K Balachander – view from a feminist perspective?

All kinds of accolades have poured in for KB – the supreme director who helmed 101 movies, the  ‘Guru’  who launched many careers but in particular played a pivotal role in Kamal’s and Rajni’s rise to stardom, the strong playwright and scriptwriter known to produce intriguing climaxes, the director who showcased social issues etc.

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But the most appropriate epithet for KB would be the manner in which he delved into the female psyche and provided a feminist view in a patriarchal and male-dominated society.

KB’s heroine were well-known leads chiefly Sarita, Sujatha, Sridevi and Suhasini. In some ways he employed a technique similar to his contemporary Bharathirajaa. The tale would be a woman-centric subject, she would be subjected to a vale of miseries and the rising crescendo will lead to an intriguing climax. Bharathirajaa tended to focus on rural themes and would exploit the psyche of a person under stress. KB seemed to have reserved his attention for his female leads.

Things would appear to be normal but a lot of tension would be simmering just under the surface. And the tale usually did not have a happy end. It could be said to be doffing a hat to realism but there is still an underlying strain of predictability in the stories. KB’s heroines could be valiant and virtuous but the dice was inevitably loaded against them so they would end up as ‘losers’ in the conventional sense of success defined in conservative social milieu.

KB’s attack in that sense is deep and far-reaching in its impact than the traditional devices employed by crasser filmmakers where the abuse and malaise was physical and in staid ‘black-and-white’. Exploring the shades of grey and causing pain on account of holding onto ones self-esteem is indeed a bitter pill but an inescapable one that. Similar to Rudhraiya’s ‘Aval Appadithan’ classic closure a conventional heroine could find true marital bliss only if she were to innocently acknowledge that she knew nothing about Women’s Liberation and implicitly found nothing wrong in accepting the writ of her husband.

It even leads to a question on whether successful and ambitious women find it difficult to find happiness and emotional fulfillment in their marriages compared to their duller sisters who have an instinctive understanding of the role that the larger society expected of them?

Of all KB sagas my ‘Top Three’ are –

Aval Oru Thodar Kathai (Her’s is a never-ending story)

The narration is well-constructed as we move back and forth exploring Sujatha’s personal life. She is from a lower-middle class family and the backbone supporting an extended family in the absence of her father. KB tantalizes us by providing for humour and ordinary episodes till he lands a killer punch. Sujatha seems to have a plethora of suitors and is spoilt for choice. But not really since the perversity is inbuilt in the script and she is predestined to a lonely – not necessarily an unhappy one though – future.

Sindhu Bhairavi

The poise and counterpoise are perfectly played by Sulochana and Suhasini. As per traditional script Sulochana is rewarded for sticking to the conventional mores of our society Suhasini may have bedazzled Siva Kumar but yet again she is destined to get what would be regarded as the thin edge of the wedge. Fortunately KB never makes it seem that she will not lead a fulfilling life but it is undeniable that she has to lose her man as per the traditional rules of the game.

Manathil Uruthi Vendum (One should have a firm mind)

Suhasini again and the story theme resounds of familiar scenes from Aval Oru Thodar Kathai. In the given story her father is merely incompetent instead of being absent and she valiantly battles on for her family. By now am sure we know the familiar trend in the script and can see where the story is headed. No prizes for guessing the final climax.

So on and so forth the female lead has played in many of KB’s ventures be it movies,plays or TV serials. On the surface KB seems to espouse the cause of feminism and an avid supporter of women’s liberation. But his tale all have a sting in them – to his defense it might be said the climax were realistic and a reflection of the prevalent social mores. We cannot quite differ with that but all the same the calculus produces the same result every-time and one just sighs and wishes – ‘Perhaps at least in one story, KB should have given wings to his heroine so that she could fly and touch the sky’. 

Collection:The India Today Group Courtesy: Getty Images
Collection:The India Today Group
Courtesy: Getty Images

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