As the world celebrates International Day of Rural Women today, we take a look at seven of the best representations of rural women in Tamil cinema over the years. These women aren’t the usual ‘coy and cute’ village belles most Tamil films portray. They can kick some ass with their quick wit and Aruva-wielding skills.
1. Saritha as ‘Sevvanthi’ in Thanneer, Thanneer (1981) :Saritha owned the screen in this classic film by K Balachander. She played Sevvanthi, the strong willed woman in the drought- ridden village, Athipattu. She goes to great lengths to save the village along with Vellaisamy, a stranger, who plans to revive the village. Despite the strain on her relationship with her husband (Radha Ravi), a policeman, and her mother-in-law, she does her best to save Vellaisamy when she finds out that he’s a convicted murderer. Thanneer, Thaneer was famous for its brazen description of the state of affairs in villages during the 70s. In fact, the government almost banned it. It’s hard to imagine a bold movie like Thanneer Thanneer release today, and much of the film’s impact can be credited to Saritha’s performance.
2. Parvathy as ‘Maari’ in Poo (2008) :
In this role of a lifetime, Parvathy really got into the character of Maari for Poo. Even when portraying rural women, leading actress pile on the makeup and glitz. But Parvathy went completely de glam. She darkened her complexion and even sported ‘unkempt’ eyebrows. The naive and innocent Maari is head over heels in love with Thangarasu. In one adorable scene, a young Maari is asked in school – what does she want to be when she grows up? Her reply – “I want to be become Thangarasu’s wife.” She tries her best to impress Thangarasu, but he decides against marrying her. For reasons that seem legitimate to him. We imagine of course, that Maari will do what broken hearted women on screen usually do. Something destructive and depressing. But no. Surprisingly and refreshingly, she’s strong and moves on with her life. She’s happy to see Thangarasu happy. Her performance won Parvathy several accolades. And her character went down our hearts as one of the most likable girls on screen.
3. Madhoo as ‘Roja’ in Roja (1992) :
Who can forget the charming antics of Roja in the song ‘Chinna Chinna Aasai’? The mischievous Roja is startled when Rishi, her sister’s prospective groom, seems more interested in marrying her. Roja is initially hostile towards him, but sees him in a new light after she learns the truth about her sister’s attachment to another man. Rishi and Roja move to the strange locales of Kashmir. Rishi gets abducted by terrorists and the story revolves around Roja’s daunting quest to rescue her husband. There are scenes where the simple village girl, Roja, who only speaks Tamil, runs from pillar to post to rescue her husband. In antagonistic, indifferent Delhi. Even as government officials sit back on the issue, we witness a steely display of strength, persistence, and courage from a village girl, who overcomes her weaknesses to rescue her husband.
4. Priyamani as ‘Muthazhagu’ in Paruthiveeran (2007) :
In this tragic story about rebellious love, both Priyamani and Karthi shone in their roles as Paruthiveeran and Muthazhagu. Karthi excelled as the brash villager, constantly involved in brawls with everyone. But Muthazhagu was badass in a completely unique way. Despite knowing that her father despised Paruthiveeran and would never approve of their relationship, she bravely takes on the patriarch. And remains steadfast in her decision to marry him. Priyamani won a National Award for her performance, and more importantly, went down in the minds of the audience as ‘that noisy bold village girl’. Forever.
5. Saranya Ponvannan as ‘Veerayi’ in Thenmerku Paruvakaatru (2010) :
Saranya Ponvannan is arguably the best loved on-screen mother today. And Thenmerku Paruvakatru is where it all started. She played Vijay Sethupathi’s protective mother. As a widow, she raises her son affectionately, overcoming hurdle after hurdle. When her son wants to marry Pechi (Vasundhara), she vehemently refuses. After all, Pechi’s father is the one who killed her husband. She’s torn between her son’s happiness and her fears for his safety. Saranya coasted through this role of a conflicted, caring mother with ease. And it fetched her a ‘Best Actress’ National Award.
6. Radha as ‘Kuyil’ in Muthal Mariyathai (1985) :
Radha plays a fairly unusual role in this film. She’s a boat woman who befriends the middle-aged village chief Malaichamy (Sivaji Ganesan). Malaichamy is unhappily married to a shrewish woman, Ponnatha (Vadivukkarasi). Muthal Mariyathai was a story that raised eyebrows then, and would raise eyebrows now. A tale of platonic love between a man and a woman, blossoming outside Malaichamy’s marriage. Sivaji Ganesan took a bold step by underplaying his character. As expected, he excelled in his role. But it was Radha who surprised everyone with her portrayal as Kuyil – a fearless young woman who didn’t give a damn about what society around her would think of the friendship she shared with Malaichamy.
7. Sujatha as ‘Annakili’ in Annakili (1978) :
‘Machana Paatheengala’ is what comes to mind when we think of Annakili. The peppy song signalled the arrival of the maestro Ilaiyaraja. But Annakili is also famous for its protagonist, played by Sujatha. Annakili falls in love with a school teacher who happens to marry another woman. A jilted womaniser creates rumours about her character, and she goes on a mission to prove her innocence to the villagers. Sujatha was known for portraying revolutionary urban women in films like Aval Oru Thodarkadhai. She did it again in Annakili, as a village woman.
So here’s a huge thumbs up to these actresses, who portrayed strong rural characters on screen. And to the directors who etched these roles. Know any we missed? Let us know.