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Tamil film Paramapadham Vilayattu puts its female lead in the place most career women are, where they are forced to choose between family and duty. So what happens then?
It is not new for films to create a false dichotomy of work versus family for women.
For example, the 1992 Tamil film Mannan had its female lead, an extremely successful industrialist, staying at home and waiting on her husband by the end of the movie. Sultan’s female lead gives up her childhood dream of winning an Olympic gold medal when she becomes pregnant. Even the progressive Panga has its heroine quit her passion in favour of looking after her child until he pushes her to pursue it again.
Paramapadham Vilayattu takes a different route and shows a woman’s relationship with her daughter as her strength. It is what helps her fulfil her duty as both a doctor and a citizen of the country.
Dr Gayathri is already a parent who gives equal importance to her child and career. She is the single parent of a non-verbal daughter, and does not want her daughter to carry her husband’s initials.
In one scene, she leaves her sleeping daughter a note and goes off to the hospital to deal with an emergency patient. Treating this patient changes Gayathri’s life. It is what causes her to become embroiled in a Paramapadham Vilayattu (a game of Snakes and Ladders).
Powerful people want Gayathri to shut up and mind her own business. She refuses to do that. She is not willing to abandon her former patient even after his death. She feels responsibility towards him as he was her patient when he died, and she had also bonded with him. It may not technically be part of her job, but it is clear that her being the victim’s doctor plays a huge role in her decision to investigate his death.
At this point in the movie, her daughter’s life has already been threatened, and she still does not back down. It is only after she actually manages to acquire evidence that her former patient was murdered, that Suji is kidnapped.
Should Gayathri choose to save her daughter or do what she thinks is the right thing to do? She chooses to do both. How? You need to watch the film.
This disturbing trend is no doubt a reflection of society with its problematic narrative of women being forced to choose between family and work. This narrative is used to explain away the wage gap as employers continue to ask women intrusive questions about their relationship status and children.
While there is nothing wrong with choosing your family over your career as long as it is your own decision, it is extremely annoying to see only that narrative play out most of the time in films. Why must a woman always be shown as treating her family as her first priority at the cost of her career? Why does the family have to ‘weaken’ the woman?
A significant point is that instead of using Suji’s being non-verbal as a point of sympathy as some films/shows tend to do, it is the reason why her mother is able to communicate with her without the antagonists understanding.
The film does focus too much on the character who rescues the mother-daughter duo – he seems to almost fit the ‘male saviour’ trope. However, making the rescuer a morally grey character does make it a bit better, and shifts some of the power back to Gayathri. She has the final word and that is so satisfying to watch; especially because she could not have done it without her daughter.
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