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The love interest of the hero seemingly has a good role to play in this film, but does she really? What are we missing here?
I was more than halfway through Jagame Thandhiram and the love story seemed like it was just going to be a Token Romance (“When a romantic subplot is tacked onto a work with little relation to the overall story” – Source).
I was consoling myself with the fact that at least the female lead was a widowed woman who sang at bars, while also raising a child.
And then suddenly, as if my prayers had been answered, the love interest did something that made her role in the story seem far more substantial. I was happy for a while, but when I really thought about it, I felt like I was being tricked into accepting a sad backstory as a sorry excuse for true character depth.
It is true that everyone is influenced by their past. And the commentary on racism and refugees is extremely relevant. However, my problem with Jagame Thandhiram is that Attila is boxed into only one narrative. All of her complexity is reduced to her tragic history. She could have been just about anyone.
Compare that with the male protagonist Suruli’s character arc. He is influenced by what happens to him – but it is the character that happens to the story, and not the story that happens to the character, in his case. He is allowed to have real shades of grey unlike Attila, and his personality shines through. Suruli is not entirely understood just by his oppression, while Attila mostly is.
Any interesting actions Attila takes are explained away using the tragic flashback (possibly categorizable as trauma porn) narrated by her. That is very nearly all she is. Meanwhile, Suruli is allowed a dynamic personality that is not mostly dependent on his oppression.
Attila is a mere catalyst in Suruli’s character arc – an important one, but still just a catalyst.
It is part of a larger problem that allows oppressed groups to only be defined by their oppression, while the privileged saviour gets to use them for their character development.
For example, consider Article 15 that was criticised by many, for having a Brahmin Saviour narrative. It is arguably also a Male Saviour narrative, and even his upper caste girlfriend is only there to support his character. The oppression faced by the Dalit community, especially the Dalit women is part of the brahmin hero’s inner journey.
Privileged saviour narratives like this one are far too common. Even in narratives with the protagonist being anything other than a privileged male, the tragic backstories of the protagonist is always centre stage.
When are enough female characters going to be allowed to have roles beyond their oppression (that is a tool to help develop the hero’s multidimensional character)? In fact, when is it going to be the norm for characters belonging to any sort of oppressed group to be more than unidimensional plot devices in the privileged saviour’s journey?
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