April 22, 2014

A Tamil girl writes to Bollywood

This is an earnest plea to Bollywood.

If you ever want to make a movie on Tamilians, kindly adopt me.

No, really. You never get it right. I am not saying we never have our biased portrayals of North Indians in films down south. But then, that, my dears, is another’s battle to fight. Let us get back to mine.

I watched Two States last night. And a few months ago I watched Chennai Express. A decade or more ago, I witnessed Juhi Chawla going “Ayyo Appa” in Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke. All these three films had pretty, intelligent and good actresses who were essaying roles of Tamil girls.

I am a Tamil girl but not your typical idea of Mallipoo (jasmine) sporting, sari draped, M.S.Subbalaxmi on the iPod, mantra book thumping one. I honestly don’t know where you got that idea from. We grew up parallel with the times, you know? So while all you North Indians are not seen wearing ghaghra cholis and salwar suits on an everyday basis, we also resort to alternative clothing. We love our saris and mallipoos, yes. But that is NOT all we wear.

Maybe we won’t even tread into the styling, as mostly you guys at Bollywood mix up your Kerala Kasavu saris for our Kancheevarams and insist that we dress up that way. So I will let you keep your delusions. But I will insist on one thing – get your language right. If your character is a Tamilian, let them SPEAK in Tamil for God’s sake and not that weird mumbo-jumbo that I half expect will magically make a pigeon fly out from behind their pallus! Get an accent trainer. Or hire me! I will do it for free, as long as you credit me.

So you have Revathy sharing screen space with Alia Bhatt. I wonder how she survived the mutilation of the language during the dubbing sequences if at all they did dub together! Here was a seasoned star, AT your disposal and you let the chance pass, Bollywood. Why? Why? Why?

If you are shooting anything ‘Tamil’, you need to get your production team to work extra hours unless you have one of Matunga’s boys on board who visit Madras in their summer holidays. They will know that women don’t keep walking with baskets of flowers and multi coloured pots ALL The time on the streets of Tamil Nadu as you showed in Chennai Express. No, they don’t do that in Kerala either. We too have bore wells, thankyouverymuch!

And what is with the vibuthi/ sacred ash that everyone seems to sport (alright, or the occasional chandan you let them indulge in)? There are OTHER religions people follow down south, too. We have our own Triplicane mamis sharing vadaam (sun-dried flour/vegetable) space on the terrace with Muslim aunties who are drying their fish. We also have our own very Stellas and Marias to give your Bandra crowd some serious competition.

The point I am trying to make is- I LOVE you Bollywood! So much so that, I even left my Tamil cinema land of Chennai to come here. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Kollywood too with all its innovative storylines and stunning filmmaking. And I equally get annoyed with it for its repetitive dishevelled thug heroes and occasional sickeningly cute heroines. But presently, I am more of a Bombaiyya who loves a pav with her vada more than a chutney with her vadai. Maybe it is a phase, maybe it is to stay. But like I said, I don’t like YOU, Bollywood, to disappoint me this way by a complete lack of research about a land I am mighty proud of – Tamil Nadu. I am not clannish, neither am I close minded. I am no fan of Chetan Bhagat nor am I a Chennai Express type. I am just particular that movies get made with a passion and sincerity that they deserve.

Making Alia Bhatt, however drop-down-dead gorgeous that she is, mispronounce Tamil IS not going to make you convincing, Bollywood. It is going to make me laugh at you, point fingers at you and write an entire list of how terrible it was - which is exactly what I just did.

Grow up Bollywood and hire people who will care for you. Who will go at lengths to UNDERSTAND what you are trying to portray. Who will know the stories you are trying to tell and give them the voice it deserves. Make every kind of film you want to make, but make them with authenticity and passion. Without passion, everything is stale. And Bollywood, YOU are what taught me to fall passionately in love with films. Will you please fall in love with yourself, as well?

37 comments

Rakesh said...

Agree to everything. When I saw Chennai express I was also really annoyed with deepikas portrayal of Tamil girl. I also wished at some point sathyaraj would slap her for her horrible Tamil. Yet to see 2 states. So you are in mumbai is it?

Sandhya Ramachandran said...

Haha! Yes! The actual Tamil cast spoke sensible Tamil and she was the only one with some godknowswhere accent!
:P

And yes, I am in Mumbai at present.

Murali said...

Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. got it right. Of course, that's not Bollywood but Aparna Sen

Vignesh Chandrasekaran said...

"We have our own Triplicane mamis sharing vadaam space on the terrace with Muslim aunties who are drying their fish." Whenever THAT happened lol. :D

Sam Kumar said...

Well said. It is obvious that director Abhishek Varman does not have much knowledge about the background of his Tamilian heroine. I wonder if he ever visited Tamil Nadu or even Chennai. Writing the script from the novel is not enough. The least he should have done is to engage an assistant director from Tamil Nadu. It should have avoided obvious mistakes in the heroine’s portrayal. In contrast, Slum Dog Millionaire’s director Danny Boyle upgraded assistant director Loveleen Tandon to Co-Director. On top of that, he had a team of Indians working as assistant directors. That ensured he got a fair degree of accuracy about his Indian characters.

Sandhya Ramachandran said...

@Murali:
Not really! There was barely much Tamil there.

@Vignesh Chandrasekaran:
Haha! Hey Author liberty! :P But jokes apart, I meant Triplicane does have a hearty Hindu and Muslim population coexisting and that Chennai is not all vibhuti sporting Hindus.

@Sam Kumar
Thank you so much! Glad you agree :) Danny Boyle DID portray parts of it right. But considering I read the book and then watched the film, I wasn't impressed. And well, Slumdog Millionaire got us attention for as many wrong reasons as it did for the right. It is a tricky game - portrayal. But at least, it is heartening to know a bit of research went into its making. The other two films - 2 states and Chennai Express- needed that!

rohit said...

Apparently what ever you said is true and I sincerely adhere to your feelings but I want to just impress a small opinion(of mine) on you is that " Even they (directors) do know what they are depicting on the screen" I mean they deliberately try to portray such characters in order to excite and stir people to get more pecuniary gains!! (reason for which chennai express crossed 300+ with extraordinary dumb jokes).
So don't take these things serious, as anyone will can go for any extent to be in fame and glory. Chill and be happy!!

rohit said...

Apparently what ever you said is true and I sincerely adhere to your feelings but I want to just impress a small opinion(of mine) on you is that " Even they (directors) do know what they are depicting on the screen" I mean they deliberately try to portray such characters in order to excite and stir people to get more pecuniary gains!! (reason for which chennai express crossed 300+ with extraordinary dumb jokes).
So don't take these things serious, as anyone will can go for any extent to be in fame and glory. Chill and be happy!!

Dannia Menon said...

Can I just say I loved reading your article?

I agree with you absolutely, I had the same sentiments especially after watching Two States. It was really a bad portrayal of our 'South Indian' candidates and honestly I think the only tamil words she ever used through the movie was when she made reference to Amma and Appa.

But like you said the portrayal of our south indian culture, traditions and fashion in a movie representation ought to change at least with much respect given to the modern outlook and interpretations of what we are made off.

But honestly, I am just here to say I loved your written piece. It was very entertaining!

Cheers,
Dan.

Ashmur said...

Very nicely written Sandhya! The way they made Alia talk to Revathi in Hindi at many places looked very artificial. Hope they caught my mind voice then "Shabbaaa...mudiyala!!" :-)

Sandhya Ramachandran said...

@Rohit
You do have a point there! It is a vicious circle, a blame game of "audience wants it, we give it" and vice versa. That is unfortunately not a solution. With our 'adjust maadi' attitude, we as a nation with some of the best talent and best stories, are never going to reach the heights of great art. Hence, my protest.

It is easy to embrace mediocrity. In fact, we do that every day, in our own acts, in others etc. But there is a reason why we come with a certain potential. It is a pity if we fritter it away so mindlessly.

We have some of the best technical talent in the world. We have the most original and inventive folk tales. It takes all kinds of films to make tinseltown. But even when you make a so-called 'masala film', do your research and maintain some authenticity.

Stereotypes are what have caused years of struggle for women, the oppressed and the underprivileged. It is high time we shake our laziness off and resort to some effort.

Sandhya Ramachandran said...

@Dannia Menon,

Thank you so much for your kind words. I was delighted that she got 'amma' and 'appa' right! Now if only she had pronounced that wrong...
:P

Sandhya Ramachandran said...

@Ashmur
haha! :D

Glad you liked the piece! Thank you for writing in!

Balaji Anbil said...

Hi,

I liked your blog, but am I the one who is seeing that through this blogpost you are type casting TN the way you have seen it? May be TN has moved on and the stereotypes you have mentioned are also losing its casting?!

On the contrary if you see any current Tamil movies, some of them still portray the girls in the same M.S manner and boys with Vibhuthi. So Bollywood is just taking the cue from that. So your blog should primarily be addressed to Kollywood.

On a different note, I read between the lines that you may be actually missing TN the way you have seen it and these memories of yours may have subconsciously kindled to write this blog? I am just guessing.

Good write up, keep blogging!

Divakarz said...

Yes , I agree with you more on the aspect of research on cultural and social sensitivities Bollywood team does on a commercial films is pathetic even in a films with leading stars in it ...cos it hardly matters to the story line .. even if there is one.I felt Hollywood was better in portraying a tamil in Life of Pie given the 9000 miles difference. Two states could have been better.Being a tamil felt miserable after choosing a watch a feel good movie..Nice one Sandhya

Sam Sandeep said...

So true. I think the only character I've watched in a Hindi movie which portrays a Tamilian and gets it almost right is the one played by Abhay Deol in Shanghai.

Jeffin Sunny said...

Even I am from south & love Bollywood but always wondered why do they do this, finally I read this.I don't remember reading an article recently which is directly from your heart ,that too abt movie.well written, Good Job.Loved it.

M@n!K@Nd@N said...

I really liked your article!
I wondered about this good criticism.. and got to know you also an architect!!
And yea one more film is yet to release.. (Pizza) which came in tamil! So you can guess how good it will be.
Keep writing!! :)
- Mani

Everything East said...

This article is similar to something i wanted to write a long time back.. well done...! i use to work in Mumbai and we hire translators who are hired to translate television commercials from Hindi to Tamil...! These so called Tamils left homeland 50 odd years ago and hardly visit Chennai/TN!They are so stuck in the past and its funny to read their translations! I bang my head reading them and many times i ended up writing it myself :-P

archuscribbles said...

AWESOME ARTICLE..!!! JUST PERFECT..!! Keralite here, my blood is boiling too.. :)

leosash said...

Interesting post. As for Two States, have not seen the film. But from what i saw in the trailers, they should have taken Asin (heard she was being considered) instead of a person who did not know the language like Alia. This is sheer laziness on the part of Bollywood's mainstream film-makers.

andhi mazhai said...

A nice write up ..

www.andhimazhai.com

andhi mazhai said...

A nice write up..

www.andhimazhai.com

Anonymous said...

I am a tamilian - Brahmin Iyer girl born and brought up in Delhi! Hence I clearly know the difference and similarities of both regions! And I have no issues in Deepika's acting in Chennai Express and with 2 States. Come on guys, both were Hindi movies meant for people who understand Hindi! And we can take things on a lighter note. Deepika rocked her performance.
I feel we tamilians are so obsessed with ourselves that we can never see things in some other way! I have seen soooo many tamilians literally criticizing such movies. Please stop this gap and act like matured INDIANS!

Nehaa Narayanan said...

So very apt! I was irritated after watching Chennai express and avoided two states...
I think the north shouldn't be this stereotypical of us. I certainly don't go 'guruvayoorappa' and 'ayyo' is something I never use in conversation. Thumbs up.

Anonymous said...

I will definitely agree with the fact that it may have been portrayed in an un-authentic manner, but that holds true for most things/cultures/languages/trends in Bollywood films. Lack of sincerity, and the amount of time spent in background research is little, and at times none. This is NOT restricted to Tamil language, scenes or culture. So you can make your claim because, even though you migrated, you are looking for the same authenticity in all realms - which, realistically, is not possible. Grow up, smile, and let it go Tamilian. We all love all kinds of quirky moments in bollywood films - no matter where they originated, or how much they were misinterpreted. No one is judging here, we are all looking to have some entertainment. Period.

Lakshmi said...

Sandya,What you've expressed is what many tamilians feel. What a throw of clarity and fairness in your context.Felt Good after reading your Article. Proud of being your fellow south Indian. Cheers

Anonymous said...

இதே வேலையை தானே தமிழ் சினிமாவும் செய்கிறது ?

kripa said...

Hi,
Sandhya,

While everybody is praising about #2States, your piece is just flashed the real portrayal of South India. I wonder when they take a role of South Indian they always choose Tamil or Kerala, why not kannadiga or Telugu. I wish your writings should reach the director or any bollywoodies to correct selves by not ripping of the beautiful Tamil Tradition and the language (Aliah Bhatt's" accent) Coming to your writing it is just subtle and topnotch. Hope to read more from you. Thanks
Rgds. Kripa.

kripa said...

Hi,
Sandhya,

While everybody is praising about #2States, your piece is just flashed the real portrayal of South India. I wonder when they take a role of South Indian they always choose Tamil or Kerala, why not kannadiga or Telugu. I wish your writings should reach the director or any bollywoodies to correct selves by not ripping of the beautiful Tamil Tradition and the language (Aliah Bhatt's" accent) Coming to your writing it is just subtle and topnotch. Hope to read more from you. Thanks
Rgds. Kripa.

shridhan said...

I agree Chennai Express was not accurate on Tamil culture. But that was again not a documentary type of movie, it was caricature movie.

Speaking of Bollywood, it does not represent any culture. Even their Hindi or Urdu are not realistic.

According to me, Two States was ok. May be som accent innacuracy was there.

Now tell me a single Tamil movie depicting "real" Hindi characters (done by TAMIL actors, except likes of Madhavan who is brought up in MH)

I won't mind if you get accent wrong. I will appreciate at least you know there is land apart fron TN.

Would you appreciate at least their try and acknowledgement of Tamils?

Justin said...

I totally agree with u. However u still cant compare girls in North with South. I m sure we all would agree that the % of girls being modern in both the North & South would be drastic. Even if i see modern girls roaming around in TN she would be a migrate or a rare breed. But that doesnt mean that we are behind. Our girls dont pluck flowers or wear d half sari anymore, but I would Chennai is way behind North/West/East when it comes to fashion.
I m no one to comment, but i guess what i say its true, coz i ve still seen girls with kajra and wearing jeans. TERRIBLE !!! Either we stick to loving our culture or move to western, which the northern part has accepted. We need to mix n match like them for occassions unlike us with that salwaar being the most fashionable avataar of girls in 2014.

Abhi said...

I thought Chennai Express and 2 States for that matter was not 2 documentaries showcasing Tamil culture or language. Whatever the storyline required, they used that. I have met tamil/telugu or other south indian folks who speak hindi exactly the way Deepika did and much worse than that too. May be the director wanted that kind of girl to be his leading lady. You cannot expect him to Have one lady speak all accents just to cover every side of south india.

With respect to the dress, Chennai Express had a heroine who lived in a village with very conservative parents and being from south india i know what Deepika wore is exactly what they wear...Also I think in 2 states Aliya did not wear only sarees coz the story demanded modernity.

Either you have nothing else to do to write such a note or you really do not understand that movies and characters r based on what the story needs and not to showcase a documentary on south indian culture.

I, for one, felt that Chennai Express showed a beautiful South India and i'd like to leave it at that.

Sarini S said...

I really liked your article esp for the fact that I love writing and that too, soo expressive that you get that intense feel when you read it ! Yes, I felt the plea I'd have expressed in person if I get to talk in-person with any of the Bollywood directors =D

Secondly, read your description as a holder of bachelor's degree in Architecture.. Voilà ! Instant connection ! M entering into my 4th year =D

Nice meeting you o rather coming across your article, Sandhya !
Best wishes :))

Sandhya Ramachandran said...

@Balaji Anbin,
Thank you for writing in! This post is primarily against all kinds of stereotyping. I have just taken one aspect of it - being the Tamil representation in Hindi films - to argue my case. This is just an angsty reaction to it.

I get what you are trying to say, however, I am asking bollywood(and kollywood too) to stop using a single identity to represent a culture. We have so many shades to explore. Such beautiful identities to represent. Yet we stick to our uni-dimensional typecasts.

Also, no, I don't think it has anything to do with me missing TN. :)

Glad you liked the post!

Manas said...

You write in good heart and genuine concern, its evident. But let me tell you where you went wrong. NO one in Bollywood, at least in the elite circles, gives a fuck about research or authenticity. Actually nor does most of the viewing population. We Indians love our over the top buffoonery and stereotypes, sadly. This is a national case as opposed to a Tamilian case.
Break out of "north Indian" and "south Indian", and embrace "Indian". Easier said than done, but i hope that's the light at the end of the tunnel.
Another shame is Bollywood is run by anti-intellectuals, the last breed of people you want to run one of the most profound medium of art. And i say anti-intellectuals not because of my subjective view, but because of the objective proof they lay out on us every fucking Friday.
have a good day.

Prasi! said...

Hehe.. After reading this article, I have a feeling that you have MUCHHH MUCHHHHHH MOREE frustration than whats reflected in this article in a mild manner as if your "love" for Bollywood has resulted in some kind of sympathy or empathy or some thy for screwing things up or having screwn things up for decades and generations.. Please dont hold back much in your future articles and express yourself more with a detached perspective..

After all Shahrukh khan or Alia Bhatt or Mahesh Bhatt, even they stumble upon this should get it into their heads to improve their understanding of fellow south citizens in general and not throw up rubbish in the screens to impress and entertain the rest of indians..

Urgh! Vuahhh it is daaaaaaa!! :D

And South films to portray the fellow north citizens, thats yet another war as you pointed out!

Movies need to smoothen the gap amongst Indians and understand each other more and for the better!

For a start, Bengalis and Keralites have a lot in common to share! ;) And so would probably the Himachalees and the Tamilians or the Uttarakhandis and the Andhraites!

If only movies try ...

On that note,
Prasi..

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