However, upon closer inspection, one can’t help but notice that it all plays out as a matter of convenience. The women of Kaala, particularly Zareena (Huma Qureshi), Puyal (Anjali Patil) and Selvi (Easwari Rao), have their identities and strength shaped by the men in their lives.
Sample this: When the verdict for Kaala was out soon after its release, everybody cheered for the women on screen. Zareena was lauded for being part of Kaala’s past, Selvi was lauded as being the wife always by her man’s side, and Puyal was regarded as Lenin’s firebrand Marathi girlfriend. It makes one wonder if the film would’ve focused on these women if one were to isolate the men from their lives. Their achievements, their words, and their actions were barely the focal point of the film, but that’s okay. However, whatever they had to contribute always originated from something that the men in their lives did. There’s no question that they are strong but the only bits we know about them is through their association with Kaala, some way or the other.
Selvi, ever maternal and caring towards her husband, is often patronised by him. She sulks when he meets an old flame but understands, he takes jibes at her and yet wants to be fussed around by her. Their camaraderie is beautiful but what do we know of her apart from her being looked at as the titular mother hen? The mother-in-law who dotes around her daughter-in-laws, who spoils her sons endless, and who keeps the family as a unit. And just when you think you know her too well, she gets killed and you’re left with a void. What was Selvi really like apart from her ‘mother’ and ‘wife’ status? Who was this other lover from Thirunalveli she uses to taunt Kaala? Did she have ambitions of her own?
When you focus on Zareena, too, you wonder about her achievements. Sure, she’s done quite a bit for herself and only then does she return to Dharavi, the place where she grew up and fell in love with a man called Karikaalan. She’s a single mother now and a renowned social worker. Her background is touched upon but what was Zareena like in her youth when Kaala was courting her? Was she outspoken about the system back then or did it happen over the years? Would she have been any different had she not left? There’s a lot to explore here.
Similarly, Puyal, the youngest of the women is undoubtedly the more fascinating of all. When she gets sexually assaulted, she chooses to fight it out instead of giving in. When she has to slap a man, she doesn’t flinch for even a second. And when she has to support Lenin, she does so but not without voicing out her own opinion. She’s strong with a mind of her own, but wouldn’t it have been a lot more wholesome to get to know her character more? What does she do for a living? How did she grow up, and so many more questions?
We clearly need more fierce women characters on screen who are just as strong without the association of any of men in their lives. We rarely see a feat like this, so while Pa Ranjith gave us memorable female characters, it still leaves much to be desired.