Don’t Blame Kollywood for Swathi’s Murder

Yes. Misogyny, objectification and stalking is glorified in Kollywood. But Swathi’s murder’s on us, not the movies.

Published
Women
4 min read
Dhanush stalking  Shruti Haasan in <i>3. </i> Currently the scapegoat, along with STR and other smaller heroes, who ostensibly ‘promote’ stalking, misogyny and objectification of women on screen. (Photo: YouTube)

Each year, a little over 30,000 people are murdered in India. Some of these affect me, viscerally. Swathi’s murder in broad daylight, at the Nungambakkam station, did.

To deal with this, I thought I should write about how Kollywood influences, propagates and celebrates the ‘culture’ of stalking as a trope for romance.

I got sucker-punched midway.

The Blame Game

The blame game was quite easy, initially. After all, there is no dearth of examples. So many Dhanush and STR starrers are veritable textbook cases.
How do you stalk a girl without letting her know? How do you then reveal yourself stylishly? How do you do it on a cycle, on foot, on a bike? What do you say? All of these questions and more are answered in detail. For comprehensive lessons and detailed notes, please refer to the following syllabus:

Snapshot

SYLLABUS FOR STALKING
1. Dhanush’s 3 (Moonu) : Stalking 101
2. STR’s Vinnay Thandi Varuvaya (Can’t pronounce the name? just say VTV): On how to speak with lock jaw, in addition to stalking.
3. STR’s Manmadhan: On how to kill immoral girls and store their ashes in a bottle. Bonus Content!!!! How to slap a girl.
4. Suriya’s Vaaranam Aayiram: Cross-continent Stalking. Accompanied by guitar and tone-deaf singing.

BUT, it Cuts Both Ways

A still from <i>Attakathi. </i>The movie is about a guy who stalks a girl. The girl refuses his advances. Guy moves on. Rajinikanth saw this movie and was so impressed, he asked the director Pa. Ranjith, to make a movie with him. Kabali Da. (Photo: YouTube)
A still from Attakathi. The movie is about a guy who stalks a girl. The girl refuses his advances. Guy moves on. Rajinikanth saw this movie and was so impressed, he asked the director Pa. Ranjith, to make a movie with him. Kabali Da. (Photo: YouTube)

2012 saw a slew of low budget, hugely grossing movies, including Kadhalil Sodhapuvathu Eppadi (how to screw up in love), Pizza and Attakathi (cardboard sword). All of these movies (and more) had flawed antagonists, who lied, cheated, stole and stalked.
If the box-office is a benchmark, the ‘grey-er’ the hero/heroine, the more relatable he/she is.

The ’90s of Innocent Stalking

This is so much fun! Let’s go further back. To the 90s! Ajith Kumar and Vijay and Suriya were not Thala, Thalapathi or tantrum throwing stars, yet. They were young, unmarried men who wore tight jeans, shoes and formal shirts, un-tucked (Or, really really tucked in with the belt right under the solar plexus. Like a chastity belt).
Love was more innocent. Parental consent was required to do anything more than speak in soft, hushed tones. Even dream sequences were U-rated.

What of stalking, you ask? Well, what of it? It’s a harmless innocent thing. Boys will be boys, that sort of thing.

A still from <i>Sethu (</i>1999). Vikram plays an ‘intense’ boy who falls in love with a Brahmin girl. He stalks her, molests her and beats her up to convey his intentions. Vikram’s character ‘Chiyaan’<i> </i>has a cult following now. (Photo: Amazon.in)
A still from Sethu (1999). Vikram plays an ‘intense’ boy who falls in love with a Brahmin girl. He stalks her, molests her and beats her up to convey his intentions. Vikram’s character ‘Chiyaan’ has a cult following now. (Photo: Amazon.in)

The 90s began with the critically acclaimed, block-busting hit Guna (1991), in which Kamal Hassan managed to pay a tiny tribute to Dilip Kumar, despite busily stalking rich girls throughout the movie.
The decade came to an end with Sethu (1999), the film that made actor Vikram.

And here, I hit upon an epiphany.

The Moral of the Story Doesn’t Matter

Vikram dies in Sethu, Kamal Hassan dies in Guna and takes the girl with him. Dhanush kills himself in 3. For every happy ending in a love story, there’s a tragedy.

If the actor’s good, he’ll turn you into the character for two hours.
No. He won’t ask for your consent. The moment you’re in the hall and the lights are off, you’re it. When the hero dies, you die. And the moment you step out into the light, you become the hero.

I thought of how awesomely scary and cool Nawazuddin Siddiqui was in Raman Raghav 2.0. And the second epiphany hit me.

I Love You, KK...KKKK...Kiran

<i>Darr...</i>, followed by <i>Anjaam</i>, made deep inroads in the South. The audience couldn’t, but feel sorry for this lost soul. (Photo: YouTube)
Darr..., followed by Anjaam, made deep inroads in the South. The audience couldn’t, but feel sorry for this lost soul. (Photo: YouTube)

It’s not foolish to blame Tamil cinema for celebrating or ‘propagating’ stalking. I mean, I get the sentiment.
But it’s definitely naive to single it out. Speaking of the impact of films, Bollywood has influenced the South since the 50s. My father knew as many Kishore Da’s tunes, as he did MSV’s (MS Viswanathan, awesome pre-Ilayaraja composer). Aradhana ran for 64 weeks (a year has 52, FYI) in Anand Theatre in Chennai. Those were the days when Hindi was frowned upon.

In the movie Darr... (note the ellipse), Sunny Paji was the hero. I repeat, he was The Hero. The good guy. I don’t remember any of his dialogues. It’s King Khan I mimicked and aped all day.

From Fan, to the 60s where many a romance begins with the heroine walking and the hero stalking on his Jeep, Bollywood too has idolised the practice.
Suddenly, it’s all over the movies, everywhere. Come to think of it, stalking has always been around. Even folklore and mythology from across the world is rife with instances of stalking.
See girl -> be enchanted -> follow girl home/for a distance -> seek father’s permission/get busy under the jamun tree.

Mere Sanam was a 1965 musical. This exact setting, with the hero in the jeep and the women walk-trotting to avoid him has been replicated in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema. Try watching the video after muting the audio.

Stalking Begins at Home

Movies are all about light and shadow. In a sense, they are the shadows of the world we live in and the brief lives we weave onto the tapestry, in black and white, technicolor, digital detail or 4K.
There are very few original ideas in movies. And even those are almost always inspired by life.
When we stop stalking in real life, our heroes will stop stalking on screen.
It’s not the other way round. It never was.

(Vikram Venkateswaran is a freelance writer, TV producer and media consultant. Headings, titles and captions are his kryptonite. He just moved to Chennai and hopes the city likes him and is nice to him.)

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