Every now and then, you come across Bollywood movies that stereotype south Indians to the point of insanity. As if it wasn’t enough for us to suffer through through generations of old-school, Bollywood movies mocking the Tamil accent, we had to sit through Meenamma’s Tamil accent in Chennai Express.
As a Malayali, I’ve been asked if I’m from Chennai, whether I speak Kannada and if I watch Telugu movies, all in the same breath, by north Indian friends.
While we spent our geography classes learning which state was located where in India, it sometimes feels like those from the north were just given a map with a huge blank spot over the south of India.
They only seem to associated the south with Madras, Kanchipuram sarees and dark-skinned people.
We keep having to dispel the stereotypes—from the lack of a thick accent, to being able to eat with a spoon, and the perfectly normal levels of enthusiasm about South Indian actors—all of the things we’re apparently known for…
I can’t blame people completely for thinking the way they do, not when popular media insists on grouping all south Indians under the umbrella of being filter coffee-drinking, Rajinikanth-worshipping, idli-sambar-eating, noodles mein curd mixing “Madrasis“.
It’s like a weird, Indian version of the manic pixie dream girl trope in Hollywood movies. Somehow, south Indians are only meant to be portrayed in a certain stereotypical way.
Meenakshi Sundareshwar is just another movie, that isn’t even worth the brain fatigue of pointing out the stereotypes. Did they have an accent? No, they didn’t. BUT, and it’s a big but…
Were the main characters in focus pale-skinned? Yes!
Let’s play a fun game of “spot the main characters”!
Were they clearly from an upper caste background? Yes!
Did they focus on a nostalgic view of joint families? Yes!
Did they forgo common sense for the sake of “drama”? YES!
I mean, an IT (information technology) company where the CEO (chief executive officer) insists on people staying single so that can be distraction-free? Sundareshwar decides to intern there and hide the fact that he’s married, just so that he can get a job?
At this point in the movie, I was feeling rather sorry for anyone who expected an iota of common sense from the flick.
I think that’s enough said! In my opinion, when we have movies like Jai Bhim that offer valuable social commentary, a movie like Meenakshi Sundareshwar should be seen for the garbage fire it truly is.
Even if the team behind the Meenakshi Sundareshwar movie wanted to make a light, entertaining flick, they could have developed the characters better and focused on getting the nuances of being a Tamilian right.
Meenakshi and Sundareshwar are both young and educated, who could have each gone on to do what makes them happy. But, while he heads off to Bengaluru to make his dream of being a coder come true, she stays at home tutoring his nephew and going along with everything—until a big, dramatic moment where she stands her ground.
Also, Sundareshwar seems to be completely out of touch with the world, somehow, and acts on the most nonsensical relationship advice.
I find it hard to believe that the both of them pine for each other, despite knowing each other for a fortnight, a month at most. He literally leaves for Bengaluru days after his marriage!
Not just the leads, but every single character was two-dimensional. There was no complexity to what could have been a coming-of-age story about a newly wed couple adjusting to each others’ quirks, or a long distance relationship, or about living independently in a big city.
All of that potential and budget, just wasted…
Note: The author is part of the Sept-Nov ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program.