It’s not very often that a short film surprises me like this, but Oruvanukku Oruthi? (A Man For A Woman?) was nothing like I expected. Written and directed by Vimal Santiagu, this movie takes a cliché subject like forced arranged marriages and love, and subverts it in an attempt to challenge heteronormativity. This review will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t watched this movie, you could check it out below.
Focused solely on a conversation between two individuals, this 17-minute short film takes its audience on a journey of questioning identity, sexual preferences and lifestyle choices. It also is a realistic representation of the community sparing all of us any more sensationalized or comical depictions which the Indian film industry has unfortunately normalized.
Growing up, a Tamil in the metropolitan city of Bombay, my parents did their best to keep me culturally rooted. This meant Bharatanatyam dance classes and Carnatic singing classes. This meant huddling together on the couch watching “Surya’s” action movies. This also meant enduring my mother’s shrill whistles and my grandmother’s excited chortle every time ‘Rajnikanth’ came on screen. The camera focused for a full ten seconds only on the chewing gum he was going to pop in his mouth, followed by his socks, his shoes, his lips, his eyes, his eye-brows, his moustache…you get the drift. Took me a full minute just to be able to see his face, giving my mother enough time to have worked up her adrenaline into a standing ovation just because the actor appeared on screen. It never mattered to us as a family that he hadn’t done anything yet.
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Mainstream Tamil Movies And Their Objectification Of Women
I distinctively remember rolling down on the floor and laughing at ‘Vadivelu’s’ funny antics with my father. It became an important bonding moment for us, until very recently. I re-watched the very same ‘funny’ scenes that I used to once enjoy, only to find them completely sexist, misogynistic and crudely objectifying of women. The men would leer at a woman taking a shower and the appalling, sexual harassment is actively depicted as a comic scene in these films. The objectified women were always boring clichés – the ‘fair-skin’, ‘thin’, ‘foreign looking girl in short clothes who speaks fluent English’. They didn’t have much of a role except for falling in love with the hero and being rescued from her own family of goons after.
Reducing Tamil films to a stereotype is unfair of me to do especially because I’ve been culturally uprooted to Bombay. But as a queer poet, I was thrilled to watch Oruvanukku Oruthi? because of the sensitivity with which they touched upon issues of the LGBTQIA community. The two central protagonists identify within the spectrum. Regin Rose plays the role of a bisexual man and Tamilarasi Anandhavalli is a gender-fluid individual and is confused about their sexual preferences. It’s important to note that these two characters were assigned as a minority but were fortunately not forced into a stereotyped box. In Indian cinema, the portrayal of the queer community is usually comical or exaggerated. The director, as an ally, did adequate ground research within the community to ensure that the intricacies and the complexities of emotions and identity within the community are communicated with clarity. It was refreshing to see both the individuals as they were – still contemplating their lives. An additional bonus point to the director for not making Tamilarasi look like a ‘victim’ or a ‘traditionally shy girl who cannot convey how she felt’. Instead, they were portrayed as gender fluid, a headstrong individual who was unapologetically honest, and this I really loved!
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The Culture Of Forced Arranged Marriages In Fear Of Coming Out
Oruvanukku Oruthi? starts with the boy’s mother nagging Regin to get married since he was a 30-year-old-man. Tamilarasi’s family thinks they are a 25-year-old woman who is a liability if not married young. There is this concept of market value assigned to both brides and grooms in India, with a general understanding that single women, older than 30 have a low market value, and even lower in that ladder are the divorced women. God forbid, they are single mothers – their future is considered doomed.
This is a traditional and ridiculous notion that contributes to the objectification of women, pricing their virtue as their biggest selling point. Oruvanukku Oruthi? starts by addressing this issue. Both the individuals are forced to meet because their families have looked at their ages as a ticking, time-bombing and are afraid they won’t find suitable grooms if they wait any longer.
“Wouldn’t divorce reduce my market value?”, Tamilarasi asks Regin. “We are a minority within a minority. There is no market for us”, he says to them.
“We are a minority within a minority. There is no market for us”
This transferred sense of urgency forces the protagonists to meet, and even consider marriage because the chance of them meeting anyone else as open-minded in another arranged marriage set-up is rare.
Headspace: Fear, Loneliness, Suicide, Abandonment
Regin talked about his fear of being alone all his life and crippling loneliness. These were his driving emotions for agreeing to meet Tamilarasi that day. Tamilarasi honestly expressed that they had once contemplated suicide and sometimes, even thought of killing their partner in a fit of rage.
Feelings of loneliness and suicide are very common within the community, and the two protagonists bonded on the theme of ‘abandonment’. Each of their ex’s had left them for the fear of coming out to the family and hurting the sentiments of their family. Even if that meant losing the love of their life, or having to flee the country, or getting married to someone to appear straight. These are very real issues that people from the community experience and Oruvanukku Oruthi? did a remarkable job portraying the same, without coming off as preachy.
Ignorance Exists Even Within The Community
“Sometimes I feel like a boy, sometimes I feel like a girl”, they say.
“Oh, like split personality?”, asks Regin.
“No, that’s a mental disorder. This is my identity. I am genderfluid”, says Tamilarasi.
This little dialogue exchange is important because it shows that being part of the community does not mean you understand the nuances of every non-binary individual. It’s a difficult journey for everyone and it’s important for allies as well as the LGBTQ community itself to give space for people to communicate their identities and their preferences and not push them into a box.
TheRe are very real issues that people from the Queer community experience and Oruvanukku Oruthi? did a remarkable job portraying the same, without coming off as preachy.
The nuances within the community can often be difficult for people to understand, and this is a taboo subject, despite the decriminalization of #section 377. Thus, a lot of misconceptions exist, just like how Regin assumed Tamilarasi had a mental disorder despite being from the community himself, only because he couldn’t understand how Tamilarasi felt like they were two identities as a whole. After he gave adequate room for them to express them perspective without any assumptions, he understood what they meant. Allowing for open dialogue and interaction within the community itself is also very important and I love how subtly the film conveyed this.
Minimalistic Cinematography, Music And Ending
I appreciated the minimalistic cinematography by Dinesh K Babu that used soothing, cool colours to let the focus remain only on the two protagonists. Not distracting me with unnecessary music or visuals, really helped me get more involved in the storyline of the characters. The director also smoothly uses a song by Kaber Vasuki towards the end, called “Ne Vekkam Kori”. The placement of the song was well-timed and strategic, starting when the two of them are in a contemplative state of mind, figuring out if they should get married. The song breaks with the invasive questions of the respective, concerned parents, only to continue again until the end of the frame. The song symbolized the family intrusion and left the audience questioning too about the fate of the two lonely and accidental lovers. Overall, I would highly recommend this film.
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