Friday, 20 February 2015

[Blog] Misogyny in old tamizh film songs

I am, like many of you, a fan of old tamizh film songs. They are melodious and have stood the 'test of time' and are popular even today. Music competitions aired on various TV channels too are doing their bit in helping us remember both the popular songs as well as some of the forgotten ones. In 'Pattimandrams' (debate shows)  some of the speakers adopt the cliched trend of quoting lines from old film songs to support their argument.  But, when I look beyond the chaste tamizh, the lingering music and lilting voices, more specifically at the lyrics- some things begin to bother me.

In a country like India, films impact social thinking and play a pivotal role in changing and perpetuating social practices and attitudes. Through frequent broadcasts, film songs have a wide reach and the values they uphold cannot escape being unconsciously absorbed by the listeners. Many people know the lyrics by heart,  and over time, the values expressed in them gain the status of becoming gospel and the lyricist is ordained as an authority on scripture, value systems, tradition and what not of Tamizh culture, all at once.

 Sadly, the songs are repositories of indiscriminate stereotyping and misogyny. They paint images and qualities of what constitutes the 'good' woman. Chastity, shyness, softness, reticence and restraint are upheld in song after song while qualities such as self assertion are devalued.


I quote here some of the examples that have occurred to me, but I am certain that there exists enough material to present a whole thesis on the subject.

Women must be shy and reticent in public spaces - The 'Oruthi oruvanai ninaithuvittal' ( When a woman thinks of a man) song suggests
'adakkam enbadhu pen uruvam' (restraint is the very image of woman)

Remarriage is abhorred in this song from Nenjil Or Aalayam : The woman in the song 'Sonnadhu nee dhaana' (were you the one who said it?)  asks:

'Deivathin marbil soodiya malai/theruvinile vizhalama
theruvinile vizhundalum/Veroru kai thodalama'

Can the garland that adorns the lord be allowed to fall in the street?
And if it were to fall, can strange hands pick it up?
In this elaborate metaphor - the lord is the husband and the garland signifies the woman.

In the same song we find the lines: 
 'Oru kodiyil oru murai dhaan malarum malarallava' (A flower blooms but once in a creeper meaning love and marriage can happen but once in a woman's life)
Both these quotes endorse the view that a woman has no other purpose in life than to serve her master and with his passing her life loses meaning.

While chastity and virginity are the cornerstones of a woman's life, she can and more importantly should dispense with them if a man were to demand it!

In the song:
'Nan Malarodu Thaniyaaga Yen Ingu Nindren ?
En Magaraani Unnai Kaana Ododi Vandhen'


Who do I seek with flower in hand?
Awaiting you- my queen here I stand.
To which she replies:
'Nee Illamal Yaarodu Uravaada Vandhen ?
Un Ilamaikku Thunaiyaaga Thaniyaaga Vandhen'

I have come of course to cavort with who else?
I  come alone to yield to your juvenescence.

 Forthrightness in woman is discouraged: In this song from Poova Thalaiya -Adi sarithaan podi vayadi (Oh get going, you chatterbox) a woman's femininity is questioned when she tries to be assertive. The man asks 'Unakku penmai irukka? (Are you feminine at all?)

 As I said earlier, many examples may exist for each of the aspects I have touched upon, and more importantly research will yield several misogynistic misconceptions contained within them.

Meanwhile, I would like to continue listening to them for their other merits, firm in the belief that the woman of today has eased at least some of these shackles that bind her. 

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