Why I Hope “Iru Mugan” Breaks Tamil Cinema’s Obsession With Gender Binaries

Posted on August 23, 2016 in Culture-Vulture

By Anu Nivas:

The trailer of Vikram’s next flick, “Iru Mugan” in which he plays a double role had fans praising his ability to play the role of an “effeminate villain” Love in an effortless manner. Perhaps it is true that the trailer made the hero-villain distinction obvious. But even if not, the hangover of previous portrayals would have had the audience making up its mind about the hero it wanted to emulate – the conventionally smart, ‘macho dude’ with a beautiful girlfriend and the villain it despised – in this case a character who makes no effort to hide his preference for the feminine and therefore needs to be portrayed and identified as ‘abnormal’, ‘leering’, and of course merciless with a lust for power.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_0jexAQsB0]

Then I began wondering, what if Love actually turned out to be the protagonist? After all, the character does dare to be true to their identity and doesn’t have to give a damn while defining a unique style quotient, even appears to be highly intelligent.

avan ivan tamil movie
Avan Ivan

When we brand a character as a villain do we also realise that they have positive qualities that could outshine even the hero’s? And why is the portrayal of an effeminate character always associated with some negativity or deformity? Why did Vishal have to squint in “Avan Ivan” and Ajith rape a woman to avenge his mother’s death and leave her to lose her sanity?

Most mainstream movies portraying effeminate characters do so in a way that suggests a lack of understanding of the nuances and complexities of gender. This is also reflected in a few reports on these movies (At the time of writing this I thought that ‘transgender’ means a person who identified with the characteristics of the opposite sex – WebMD clarified that it includes people who identify as neither or both of the genders. Also, I remain unsure of the difference between transvestite and effeminate).

In the few movies I have watched, “Bommalattam”, or “Final Cut of Director” (the Hindi version), while focusing on circumstance-driven disguises, provides an inlet for thoughts on gender fluidity. The central character’s portrayal made me wonder about the environment’s role in shaping gender identity. “The Square Circle” seems to have explored the nuances of gender fluidity in a sensitive manner.

Vikram has said that the character “Love” must not be typecast. Hope “Iru Mugan” does not give us reason to do so. Meanwhile, the audience, in responding to the trailer has said that it prefers the character “Love”. Is that because it got to watch its hero in yet another different avatar or at least translate to open-mindedness when judging people by their appearances?