Good Heroines Don’t Smoke: When Will TFI Get Past The “Devatha Complex” For Our Leading Ladies

‘V’ For Validation Purposes…

The other day I was watching the superhyped Amazon Prime Premiere ‘V’ starring Nani, Sudheer Babu, and in some random friendly incognito role Nivetha Thomas. So now I, being someone who needs to make sense of everything because it’s a movie that Prime bought, was waiting for Nivetha to do something, anything, in the movie that counted as relevant. She didn’t. Maybe that was her role, she was supposed to do nothing. And whoever thought that she could pull off Katrina’s ‘Kamli Kamli’ shit on the dance floor along with wooing Sudheer Babu while mouthing random weedfuck dialogues and lyrics, is a genius. Yeah, I mean you need a true genius to make an inherently intelligent actor like Nivetha Thomas do juvenile shit and still come out and promote the film as if its the next Park Chan Wook film. This scene, the whole flirtatious sloshed out interaction scene, sparked an idea for an article in me. No, not about Sudheer Babu calling Nivetha hot after gulping down Diet Sprite, or the spectacularly unexpected career choices that Nivetha Thomas repeatedly makes to downplay and undermine herself on screen. And also definitely not about the sloppy shitshow that V is. It is about Smoking.

Yup, a tangential train of thought that I got from this scene is that how we as a cinema ‘viewing and making’ unit are confident showing our ‘heroines’ down a shot, flirt with a random glowfish clear-faced guy, even do a tight-decked dance routine with him but then somehow our souls are crushed to see our Heroine ‘smoke’. Not smoke up. Just smoke. When was the last time you saw a Telugu heroine smoke a cigarette onscreen? Not a proverbial vamp or something. A proper good to bone heroine smoke a cigarette. I sure can’t remember anyone. Even if there is a Heroine who is shown doing that, it’s as rare as Vijay Deverakonda moving on after his movie breakups. The obvious question was Why? This article tries to understand why. It’s going to be about it, so if you don’t want to waste your time reading this, fuck off. Go read listicles like ’10 on-screen couples in Tollywood who dated in real life’ and be happy.

Definition Of “Devatha Complex”…

Devatha means Goddess. That much is known. Now, what is “Devatha Complex”. Well, it’s a phrase we invented to understand this phenomenon of putting our Heroines on a pedestal because it strokes our male-egos. We feel good because they are pure, and we through our blotchy male gaze deem them to be good. We feel happy, even proud of ourselves because we treat the woman like a ‘Devatha’ when she behaves in the way that the Hero (or we) wants her to. She is a chirpy bubbly pure soul who spreads happiness everywhere she goes. She loves wholeheartedly and she cries weepingly. Her Heart bleeds because of love. All of this makes her an aspirational figure for our Hero who can do literally anything he wants and gets away with it. She is a ‘Devatha’ for our Hero because he can see his mommy in her. She is good to the family, a humanoid whose whole existence is around the Hero, who post-saving her claims that she’s the one, much like some product he owns. Now then pause here for a second.

Imagine a girl on screen, who is fucking around, has an individual life for herself, an agency per se, and doesn’t even need the Hero, to do her thing. Then what do we have? Well, then she ain’t a Devatha. She’s a bitch. Perhaps she’s a negative character who may or may not help the hero by the end of it. She can’t talk to any other guy except our Hero. No guy friends allowed. She needs to look at our Mahesh “The Homelander” Babu and sing – “Aaradugulu untada..Orgasm isthada !!” while all he does is just plainly walk around the road in Allen Solly shirts. What if she doesn’t want to sing it? What if she isn’t a Devatha, but a normal human, like the girls we have around us? Moody, messy, flawed, emotional, independent, and more or less fucked up like we all are. Not an object of desire, achievement, or sex. Just a singular human, you see. Clear with the definition. Let’s dive into the topic now.

No Smoking Because She’s A Fucking Devatha…

The male gaze is an important factor in the stories we tell, which needs immediate repair. In a world where voices of inclusivity have become a deafening roar (even the Oscars are introducing a set of rules for that), we need to represent our characters with definitive individualism. In this regard, let me divert your attention to something called the Bechdel-Wallace Test. Per the Wikipedia definition – “The Bechdel test also known as the Bechdel–Wallace test, is a measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man”. Interesting no? What does it tell? Yeah, that women have other topics to talk about in a film or a story apart from Hero. But apart from that, the idea is that the women become “active participants” of a story than just dancing in the rain like some fucking pneumonia contracting maniac. They have a need and purpose to the story, and not some idiotic happenstance.

Rolling back to ‘No Smoking’ topic. In this context, what I analyzed is that we don’t show the Heroine smoking because it is an individual act. It doesn’t require anyone. Much like masturbating. It shatters our patriarchal misogynist male ego when we see a girl living life all by herself. A man, let alone a Hero, is not needed. One could argue that – “We are progressive, we show them drinking. Smoking is injurious to health” and stuff like that. Fuck no. The reason you show them drinking is to have them open up to the Hero, bond with them, or worse even get sloshed and pass out only to be saved by them. That’s not a character point. It’s an ill-contrived hyper convenient plot point that jerks off on a Hero’s “savior complex” (this is not my phrase, so to understand it – Google it). The Hero will save the Heroine, magically drop her at her house, cover her in some Bombay Dying blanket, and pat his shoulders for being a ‘responsible good guy’. Idiot, you are supposed to be that. The Hero isn’t doing any favors by being a normal guy doing a normal responsible thing. That’s the reason he was educated and made aware in the first place. Appropriate behavior is not a virtue, it is a basic social & humanitarian act. Don’t expect the Heroine to fall for you head over heels, because you dropped her home safe. You wanna be a Hero, have the guts to love her despite yourself.

Not A Smoking Promotional Campaign…

The cigarette is a symbolic analogy here. So don’t lecture me about the moral rules of smoking. You want to change the world, go start an NGO and get a nepotistic star to promote it. Further, I am no one to tell anyone anything. I’ve ‘smoked’ along with women happily and the demographic included actresses, models, doctors, even Lordlighting nuns. And I’ve ‘not smoked’ with everyone too. It doesn’t matter. My opinion doesn’t count to shit. If you want to smoke, smoke. If you want to dance, dance. If you want to bring a Siberian Husky out of its natural habitat, raise it in Hyderabad and proclaim that you are saving the environment, fucking do that. I don’t care. What I do care about is the way our stories have slowly become lopsided male fantasies. That obviously impacts the way we consume our culture. We need to be Ok with a woman not doing shit that we expect of her. We need to love her for what she is, but not what she can be. Our movies have to depict that female actors, leads or otherwise, as humans that don’t need a Hero’s shoulder to cry on or lean on. We as writers too, have to write female characters who exist on their own, and who have an agency of their own. That’s progressive writing. You see, being progressive is not some radical reactionary bullshit. It’s just common sense applied.

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