Contributed by PV Durga
Being a feminist, a student of Women’s Studies, and holding an undergraduate degree in Social Sciences sums up to one thing- all your movie experiences are pretty much ruined. It is bad enough that society thinks you cannot take “joke”, or that you cannot watch a film for “just entertainment”. But, what is worse is that the movies which you swore by once upon a time are actually extremely problematic when viewed through the gender lens. And then, those that are promoted in the name of portraying “strong women” or are supposedly “women centric” never seem to match up to their ideals in the feminist sense. Most of the time, they end up perpetuating stereotypes.
And so, the chances that a feminist like me will be entirely ok with the portrayal of gender in a movie are almost nil. But, once in a while, movies like Chi La Sow come by, and allow your overworked feminist brain to relax. You see, films are entertaining, but those of you who think that they serve only that purpose are far away from reality- they contribute to our cultural capital, legitimize/ normalize behavioral patterns, and influence our worldview in a manner that no other medium can. Few movies like Chi La Sow tread that path with responsibility.
Having watched my share of cringeworthy movies, that adage that cinema is a director’s medium, had me worried. The celebration of violent, toxic and entitled masculinities, and reproducing regressive images of “acceptable” women seemed to constitute a dominant part of directorial cognition in our cinema for a long time now. But, when Rahul Ravindran, a feminist who does not bat an eyelid before calling himself one (yay!) was making Chi La Sow, it felt like somebody was finally making the right use of the medium. Chi La Sow’s feminism lies in its silent normalization. When Sujith frantically warns Arjun that the boss has been waiting for him, there is an elegance with which Ravindran breaks our imagery of a boss- it is a woman. The audience may not gasp at the revelation, but it definitely did normalize the existence of female bosses. Or, when Vidyullekha Raman merely existed as a sister, without ever being shamed for her physicality in the name of “comedy”, it normalized the fact that differently shaped women can exist in relation to those who are thin by conventional standards- no big deal. I also enjoyed the jibe at the idea of a “virgin” husband. In turning the tables, I thought it was an excellent rhetoric to draw our attention to how silly such rigid ideas are, especially because it is usually a woman’s virginity and sexuality that is heavily probed before and after marriage. Another winning moment for me was when Anjali refused a hug, and then exercise her choice in hugging Arjun just a few moments later. It spoke volumes about the nuances of consent.
In most romantic movies, the man comes as a messiah in his wife’s life, solves her problems, and even makes her a better person. But, Chi La Sow’s denouement gives us an entirely different take. Arjun merely empathizes with Anjali, having been made aware of the reasons behind why her personality has been shaped the way it is. There is no paternalism in Arjun’s mannerisms when he interacts with Anjali’s mother after the revelation. Neither does he talk to her mother in a patronizing manner, as the savior “Alludu”. Arjun and Anjali are two individuals who are
going to spend their lives together. Marriage in Chi La Sow is not an exercise in mergers and acquisitions.
More than the experience of watching the movie and reflecting upon it, I have enjoyed the ease with which our Telugu audience has lapped it up. These are the kind of films that we need to initiate discussion, to make us reflect, and to ensure that gender is portrayed more responsibly in our cinema. For me, a sustained change in the quality of Telugu cinema, gender wise, began with Kshanam in 2016 (until then, Sekhar Kammula films offered sporadic respite). And ever since, there is a steady rise of such films. And now, with movies like Chi La Sow, I see that change gaining more momentum- Mellaga Mellaga indeed!
Thank you, Mr. Rahul Ravindran! It is reassuring to know that male feminists can make a film with such sensitivity without appropriating the discourse!
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