Putting some Perspective on Vizhigal

Many of you have probably already read my entry on what I deem to be one of the major flops of Vasantham, “Aanaa Penaa?”. Please do not mistake me for being a wet blanket. I do appreciate that Vasantham has made so much headway since they first started out. I am glad we have our own channel and I for one ask everyone to stop watching so much of SunTv, Vijay Tv, Vannathirai and what not, and support our local artistes. I have friends who work tirelessly to provide us quality entertainment and we should be proud that despite being non-native speakers of the language (since Tamil is not a first language to most of us), we have fantastic programmes with really good Tamil being spoken (granted there are one or two stars and starlets who have thoroughly killed the language with their inability to discern between la and zha but let’s not go there. It still beats having to go through the excruciating Tinglish (Tamil + English) that you get on the India channels).

I add this very huge and obvious disclaimer before I begin this entry because I am very certain many people enjoy this show that I am about to take and stab into pieces (if I could, the host would be first on my list, or at least the person who writes his damn script).  Again, please if anybody from Vasantham reads this (which scarily enough I found out many do), please take this in the best way possible. Do not give us half past excuses and comments such as “you only know the difficulty once you try to produce a show” – If I need to be able to produce a show to be able to appreciate or criticise one,  you’d lose pretty much 90% of your audience. Let us be mature and accept that those of us who can appear on screen and those of us who cannot, still have the right to maturedly and reasonably criticise what we see. Likewise, its only fair for us to give credit where its due. (I for one happen to think Guru Paarvai, Taxi Engey Poguthu and the likes are doing pretty fantastic).

The point is, I am thoroughly disappointed with this specific show called “Vizhigal”. With a fantastic name such as  that, great trailers and such interesting topics, I was expecting a social commentary of sorts. Let us first establish that social commentaries do not impose any moral judgements on what it seeks to discover and just not believe there is a right and wrong. Rather, it tries to put issues in perspective and provide the audience with the alternative viewpoint as well as sometimes “shock” you with the facts you never knew existed.

I should have known to switch off my television the moment I saw the last 5 to 10 minutes of the Health show that was before the episode of Vizhigal. It was some sort of an ominous sign. Mind you this is a Health show (Udalum Ullamum) – you’d expect to gain simply medical perspectives (that’s why we call doctors and not our Grandmas) so this was quite hilarious. A lady called in to ask if she got an abortion will there be any tell tale signs from which her husband could figure out she had an abortion. I would have accepted it, if the doctor first explaind whether or not there would be any tell tale signs and then explain to the lady that it is important to share such information with her husband. Instead, the doctor never went to the aspect of explaining whether or not there would be any tell-tale signs and straight jumped into how she must tell her husband and how abortion is a BAD thing. Yes, there you have it. Judgements judgements judgements. I am not about to go into a discussion of pro-life or pro-choice but I believe that as a doctor – your priorities are first to be scientific, factual and display objectivity and respect for one’s choices.

I was digressing, so now back to Vizhigal. I will admit I have only watched 2 episodes of the show thus far and I am basing my entire observation on these 2 episodes alone; as such I must make it clear that this might be an unfair and hasty analysis. Nevertheless it pains me and I don’t think any amount of coaxing could make me change my mind.

The first episode I watched was the one about Social Escorts. This is indeed a racy topic. I thought it was exciting that Indian programmes were trying to tip the edges of controversy and were seeking to push issues that were formerly considered taboo into the public realm and shed some light on them. Instead, what I saw was a badly put together show.

Firstly the host mentions in his lead-in that these women lack “acham, maadam, naanam” – things that are essential to women. Second he makes them sound like immoral sluts who sleep around or have traded their morals for luxury. Even if they are, I don’t see how this is anyone’s judgement call. As long as one does not steal or rob from you or cheat you to make a living, they are living an honest and respectful living right? I think that as a host of a social commentary – his lead-ins can be made less extreme, less judgemental and less alpha male centric. I felt myself snorting and going “Oh my god did he just say that?” more than once. I thought perhaps it was just me until during the next episode, I got an sms from my eldest sister telling me that the script writer deserves a good smack. I’ll come back to this later. He said many other things that were very hard to digest.

My point is this, if you choose to do a show about racy topics that are very out of what is considered polite behaviour, don’t do it just for the sake of gaining viewership – do it with an open mind and a genuine desire to make a close-knit and conservative community start talking and discussing pertinent issues rather than relegating them to the private sphere and acting like these things don’t happen.

My second grouse was the fact that through the entire show, no social escort perse was interviewed. Instead, the friend of a social escort – that too, a friend who “powtoh-ed” the escort to her parents was interviewed. From the fact that this interviewee was a tell-tale – its evident what her views on social escorts are. In this case, isn’t she then a biased person? What’s the point of doing an entire show on social escorts if you do not even at one point interview a real social escort? If you couldn’t get a social escort, why did you then choose to put together an episode on something you have no first-hand information about? The other research that was done involved calling a few social escort agencies from a magazine to ask how many Indian girls there were as well as getting one of the crew to meet a social escort – (this was done just to prove that there are Indian social escorts not to ask her any questions or anything of that sort). If its too hard to find women who are escorts – why not interview men who do employ their services and ask them why they do so?

Thirdly, I am tired of people making false assumptions that social escorts are all sexual workers. For the lack of a better word, they are called escorts. Whether they provide sexual services is very much their own perogative. While the show did make mention of this, they failed to break the myth entirely. Neither did they also touch on the fact that most social escorts are escorts because they are intelligent, educated and conversationalists. Instead they chose to harp on the fact that these women are in the industry because of the amount of money it can make. If that’s such an issue, why don’t we do an episode on the millions of people joining insurance companies as financial consultants in the hopes of raking in the millions? Why criticise these women alone for doing something which is so innate and instinctual to everyone – find the best way to make the big bucks?

I was very disturbed by the fact that the re-enactments constantly made it seem like social escorts are ruining their lives, changing their lives or becoming different people, going to suffer from some unknown repercussions because they do such a job. To this, I say its time we open our eyes and accept the fact that as long as there is a demand for escorts, there will be that many people willing to be in the job.

Make no mistake, I am not in any way condoning their work neither am I condemning them. I just wish that as a social commentary, the production house, producers would look at trying to explain how they are no different from the rest of us, and how labels such as “social escorts” do not reflect anything but the person’s occupation. It would have been fantastic if they had simply looked at the phenomenon as detached observers, stated the facts and interviewed some of them with some mindblowing questions and left the audience to be the judge. (If you think this is not possible, I strongly suggest you watch Vijay Tv’s Ipaddiku Rose – its a great example of this).

The second episode I watched was that of the abusive wife. Again, a racy topic that is bound to set a lot of tongues wagging. Yet all I saw was a psychotic wife. I have to admit Kavitha did a fantastic job playing a psycho wife but honestly I know this phenomenon of abusive wives and what was portrayed was that of a mentally disturbed woman not a woman who is insecure, hurts her husband because of this inescurity or inability to trust . Nothing about that character was normal in the re-enactment but abusive wives ARE normal people. They abuse out of insecurity.

Firstly, again in his lead-in the host mentions the traditional family dynamics – where the husband is the sole breadwinner and plays a dominant role. He almost sounds like a relic in the museum and I swear if anyone gave me one of  his dialogues in reality, I would kick him in the nuts.

Secondly the portrayal of abusive women was a little extreme. Just as we should never portray abusive husbands as completely hurling things about and being evil all the time, we have to accept that abusive women are different from psychotic women. This time they did have a guy they interviewed but oddly enough I felt that what he seemed to say in his interview and the sort of wife he described seemed rather different from the psychotic wife that was re-enacted. But this again, might solely be my own opinion of the entire issues.

Lastly, yes they are abusive, now what? What has caused them to be as such? What can one do? Are laws too slanted towards protecting women that we have assumed they are completely incapable of causing hurt and harm to men? Do we need changes to be made to legislation to recognise the fact that women can be a threat to men too? Is this a small group of women and if so, could it be due to stress they feel at the realm of home? Post-natal depression? Insecurity ? What about tackling all these issues instead of riding an entire episode just on the raciness and the “tabloid-ness” of a certain topic?

I have always been up for shows that are insightful, bold and those that provoke you to think. Yet, I feel that this specific show seems to engage controversy only to garner viewership and doesn’t actually sit down to tackle these issues objectively or in-depth. If that’s the case, you’re better off producing another run-off-the-mill dance competition or cooking show.