Does Mani Ratnam’s Navarasa (9 Emotions) Have The Space For Women To Express Theirs?

This Tamil language anthology series gives us a look at how the same emotions might be expressed differently by men and women thanks to social conditioning.

This Tamil language anthology series gives us a look at how the same emotions might be expressed differently by men and women thanks to social conditioning.

Some time ago, I was reading different opinions on the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard. It occurred to me that treating crimes (murders) of passion as lesser crimes than premeditated murders might be biased against women.

Women are not taught to be loud about their emotions. They are told that they cannot be impulsive. They are not socialised to have direct, physical reactions like slamming someone’s face into the ground out of anger.

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However, just because someone is quieter about their emotions, and cannot afford to react as impulsively, it does not mean that their responses are any less emotional. Just because an act involved more planning, it does not mean that the person who did it was necessarily thinking clearer than someone who did it impulsively.

And these gendered differences in the expression of emotions are not limited to anger. Unfortunately, not every single episode does this. But on the whole, Navarasa does end up showing how men and women often tend to display the same emotions differently.

Women do things differently due to their conditioning

The most obvious example of this is Roudhram, the episode on anger (each episode focuses on a specific emotion). The main character is male, and he expresses his anger impulsively by physically assaulting another man. However, there is more to the story. How does the main character’s sister respond? Is her anger any less scary than his, even if expressed differently?

And then, there is Ethiri, which I expected to be a stereotypical story of a woman showing compassion towards a violent man. However, I could not have been more wrong. Both of them are shown to display compassion as well as the lack of it. One of them might do it more obviously, and yet the message is clear.

Summer of ‘92 barely seems to have any significant roles for its female characters, and yet Lakshmi’s joke is the last line in the movie. Her quiet sense of humour comes through despite the male protagonist’s loud comedy being the focus for most of the episode.

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Thunintha Pin is another episode that focuses on its leading men (there are two of them). And yet, Muthulakshmi’s confidence in the face of hopelessness is courage, even if she’s not engaged in a literal war unlike the male protagonists.

Payasam focuses on a seriously envious man who is attending a wedding, and how he ends up doing something really petty as a result. His widowed daughter by contrast, is extremely gracious. And yet, do we hear a hint of something more in her voice when she asks if the cook recalls making the same payasam (a type of sweet dish) for her wedding?

Here’s to hoping

If Netflix does end up releasing a Volume 2 of Navarasa, I would love, love, love for all of the episodes to really dig into the intersectional gender dynamics of emotional expression, instead of most of the episodes focusing on men with only a little bit of space left behind for the women (even if they did shine in that little bit of space).

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