Actor Urvashi, who is a part of both big ticket Deepavali releases on OTT — ‘Soorarai Pottru’ and ‘Mookuthi Amman’ — draws parallels between the importance afforded to females in film and in society
With two films of hers releasing this Deepavali, Urvashi has made a steady re-entry into mainstream Tamil cinema. It is not that the 51-year-old actor has anything left to prove considering her body of work.
However, being a part of Soorarai Pottru and Mookuthi Amman is reassurance for the industry’s top filmmakers that the quality performer in her is intact even as she enters the fifth decade of a long career.
In both films, Urvashi plays the mother to the central character. “Mookuthi Amman focusses almost all its runtime on this family: a mother, her three daughters and son, and her father-in-law,” says Urvashi.
Produced by Vels Film International, Mookuthi Amman marks the directorial debut of NJ Saravanan and RJ Balaji. If you are wondering what it is like working with a man who has gained the affection of cricket fans in Tamil Nadu with his interesting commentary during the recently-concluded IPL, it is as you would imagine.
“Balaji is very playful. In the middle of the shoot, as I walk into the set after preparing myself to play a serious scene, he would switch to commentator mode. I have wondered ‘what sort of a director is this boy?’,” she smiles.
“[Balaji] won’t have a scene paper or dialogue sheet. He will present us with the skeletal idea of a scene and ask us to deliver. Though I found his style of working a bit odd, his confidence in the artistes’ ability to deliver and the freedom he afforded us certainly helped. That said, not all artistes operate this way. Some are particular about being given dialogue sheets or scene paper and expect feedback from a director. For them, Balaji must change,” she adds.
Her transition from playing girl-next-door roles in the ‘80s to now playing “mom-next-door” roles, as she puts it, has followed an interesting trajectory.
Urvashi may even be appearing in more number of mother roles than she prefers, something she indirectly hints at: “I don’t like to repeat myself. Several times, filmmakers have approached me with a reference of a role that I played in some film and they want to slot me in a similar character in their film. I don’t prefer that.”
Even so, playing a mother is no mean task since the character’s arc depends on the film’s genre: meaning, playing mother to Suriya in Soorarai Pottru is starkly different to playing one to RJ Balaji in a comedy like Mookuthi Amman.
Urvashi, however, wants filmmakers to explore more angles to a female character. The change, she believes, will happen when directors think beyond superficial writing.
“What importance a woman is afforded in society is what will reflect in films. Patriarchy tells women to not hold individual opinions and that her only objective is to get married, give birth, look after the husband and leave the critical thinking to male members. And so in a movie, too, we rarely explore the mom’s character traits.”
The reason, she believes, that this remains the case even in 2020 in Tamil cinema is not for want of female writers.
“It is just that the easiest way of doing business is to make a film about a hero,” she says, adding, “Why are most ‘family audiences’, the majority of whom are women, watching TV serials? If our directors observe the pattern, they will realise that the numbers of women coming to theatres went down because there is seldom any importance attached to a female character in most films.”
The last decade in Tamil cinema witnessed a rise in number of what the industry calls ‘female-centric’ films. While Urvashi doesn’t offer comment on how these films are marketed, she does believe that filmmakers are not short on creative options when it comes to exploring female character angles. She leaves us with this remark.
“It is possible to make a film about a female without even having a female artiste in it. Imagine, if a man goes in search of his mom and all he ever talks about or thinks about is his mom in every frame of the film, then isn’t it a movie about the mom?”
‘Mookuthi Amman’ streams on Disney+ Hotsar from November 14