Kandukondain Kandukondain is a Tamil film directed by Rajiv Menon, starring Tabu, Aishwarya Rai, Mammootty, Ajith Kumar, and Abbas in major roles. The story is about three sisters living with their widowed mother and their ailing, bed-ridden grandfather, all of them members of a wealthy family in a town in Tamil Nadu. The members of this family in Kandukondain Kandukondain have been leading fulfilling lives, the sisters fall in love, then they face unexpected difficulties, and what follows this is all that the film is about. Not overly melodramatic or superficial, but with more or less the right amount of drama for a film, Kandukondain Kandukondain can be called a romance/family drama. Now, what makes this a gender-equal film?
To begin with, Kandukondain Kandukondain is centred around women characters and men are playing supporting roles, so they don’t dominate the space on the screen. This film is not directed or produced by cis men like most other films in India.
Usually, in mainstream Indian films, superstars either occupy the centre stage, or even when they play guest roles the story would be twisted to give them more space than the character would require. Veteran actor Mammooty, who was at the prime of his career while starring in Kandukondain Kandukondain, side-steps to ensure the memorable portrayal of the sisters by Tabu and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, takes centrestage. Ajith was -still a rising actor and not ‘Thala Ajith‘ with a huge fan following when Kandukondain Kandukondain was produced and released.
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A Movie without any Description for an Ideal Woman
Most writers and directors have their own ways of deciding on what an ideal woman should look like on the screen. Kandukondain Kandukondain breaks the stereotypes. There is no “brave woman” vs “shy woman” binary. In Kandukondain Kandukondain, the eldest of the three sisters, Sowmya (played by Tabu) is a down-to-earth, practical person who is a good school principal and administrator. She is also a skilled computer programmer. The second sister Meenakshi (played by Aishwarya Rai) is shown as a carefree, happy-go-lucky, romantic woman who is interested in arts and literature. Meenakshi sees no need to hide her romantic side from the world. Nobody tells the woman to hush up or ‘behave’. The youngest of the three sisters is a student interested in science. Also Nandini Varma (played by Pooja Batra) is shown as an ‘action heroine’ and not simply as a glamorous woman in Kandukondain Kandukondain.
Empowered Women Don’t Need Protectors and Saviours
When the family in Kandukondain Kandukondain faces the greatest misfortune in their lives, they lose all their wealth and move to Madras with little to no money in hand. It’s a huge downfall for them, as they were used to a rich life. Now as they struggle to make ends meet, the women characters in Kandukondain Kandukondain are shown as fighters in their own ways, with none of them essaying the role of a helpless woman desperately looking for a saviour. They make their own decisions.
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Gender and Emotions
Despite being a strong and practical woman, Sowmya gets emotional too once in a while. It is all but natural, right? It’s not like strong people don’t cry! The mother is the most emotional of all, she takes care of her ailing father and is worried about her three single daughters, while still not being nosy or controlling. At the same time, the mother being emotional is part of her character, not her gender. Emotions are not shown as feminine or masculine traits in Kandukondain Kandukondain. The men are also shown facing their own difficulties and emotions, too. Major Bala (played by Mammootty) experiences mixed feelings when he is rejected repeatedly by Meenakshi, as he also tries to understand the meaning of life. Manohar (played by Ajith) shows happiness and pain as he falls in love with Sowmya and later feels like a failure as a director and is also misunderstood by his lover. Srikanth (played by Abbas) also has his own struggles and makes his share of mistakes that he later regrets and is shown as helpless.
Men Who Understand Consent
In Kandukondain Kandukondain, Meenakshi gets ditched by her lover. How she suffers a heartbreak, takes her own time to come to terms with it, and then accepts Bala’s love is portrayed really well. In the meanwhile, Bala also does not force his interest upon her, lets her have her space, which is nothing noble but respectful and human, as he patiently waits for her, understanding her state of mind. Even Srikanth, who is shown as the lover and then betrayer, does not force her to do anything against her will. He asks her twice if she would like to elope and get married; he does not force.
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In Sowmya’s case, though, she waits for Manohar to accomplish his goal, not forcing him or burdening him in any form to marry her soon, when she herself is under the pressure to get because of her age. In the end, when Manohar asks if she would still accept him, it is entirely her choice, whether to say yes or no to his proposal. Again, simply well written. In all these instances from Kandukondain Kandukondain, none of the men cross boundaries with or exploit any woman in the name of love.
What Doesn’t Work, Though?
Kandukondain Kandukondain is all about the struggles and success of characters that belong to upper class and upper caste people. It is evident from the very beginning; there are several instances in the dialogue about the “royal family” and their family tree. Further, the obsession with fair skin and conventional beauty standards is evident throughout Kandukondain Kandukondain. Why was it pertinent for all characters to be fair-skinned and fitting the patriarchal stereotype of the handsome man and beautiful woman?
Irrespective of the story-line, Kandukondain Kandukondain ultimately still caters to the male gaze. Is it because of producers or do we have the patriarchal society to blame for it?
Now, coming back to my stand that Kandukondain Kandukondain is gender-equal, is it a mere coincidence that the original story was written by a woman?
Featured Image Source: DNAIndia
I am one of the admirers of this film. I agree with Your analysis of the film including catering to male gaze .
I saw this film because it is based on sense and sensibility. Then onwards I started following Tabu and saw most of her films.
Thank you, G. N. Nagaraj. Nice to know you agree with the analysis.
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