I began watching Vivah, the 2006 Amrita Rao-Shahid Kapoor starrer in curiosity for Shahid, after I had enjoyed his performance in Jab We Met so much (a movie I heartily recommend, by the way). Emphasis on "began", since I did not manage to watch all of it, or even as much as make my way towards the halfway mark.
The reason? Quite simple. I had to surrender in the face of the conservative, very "Indian" values of Vivah. I simply couldn't stomach it. The film's story is that of an arranged marriage - a concept I'm perfectly okay with. But the saccharine sweet family scenarios and particularly the character played by Amrita just made me conclude this was not a film for me. I couldn't wrap my head around why Shahid, why anybody could agree to marry this shy, bland girl who reveals no personality after their first meeting (or I must assume - throughout the whole bloody film). Her downcast eyes, quiet behavior, how she's valued for her beauty (even though she's supposedly an educated, intelligent girl)...
All are reasons why this film makes for incredibly ungrateful feminist viewing. But hey, I'm not looking for feminist heroines in my Bollywood. I know better than to expect all heroines to have jobs and independent lives and kick ass here and there and all over the place. What I would like, however, is a girl who can, oh I don't talk, talk to the hero. Whilst looking at him. Is that so much to ask, really?
However, Vivah is just one of those films. You accept it for what it is, and it's a smooth fluffy sail, I'm sure. If you let these things get to you - as I do, I apologise - then it's not going to work at any step of the way.
After Vivah I needed an anti-dote. Curiously, I turned to one of my favourite Tamil films, Pithamagan, for a completely different reason - I just wanted to rewatch it. But as I began rewatching, it hit me - this was it! My perfect Vivah-antidote.
Pithamagan, directed by Bala, tells a story of a boy who was born and raised in the cemetary. Chitthan grows up secluded and doesn't learn human communication, apart from funeral hymns. When he finally wanders out into the real world, he naturally finds himself in a lot of trouble. The film is grim, realistic and portrays the world of criminals and outcasts. Chitthan is played by my favourite Tamil actor, the versatile and unmistakably charming Vikram, who won the National Award for his performance in the movie.
Chitthan is helped out by a jolly fraud (420) named Sakhti, played by another favourite of mine, Surya. Sakhti has a romantic storyline with a college student named Manju (played by the sweetfaced Laila), whose money he successfully cons. She does not take it lightly, however, throwing an absolute fit after losing her money and some of her belongings, and later when she runs into him on the train, she raises all kinds of hell.
Manju is my Poonam-antidote (Poonam is the character who Amrita Rao played in Vivah). She's not the perfect spunky heroine - she's actually quite over-the-top, throwing exaggerated fits when she gets angry, but in the end she is what she needs to be to match Sakhti. He's a criminal, a charming one but not really a very nice guy, and for whatever he did, she's the only person who's not letting him get away, no chance in hell. She even stands up to her father no problem. Manju is quite a firecracker, sure of herself to a flaw, but I love her for that. Whereas some Indian film heroines would get beaten down and stay down, perhaps weeping silently for their pain, Manju would scream her lungs out, then get up, chase whoever beat her down and do her best to beat him down, as well. Whether smart or not, I love her guts!
The way the romance eventually develops is not something I'm extremely fond of - I will not say more as not to spoil anybody - but it does fit into the harsh reality of the film. That Sakhti, deep down a good person, could actually not be good at all, and that Manju, who stands so proudly against whatever stands in her way, could easily be struck down by the evil that exists in the world.
Luckily Manju stays as she is despite the peculiar plot vehicle, full of life and character.
There's a lot of other things to be said about Pithamagan, too, but I'll leave that for another rewatch, and another post. The above image is from another Laila movie, Dhill, not as impressive but I just love her eyes whenever she smiles and feel the post could use a bit of cheering up (as could I, after finishing Pithamagan just now).