The Women of Tharangam
There are 3 popular tests that film enthusiasts refer to when discussing women's representation in cinema: the Sexy Lamp test, the Bechdel test and the Mako Mori test.
The Sexy Lamp test is the most basic of these tests. It simply asks if the film would be any different if the female characters were replaced by a lamp. If the women on-screen are merely objects for visual pleasure, and their presence/absence makes no difference to the storyline, then the film fails the Sexy Lamp test.
The Bechdel goes one step further, and examines the interactions between the female characters on-screen. It demands that there be at least one scene featuring women who speak about something other than a man.
The Mako Mori, the most comprehensive of these tests, stipulates that there be at least one female character with a story arc of her own that is not about supporting a man's story.
Dominic Arun's Tharangam pushes boundaries for women in cinema -- particularly in the genre of comedy -- by acing all 3 tests.
One, Malu and Omana are central to the plot. Without them, there is no Tharangam. Two, while the conversation itself isn't presented in full, it is established clearly that Malu and Omana meet to discuss a college event on women's empowerment*. And three, even though their lives are intertwined with those of the male characters, both have story arcs of their own, with clear progression in character development.
Writer-Director Dominic Arun deserves special compliments for the way he has conceived Omana Varghese -- my favourite character in the film (played by the talented Neha Iyer). Omana will go down in history as a female antagonist who has been written with no apologies, and is never reduced to a caricature. There is no tired 'taming of the shrew' business that we are so used to seeing on-screen, where female villains are put in their place by a moralising hero. Omana is a woman who is sure of herself, going about her life successfully, and is presented with respect and integrity from the beginning to the end.
Without a trace of misogyny, Tharangam brings you real, flawed, relatable women, and that is definitely a reason it deserves to be seen and celebrated. Malayalam cinema has had a history of presenting well-written, multi-dimensional female characters, with Take Off and Godha being amongst this year's offerings. Proud that Tharangam joins this esteemed club -- one which certainly has room to grow.
(Santhy Balachandran plays Malu in Tharangam, and is a DPhil candidate in Anthropology at University of Oxford.)