to focus on. I want to look at both films that show domestic violence in passing, as well as those that take up the issue of domestic violence as a central issue to the film...Do you have any suggestions for where to start or films to focus on? Please post or email me with suggestions at Thanks!

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