Woman-Centric Film Aadai Is Problematic In Parts But Bold, Refreshing, And Thought Provoking

Posted: August 28, 2019

Aadai may be a woman centric movie with an out-of-the-box theme. However, there are a few issues with the movie. Here’s why you should watch it!

I was somewhat skeptical about the movie since I had read a review that the movie was problematic from feminist angle.

But I know feministic lens are not universal and each feminist can have different takes on many issues. So I tried watching it through my personal feministic lens.

I have a simple test. I swap the gender of the characters in the scenes that trouble me. And then I see how acceptable or unacceptable they would sound to the audience.

For instance, take Kabir Singh. Can you imagine a Preethi going from class room to class room announcing that she likes a boy. And asking the other women to stay off him?

From this perspective, I did not find Aadai to be as problematic. In fact I found it bold, refreshing and even thought provoking.

A thought provoking beginning

The movie starts with an interesting anecdote from history. It talks about Nangeli. Who was a lower caste woman of 19th century from Travancore district. She cut off her breasts and died in the process while protesting against the caste based “breast tax”.

The narrator draws the audience’s attention to how all the freedom that we enjoy now is a gift. A gift that we have received through the struggles and sacrifices of those who came before us.

Rebel without a cause

The heroine of the movie, Kamini, played by Amala Paul as opposed to Nangeli is a rebel without a cause. She is self centred, entitled and insensitive. She works for a television channel. There she and her team run a reality prank show involving subjecting unsuspecting strangers to some nasty pranks.

The tomboyish Kamini calls herself a feminist but both her feminism and idea of freedom are cosmetic with no ideological backing. Her feminism thrives on asserting her superiority to people around. Especially her colleagues while her sense of freedom is not just intrusive but also irresponsible.

In one of the early scenes, Kamini is shown racing away on a bike with the male bikers on the road. Without bothering about the fact that her pillion is not wearing a helmet and is scared out of his wits.

The writer brings out her superficiality metaphorically in how she rejects her birth name, ‘Suthantara kodi’ (meaning freedom flag). And adopts a more chic sounding ‘Kamini’.

In short, she is all form and no substance.

The plot of Aadai

The movie’s plot revolves around what happens when the free spirited Kamini wakes up naked one morning in an empty multi storied office building. This is after an informal late-night drunk party with her friends. It’s the same Kamini who earlier claims to her colleagues that she would have no qualms about doing a nude show on television.

What’s interesting about the movie is that it is difficult to be classified under any genre.  It is a thriller in most parts, it keeps the audience guessing as to who did this to her and why? And how can she get out of the building without subjecting herself to severe embarrassment?

The movie is thus mildly reminiscent of both the Korean movie Old Boy and Malayalam movie, Shutter.

But at the helm, the movie is philosophical as it raises some pertinent questions on freedom and its boundaries in the minds of the audience.

Aadai makes you think of social boundaries

Aadai makes us think what is the title ‘Aadai’ (clothing) metamorphic about? Is it the social boundary where our personal freedom needs to be surrendered? Or is the naked body the equivalent of our naked spirit, where in both cases we need an acceptable social clothing?

The price of civilisation lies in the compromises it demands.  There is no ambiguity on legally drawn boundaries. But compliance with socially drawn boundaries depends on each person’s background, interpretation and choice. However, can we completely deny the boundaries? Can we afford to be naked?

Questions that Aadai raised

In one the scenes towards the end, Kamini ventures out finally in the dead of the night. But she is chased by the stray dogs and runs back into the building.

Is it the writer’s way of saying that the life out of the confines of the society is subject to the perils of the jungle? These are some of the conversations that the movie raised in my mind.

I could also see the issue the other feminist had with the movie. I think it was to do with the subtle moral policing on the unrestrained freedom of a woman. Why should a flawed woman always be judged and punished in the movies?

There was also one problematic dialogue in the end where she is mildly appreciated for wrapping herself in some clothing made of toilet paper and not shamelessly coming out naked. I cringed at the word ‘shamelessly’ linked with survival instinct.

She isn’t a flawed woman, but a flawed human

In spite of these lapses, the movie worked for me on overall level. Maybe that’s because I didn’t look at Kamini as a flawed woman but a flawed human being.

I had problems with Kabir Singh’s flaws being normalised and glorified and I wouldn’t want a woman’s flaws to be glorified either. There might be no law against obnoxiousness and insensitivity, but they are not cool traits, either in a man or a woman. And further a man’s predicament of being left naked in an empty building would not have been very different as compared to a woman’s.

I would have had a real problem, had they ended the movie showing Kamini reading news on TV draped in a saree. How her mother wanted her to in the early parts of the movie. But she ends up as an investigative journalist who brings down a lyrics writer in the “me too” movement (clearly hinting at Vaira Muthu).

She still rides her motorbike though doesn’t get tempted to accept the invitation to race.

A fine end to the movie

That’s a fine ending, I thought, where her freedom is not constrained but her choices are now guided by social and personal responsibility.  She is no less courageous but is now also wise.

The movie also breaks certain stereotypes, reflects a healthy camaraderie that can exist between men and women at work place. Her male colleagues might not approve of her rude behaviour but still have a grudging respect for her spontaneity and courage.

Her transformation in the end is not brought by a man in “taming the shrew” style. But her inner realisation happens through a dialog with another woman, though through a lot of unnecessary preaching.

Kudos to the director and cinematographer

Aadai clears Bechdel test in more than one scene, which many women-oriented movies fail to do. And last but not the least, there is no time wasted in pleasing the audience with unnecessary romance, songs or out of place comedy.

Director Rathna Kumar and Cinematographer, Vijay Karthik Kannan need to be applauded for making Aadai with female nudity as its premise. Without bringing even a bit of vulgarity on the screen.

Amala Paul completely lives up to the complexity of Kamini’s character. She quickly shifts between the various moods the role demands.

The movie is available on Amazon Prime.

Picture credits: Screenshot from the movie.

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Gnanapriya is a Bangalore based Banker, a passionate feminist with a keen interest in philosophy,

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