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.

14 Comments

  1. honestly i feel that some parts of your post is true but let mie just tell u one more thing social escorts or not they are looked down on. neither you nor mie can stp this from happening, why would i look at a girl who is selling her body and puttign at stake her health( i hope you know about stds ) still exist? I dun see much of her doing a job, rather i see a women disgracing her body. Many women do this out of mere pleasure and attempts of making more money, they choose the easy way out to making money instead of hardowork. Of coz all these women show A VERY NEGATIVE EXAMPLE , and such indian women are a disgrace to other indian gals. this is a fact that cannot be change aarti. I never saw the episode on abusive wife but on conclusion i agree that vizhigal is made just to gain viewership. Much of this programme does not show us thigns we have never seen before, i sit infront of my tv and watch another show that gives me entertainment seeing some or many of my frends act and disappear. Nothing of “vizhigal” that gives me an eye opener to such issues. Ippadikku Rose is made better because in india there are alot more issues that singaporeans have not seen. india is ofcause a bigger country and liable of such issues. Well, this is merely my opinion, and cheers for the post on aana penna also! 🙂

  2. hey, very interesting post. I watched the episode on Social Escorts and I think felt that the producers somehow got mixed up between prostitutes and social escorts…just like the person you received the first comment from.

    Not all social secorts sell themselves and I personally don’t see how they are disgracing their body. Many models are also social escorts and they follow businessmen for gala parties and all. So anyways, vizhigal did not understand this and made it seem like all social escorts are sleazy people.

    I don’t believe that vizhigal has somehow failed to make an impression because Singapore is small and India is bigger. It’s pretty obvious not much research was done and alot of based on assumption. Get real that aires in channel news asia did an episode on a similar issue and much more was covered.

  3. dont look down on the woman who sells her body nadiya. look down on the government that does little or NOTHING to alleviate her economic condition. or the society that can only look down on, and still use their services. prostitution, which is what youre really talking about, is not just the fault of the woman engaged in the profession. you can look down all you want but your honor or disgrace doesnt put the food on the table for these women and their children. its got nothing to do with being indian, it has got something to do with being human.

    and for those who choose these two DIFFERENT professions, there is something to be said about a society that is especially harsh on one sex for exercising choice of any kind. yeah women choose pleasure over hard work. its not your standard/typical wife of a tv serial who’s always running after her husband but so what? whats wrong with wanting to live life the way you want? whats wrong with pleasure? or making money?

    i see nothing wrong with informed choice, and its high time indian women get that option without being subjected to any judgments. aarthi’s post is spot on. you are entitled to your personal opinion. but personal, is as far as it goes.

  4. i dont i said anythign that offended u right sads? there are always two cases to everything.there is nothing wrong with her post, but then again prostitution itself is judgmental. How do u say all these women sell to feed their children?? soem do it just to earn the extra cash for shopping.helo! this is the real world understand? Obviously gals as young as 17 result to prosition to feed not their family but their disire. why wud i think highly of these woman? likewise all of us know prostiitution is one of the oldest proffesions and it hardly can be stopped. Dont blame the government, how do they profit by having prostitutes? men? Comon u gotta be kidding me! how d u ever stop that gender from their sexual fantasies?? Anihow if you say these woman do it for money to feed their family.. there are so many other decent proffesions, they could even clean toilets rite? why this? giimme a break please, none of these seperation is gonna change the view of one? understand the context first sads. ok its so sad infact! wth

  5. context: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/01/03/opinion/1194837193498/the-face-of-slavery.html

    this video should be quite informative nadiya. if you think its OBVIOUS that 17 year olds go into prostitution because they dEsire it, you must have a warped sense of desire. how can you not blame a government that does little to protect these women? and contrary to what you think, alot of these women are stuck in these professions. they can just go and clean toilets when they’re being threatened by their ’employers’, and abused. even if they do escape, some women have such a hard time reintegrating back into society because of the stigma that people like you (no offense intended) tack to them.
    but that isn’t even the point. being a social escort, (which does NOT equate to prostitution) is a conscious choice that women make. they choose to not clean toilets, and choose to do a profession that you may not deem respectable but is, in its own right, still a profession that they might enjoy. its their body and they can choose to do whatever the hell they want with it.i dont contend with your personal views. you may not like the profession..but saying “such indian women are a disgrace to other indian gals” is stretching it abit too far, no?

    the profession is not judgmental. you are.

    and no, i am not offended the least bit. 🙂

  6. Very interesting post.. Sadly I dont watch much television, forget about Vasantham. However, the only show i caught was an interview this tattooed girl named Yamuna. Something about kids nowadays not listening to their parents etc. Forgot the title.

    Why I am bringing this up is because like the above mentioned show, i felt it was very biased. This girl, Yamuna, i felt was brought on the show to be shown to all as a BAD example, and how your kids shouldnt be like. Nothing much about how she has changed for the better, how she wants to do well in life. I felt the parents and the host in the show werent kind to her at all.. I really pitied that girl. Yes, she tattooed her whole body. Even i am scared to look at her.. But still, i expected something better from the show rather than bring her on television to parade her as a negative example.

    Looking forward to more entries.

  7. I am not from Singapore. But I could get exactly what the channel/program was doing and the prejudiced/ judgmental views of the producers/writers… cool! will keep followin ur blog, hope u keep writing!

  8. Interesting post Aarthi. However, i dun really agree on some points you have brought up :).i do not know whether you have tried to interview an indian social escort before, i have because i helped a friend with his play. I have searched up and down for three gd weeks. I have tried asking the guy who was in charge of some of these social escort services, they have clearly turned down to interview or they have strictly told me i cant use their real name.In any case am NOT doing vizhigal k..its done by some other famous production house. 🙂 Well from experience, every other indian social escort i have approached has told me strictly that i am not supposed to reveal her face or true name? Why? Because they themselve know that what they are doing is wrong in someway or rather. I was told by an indian social escort that what she is doing is just high class prostition and they get paid through credit cards. This might nt be the case always but it is true. I might be biased but at the same time, if i asked any of teh financial planners out there, he or she will readily show up and tell that he is one. I dun think any social escorts will do that. Sorry..correction, Indian social escorts to be specific.I am not siding the producers of vizhigal, they have their own share of flaws in the show but i totally understand what they might have gone through. So how do you think they should have portrayed the social escorts? WHat do you suggest? Maybe you should really mail Vasantham regarding this:).
    ANother thing, i think vizhigal has reached its objectives in getting gd viewership. After reading your blog, maybe more people might start watching.. be it bad or gd publicity..its still publicity! What they can offer is thirty minutes only. ANd i think we should really be happy that they have started somewhere to show whats really happening out there. But we have to agree on the fact that they should do more research(so anyone reading this and doing that programme pls do tell ur producer b4 the public COMPLAIN more..:p)

    Another thing, I think i am in a better position to talk about Yamuna. We brought her in the show, just to show the youths out there not to spoil their life. And trust me, what you see in tv is many housr of thinking and striking people off the list and getting the most appropriate people on tv, especially when they come in as guests.In what ways do you think she has done something good and we have portrayed her badly in the show, Sub Zero? I am very happy that you caught that episode. Someone who doesnt even watch much tv. Plus Yamuna herself totally agreed that she has gone the wrongw ay. Infact she was very happy to sit in there to be a good example for all the teens out there. We NEVER put anyone in a difficult situation. She came willingly. I have no idea in what sense did u say..’I felt the parents and the host in the show werent kind to her at all’. The mother could be the most supportive and the nicest person. I understand from the audience point of view, you have every right to say that. But i felt you should know it too. And maybe you didnt watch the full show la. We DID highlight on what she is planning to do in her future life.
    Anyway Aarthi keep posting! i think you should really like email and tell what kind of programmes you would like to see! We need public’s views and we have modified programmes that has gotten very good reviews! You should email vasantham k!

  9. Anyway in regards to Vijay TV’s shows…We should understand that Vasantham do not equals to SUN TV + VIJAY TV Masala. So we should not compare k! By comparing i think we lose our identity on Singapore tamil TV! I dun see any children doing Children shows in India! We have such shows here. We have just gotten the channel for ourselves. ANd with one channel and only that much of proper production houses out there, i understand the pain everyone are going through..:) Of course Vijay Tv and Sun TV MUST give very good shows because they have so many years to mould themselve to come where they are now. and even then we have some horribly done shows there tooo!! so it definitely takes time for the singapore tv to produce even better shows! And i am sure it will be EVEN BETTER than theirs in the few years(o even months) to come. Uncle Taxi is a very gd example. Haha anyway Would definitely want to hear your opinion on this babe! Keep posting-u! 🙂

  10. Dear Mehraj,
    I think you have misread some of the things I have mentioned here. I don’t in any way think its easy to interview a social escort and I am certainly not asking the production houses to reveal their identities on a show. What I do think, is that the effort can be made to interview a social escort OR don’t do that topic. Have you tried writing a Sociology paper before? We have 2 types of papers – one is theoretical and the other is our own fieldwork. If I chose to write a paper based on fieldwork about Social Escorts and decided to interview only a social escort’s friend (that too someone who powtoh-ed her), I will be asked why I chose that topic. That is my biggest grievance with the show. I appreciate the fact that they are approaching topics that are considered taboo – but to what extent? What sort of a moral implication are they imposing on the audience watching? Instead of showing us the reality and allowing us, as mature audience to make our stand, they choose to tell us this is wrong and not appropriate for our community. I don’t think they can be excused for that. What can they offer in 30 minutes you ask? A lot. You’re a new media major and I am certain you know better than me the impact even a 5 second clip can have on people. The most powerful shows I’ve watched were never 3 hour long documentaries. =)

    I am in no position to speak about the Yamuna incident since I never got the chance to watch the show so perhaps Subzero himself can choose to comment. But similarly I think that the shows can all be very judgemental and sometimes I think the verdict is hit even before the debate begins. Yes you can give us the backstage perspective and I understand a lot of work comes through before a show is put up – but trust me, if we the audience, do not get to see the merits of it, your effort comes to a naught.

    I don’t think that Vasantham is doing a bad job and I have stated this in my very first paragraph. In fact, I am one of those who has seriously stopped my viewership of SunTv( cancelled it actually) and reduced watching VijayTv. Yes, it will take years of moulding, but with my opinions, I only hope to better help Vasantham in the sense of tackling bigger issues with a broad mind. You say that right now we are doing so much of different shows like Chuttis Club (I’m assuming 😉 ). Fine, that’s acceptable. But what is this Singapore identity you’re talking about? Making shows peppered with jokes that are influenced from Vadivelu comedy? Dialogues that refer back to Indian comedy? I think the Singapore identity should reflect the audience – and I think the audience are ready for open debate, open reflections and a realistic portrayal with no spoonfeeding of moral values. =) That is our Singapore identity.

    Thanks for the comments and while I understand where you’re coming from, I still cannot change my position about the above. =)

  11. Oh and if you are referring to the Singapore identity? Then please explain why we still have so many SunTv serials running in the daytime? Why is Ithu Namma Kathai quite similar to Neeya Naana? Why is Vizhigal so similar to that Nadanthathu Enna? Why are half our own dramas so similar to theirs? Point to think about? Again I am not criticising cos I do appreciate our originality and sincerity towards making our full time television work, but I think we should constantly be self aware that there is so much of room for improvement.

  12. Dear Aarthi,
    I totally agree with you on the point on more room for improvement! We definitely need. I understand where you are coming from.
    Ithu inge nikke poare visheyemeh ille. Unakku pidiche muyalukku mooneh kaaluna, yaaralum athai maatre mudiyathu. BUt you have a point too! I am not disagreeing on it.
    So, We shall just hope that more shows will be done which will impress you in the future :). Take carez dearie!

  13. I couldn’t agree more on what you commented on Vizhigal. I had the exact same sentiments when i watched it.

    I feel the host (or whoever wrote the script) is being very judgemental and the whole show sounds too preachy.
    I wish they would just stick to facts and present the case as it is.
    Let the viewers be the judge.

  14. hey, i came across your link on Ragini’s blog:D i don’t know you but i really wanted to comment because i truly like the way you write. its not many indians especially teenagers who have constructive blog posts, in coherant and clear english, with such nice reviews. I like the way you pen your thoughts down:D I’ll definitely visit your blog more often. Thank you for making my day!


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