Machismo, down south…


No, no, it is not what you think. Do not let your meandering minds stray after viewing the topic of this post. I wish to only stick to dwelling on machismo in our films down south. Nothing more or nothing less. Fresh from viewing two recent Tamil films, I thought it would be an opportune time to dwell on extreme levels of machismo prevalent down south to the Vindhyas. One of them that I watched was the Vijay starrer Sura. Sura in Tamil means ‘Shark’. In Tamil cinema it is quite common to name our action heroes after every conceivable predator in the animal kingdom. After all, who makes movies for the lesser known actress, let alone naming a movie after them? Those days have been long lost after Sridevi and Co retired. It is no surprise that the second movie that I wish to share my thoughts on is called “Singam” (Lion).

If predatory sounding movies are not enough to glorify the Tamil hero, it is also quite common to give our Tamil actors a title too. It is quite uncommon for the popular ones to not have one. It would be deemed as a sign of not making the cut in Tamil cinema. Vijay for example is known as “Illayadalapatti”, translating into a junior commander in chief. Vijay has a lean frame, looks weak, and lacks the masculinity that is expected of somebody with a title like commander in chief. His movies have the same formula. The good hero makes his appearance to a grandiose opening racy number, falls in love with the villain’s daughter, bashes up the baddies, delivers a set of “punch” dialogues, and delivers us all from evil. In Sura, his 50th film, Vijay follows the same formula and received a lukewarm response from the audience. The film has bombed at the box offices despite Sun TV’s mega attempt in marketing Vijay’s fiftieth film. In a scene that transgresses into a realm of sheer insanity is the protagonist’s return to land from the high seas. He swims across the turbulent waters and in one swift movement jumps on shore and starts dancing. Remember, this macho man’s boat had capsized in the high seas of the turbulent Indian Ocean. Alas, if only our coastguards were like Vijay, many fishermen’s lives would have been saved during persistent cyclones. Vijay tries very hard to be larger than life and he fails miserably at it. Tamil audience go to extremes in accepting it’s actors to be so God like, but when push becomes shove, the largely tolerant audience rebukes it. Rajnikanth too could not be accepted in Baba. Somewhere, the mind seeks logic in its extremely tolerant approach to even paradoxical events. And what role did Vijay’s heroine Tamanna have here? She played the usual prop and delivered dialogues which were ludicrous to say the least. When was the last time the actress had a meaty role in Indian cinema? With very few exceptions like Aishwarya, Kajol, Tabu, Konkana Sen the rest are used for decorative reasons alone. Invariably, the heroines are the damsels in distress, made to look more fragile than glass, that anyway shatter with a din. Somehow, the extreme levels of machismo have killed romance. When the hero tries to save his lady love from drowning in deep waters, what else can we do but roll our eyes up to the heavens.

And then we have roaring, soaring Surya in Singam. Surya surprisingly has not been one who has allowed himself to be titled. A man who probably works hard and does not let epithets and other glorious titles influence him much. In Singam, once again Surya follows the ritualistic path of appearing very much like a roaring Lion, unlike his more demure self in ‘Khaaka Khaaka’. But, unlike Vijay, Surya has carefully not allowed himself to transgress into the realms of ludicrousity. He is valiant and loud; he races after the villains, plots and pulls them down in a more meaningful fashion than his counterpart in Sura. The Singam (Lion) in this case seems to be more astute than the (Sura) Shark. But like Sura, this is an all out Surya’s movie. A commercial, no brain entertainer which well and truly entertains by capitalizing on extreme levels of machismo that Surya displays on screen. Surya is not scrawny like Vijay, but he is adequately short. This again has never been a deterrent to the manly prowess he displays like the predatory Lion on a mission. The pretty Anushka plays second fiddle if not third after Vivek, the comedian. It is a pity that Anushka’s talent was not even scratched in this movie. If one has watched Anushka Shetty in her hit Telegu movie “ Arundathi”, there will be adequate reasons to lament.Surya  is seen suffocating the men who besmirch his lady love by pulling her dupatta, but we have the lady love in adequately skimpy attires dancing with Surya quite soon there after. What else can one do, but roll our eyes up to the heavens.

Both Surya and Vijay have been placed on the altar by the worshippers, and none of these Gods have a consort standing with them. In both the movies the divine connection is made only with the men. In Sura, Vijay is saved by the edifice of the Goddess which has fallen on him and protects him from a raging fire. In Singam, Surya is seen safeguarding the belongings of the divine. The consorts of these “Gods” remain consorts.


31 Responses to “Machismo, down south…”

  1. Sharmila,

    For the second time in a month I am checked by a word that I don’t understand. Machismo…

    Machismo… I wonder what that is expected to mean… I suppose I am not qualified to say anything about Tamil movies… except that in a bygone era, in bollywood, the Punjabi heroes and Tamil heroines made good pairs on the screen… if only for the sheer diversity of their characteristics – a nan-paratha with rasam-sambhar!

    From what you state above, the action-thriller seems to have taken an all new meaning in Tamil commercial cinema. There must be some sort of formula that’s working here if the public is hogging it, the way they are…

    I can imagine the plots of a Singam or a Sura or a Sivaji…. an impossible adversity torments the common man… heroine meets Mr. Trouble… only a miracle can save the world… mayhem and destruction everywhere…. and then, from the depths of darkness rises the sun of a miracle… the clean-shaven-bathed-by-mama Hero… a song and dance spiced with some karate practice…. a gravity defying flight and fight… a villain who forgets to shave in the morning… a comedian whose vocal chords are permanently set on stereophonic dolby-max… a hero whose magical powers range from growing hair on a bald pate to singing duets underwater… and a mother on the ninth cloud for some emotional turbulence…

    Quick Gun Murugan… eppadi!


    • Reader – Machismo is probably best suited for the rasam sambhar types:) Anything with Rajni is a supernatural phenomenon. Unfortunately, Quick gun murugun is taking the comparison a bit too far though;)

  2. Has Sri Devi really worked in a Tamil movie.I never knew if she did?
    Thats it.No idea of anything else here haha…

    • Sridevi was the reigning Queen of Tamil and Telegu movies in the 70s and 80s, She left for Mumbai to fulfill her ambitions in the second half of her career. One of the very few who excelled in her profession in both sides of the Vindhyas.

  3. Jasmine Says:

    Sharmila, I admire your fortitude and tenacity in sitting through these ludicrous concoctions that pass in the name of cinema (and I am going by your description of the two films — I’ve not seen them or any like the type you describe for more than five minutes). Guess I’m weaker-stomached than you — would have got up and walked out at the first hint of inanity of this magnitude and proportion. Although sometimes inane can provide “fun” of its own kind, in that one can laugh at the sheer absurdity of it while rolling one’s eyes to the heavens, there is a limit to my patience. Great job of describing the type, the “heroes” and of the analysis.

    • Jasmine – Ha ha, well, yes I guess I can be patient , but hey, welcome to Tamil cinema. This is how life is for the average Tamil cinema goer. Exceptions like Nayakkan, Iruvar etc are as rare as the Haley’s comet. when we sight it, we never let go either.

  4. Aishwarya Says:

    Seems like we are back to the MGR days – the macho do-gooder, the swooning damsel, and the wicked villain. Two differences though… One, they are now fitness freaks, so we have 8 packs and size zeros with IQs to match. We also now have tech experts flying down from Hollywood to make our hero look like one.

    Miss the movies of the 70s and 80s when we watched the movies over and over, be it Kamal, Rajni, Sivakumar, Vijayakant, Mohan, Sridevi, Ambika, Radha, Revathy, or Suhasini simply because the stories struck a chord deep in our hearts and stayed… Maunaraagam, 16 vayathinile, Vaidehi kaathirunthaal, Mudhal mariyadhai, Salangai oli…

    The title-holding newbies need to pause and take a cue from the true masters of the art.

    • Aish – So true. But even MGR and Sivaji were not performing with so much machismo. They were serendaing the ladies with their heroics in measured takes, romance was refreshing, songs even more, stories simple, 70s and 80s were the golden period, never before, never again. Having said this, Surya was good in his role, Vijay was pathetic.

  5. MonaLisa Says:

    The Machismo and typically formulated ‘masala’ movies might be the reasons of inability for southern cinema to cross over Sahyadri and mingle with Bollywood in Bombay to get recognition at national level.
    It certainly would be very funny sight indeed that the machismo-vigorous like a Rhino, who fought 10 goons single handed,running around trees singing and dancing with a poodle(sorry for my vocabulary but that’s the only word i found appropriate for now)or a pomeranian.
    Many Bollywood movies followed the same pattern, yet the language helped those to be a Super hits and the Machismo ‘A Super star’. What an irony..! 🙂

    • MonLisa – Need to add a speedbreaker here. Southern movies have won a lot of accolades at a national level without mingling with Bollywood. The most recent one is Prakash Rajw who won the national award for sritically acclaimed ” Kancheepuram”. Then there was Nayakan, Iruvar and a few more. The problem lies with the no brainer, commercial entertainers that keep getting churned down south more regularly and there I agree with the Rhino n poodle theory.

  6. Sharmila,

    I have never been inspired to write a review of a movie or a book. If I were to make a shopping list, Indian commercial cinema would probably be at the end or in the footnote!

    The National Film Archives in Pune has a collection of about 15000 rare gems – beginning from Dadasaheb Phalke’s first ever cinema on the celluloid to Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and other maestros. I remember seeing Bimal Roy’s Kabuliwallah in a small room on a 16mm square silver screen with a projector that looked like a gear box taken from somebody’s tractor.

    One noticeable aspect of the collection is that all the films were classics. Many were Tamil, Bengali, Malayalam, Telugu, Marathi, Assamese, Punjabi, Bhojpuri etc. All with dancing sub-titles that jump to the middle of the screen without a warning. I remember the sub-titles of an old print of Pather Pancholi were a few lightyears behind the scene and continued to pop-up even after the end of the movie.

    For good reasons, the commercial escapist cinema was not in the collection in those days. I, being only a school boy then, presumed that commercial films were not chosen because of the good quality of production and perhaps they were too colorful and sunny in contrast to the dark realistic images of the classics.

    Besides, sub-titles are not required in a commercial movie. There is so much visual clarity that even a child can tell the hero, heroine, comedian and the villain. Hero is clean shaven and wears a man’s dress. Heroine is also clean shaven but wears little or nothing except in scenes where she is being molested. The comedian has 64 teeth, a wide nose and a smile from ear to ear. The villain has a beard and has a great time for 3 hours till the last scene when he collects his payment and packs up.

    Entertainment or escapism or both?

    Who knows…

    • Bertram, I have no choice but to roll my eyes up to the heavens with this one:)

    • Reader – The last para has made me roll my eyes and laugh endlessly too!

      • Sharmila,

        Thanks. The Name is ‘Readerkanth’, Mayindh ith! 🙂

        The key to the success of the commercial entertainer is the mantra, ‘If a thing is good… more of the same thing is better!’

        Stereotypes come with a guarantee!


      • Reader – True, true:)

      • While on commercial entertainment, Shakira has just raised the bar on what young husbands should expect from their wives… crooning in cameroonian.. and blush while you flush… she just made it worth being young… The J Los and Madonnas are so old-school…

      • Ahem, not sure about JLo though..

  7. Aishwarya Says:

    When A.R.Rahman and Resul Pookutty bring in Oscars, we thankfully dont say North Indian/South Indian…just Indians. It takes international recognition to erase our boundaries…otherwise its Bolly, Kolly, Tolly, Molly…sadly.

    • Aishwarya,

      Beg to differ. A. R. Rahman and Resul’s poo got Oscars for a Hindi movie. I feel regional language films are yet to see the daylight on nation-wide recognition. Their themes, stories, plots and screenplay cater to a limited audience. That includes all regions Gujarathi, Marathi, Bhojpuri et al. Its not about the budgets either. There are exceptional small budget films which have been remade in toto in Hindi because of the themes canvas, like Uttam Kumar’s Amanush of Bengali, Nayakan from Tamil, Naath ha Maaza from Marathi etc. Scores of good examples.

      Notwithstanding that, quick-gun Murugan’s dolly is reserved for Tolly..


      • Aishwarya Says:

        R – Slumdog Millionaire is a 2008 British film directed by Danny Boyle.

        Doordarshan telecasts National award winning movies every week – most are regional movies (with good subtitles.) We need to take off our blinders when it comes to art. I will watch Marathi movies if you suggest me some, are you willing to watch Malayalam?:)

      • Aishwarya,

        Soch lo…. you are taking a big chance… I have been subjected to Malayalam movies since 1991 when I first came to the desert. The only videos that came to the desert camps were those of Mammothy and Mohanlal.

        That was the time I learnt the knack of sleeping in a sitting position with my eyes open.

        I can recommend a hundred Marathi classics which may test you on the same lines..


      • Aishwarya Says:

        R – Soch liya. Waise mujhe aaj kal raaton ko neend nahi aa rahi… I wonder if Marathi is as effective as Malayalam.:P Kidding. Would love to watch them…

      • Aishwarya,

        Okay. Will do. By the way, there is one sure difference between malayalam movies and Marathi. The Marathi movies have different actors in each movie. So even if the characters in every one of them is from the same neighbourhood at least the acting is different.

        The outstanding feature common to all regional films is the lyrics and music. The remarkable simplicity and cultural vibration in the compositions are worth the effort required to sit through the rest of the light and shadow.


      • Aishwarya Says:

        Agree with the music and lyrics of regional cinema. ‘Roja’ will always remain a favorite. Be it in Tamil or Hindi…the lyrics were simple and soulful…the music breathtaking…

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  10. masterpraz Says:

    Wonderful and enlightening piece as always Shamz….

  11. Sharmila, I’m sure you meant to call Vijay, ‘Ilaya Dalapathy’ and not Ilaya Dalapatti’, which would, with a little Malayalam thrown in, mean, ‘Young Army Dog’ 🙂

    And, don’t you think there is a difference in which Vijay does over-the-top machismo and the way Surya does it? Vijay doesn’t even try to earn that machismo…just see how puny he looks. Whereas, Surya at least tries to earn that machismo by looking the part. While both films have the hero overpowering everything on their way, if you have noticed Hari’s body of work, they do have decent enough roles for the supporting characters, while Vijay’s films, regardless of who the director is, are ONLY about Vijay. That’s perhaps why he doesn’t work with directors like Hari who’d dilute that impact by giving some minor importance to the script and remove 5% of its focus away from Vijay.

    • Karthik – Ha ha, well we can keep the spelling that way then.Yes, I agree with your view on Hari but either way it is disappointing with what he has done with Anushka considering that she is a fine actor. Thats why Asin in Gajini had so much impact because she deservingly got a meaty role. A rarity.

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