This applies to the fate of many of the female characters in the recently released Petta, starring superstar Rajinikanth, Vijay Sethupathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, et al. While the film was entertaining in its own way, it still wouldn’t have hurt to have women cast in roles that had something to offer. Especially considering how director Karthik Subbaraj a few years ago made Iraivi, a film that focused on empowering women.
Fridging is a term originating from the comic Green Lantern. The character’s girlfriend is killed and stuffed into a refrigerator by the villain, thus used as a plot device. Over the years, cultural critics use this term to examine why the plot device has been disproportionately associated with female characters. In other words, if an actress’ role in the film revolves around the hero where she is disposed off easily, it basically means that she’s been fridged.
This happens to Simran’s Mangalam in Petta. Her role is that of being Megha Akash’s mother, a praanic healer. But she is only introduced as Kaali’s love interest, and that too for a few scenes in the first half. The second half is just a picture of her on Kaali’s phone when she calls. Simran, someone who has worked in a number of films that have heavily relied on performance and characterisation, is reduced to a role that has nothing going. It’s not just unfair to her, considering her past performance, but it’s mighty unfair to the storyline to project it as a testosterone-filled masala padam when her role could’ve been used instrumentally to give Kaali a new lease of life.
Similarly, Trisha Krishnan, who plays the role of Saro, Kaali’s wife from the past, is in a cameo that’s more forgettable than lasting. While it might be a big deal for her acting alongside the superstar for the first time, it’s discerning to see her try everything to make her role work despite being given very little to work on. The entire first-look posters of her character in the past few months were ridiculously misleading considering her role was so minuscule that it could’ve been played by anybody. Even Trisha’s star power does not save the so-called role given to her, where all she had to do was lovingly look at Kaali or scream ‘yo!’ during an ensuing fight.
Malavika Mohanan, who has been a part of big projects including Beyond The Clouds, walks away with a better deal, a better role with more depth when compared to the other women’s roles. As Poonkudi, her character goes through various layers. One of languish, one of love, one of tragedy, and one of fear. It’s a role that is relatively better etched out but it still falls short of being substantial in the grand scheme of things.
Megha Aakash, who plays Simran’s daughter, is in a fairly forgettable role considering her character isn’t further explored beyond her love angle with actor Sanath Reddy’s Anwar. She, much like the other women in the film, is a mere addition to the male character’s story. A chapter, if you will.
Lest we forget, each of these actresses have played the lead in cinema before. But going by what Tamil cinema often resorts to, wherein the male perspective is heightened while the female perspective is nothing but a story arc, it’ll be a long time till we have more substantial roles carefully etched out solely for the female characters. If 2018 was anything to go by, women in the lead of a film stood out and even created box office hits. So why can’t we still have better written roles for our women?
READ: JFW’s Review of Petta