Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Meet the ' Villi ' of Tamil TV Mega Serials !

Who or what is a Villi? The dictionary would say that villi is a small structure in the intestine. But in Tamilnadu, if you ask a common man who a villi is, he would belly-laugh for a full minute and say " Don't you see movies? Villi is a woman who is unadulterated evil." What linguistic purists would call villainess , we in Tamilnadu name as villi. That means female villain. When ladki can be a female counterpart of ladka , there exists a chachi for every chacha, why not call the female baddie as a villi by giving a tweak to the word villain ? Ethnic logic. It is some ten years ago that I started watching Tamil TV serials. Since Sun TV has a market share of around 75%, it is generally serials aired by Sun TV that are discussed whenever any one talks about Tamil serials on TV. The world shown in these mega serials is peopled mainly by women. Women of all ages. Men are disposable accessories. The protagonist, the antagonist and the side-kicks are all women. Only the courier boy, the policeman, the temple pujari, the supari killers and the Autoricksha driver are men in the serials. Obviously, they have minor roles to play in the story. Occasionally, the husbands, the father-in-laws and the sons make their humble appearances to help move the story forward and obligingly recede into the background quickly. Otherwise, it is throughout a women's show telecast for women though directed by mostly men. There are two principal time slots for these mega serials. One is between 10 am and 2.30 PM; the second is between 6PM and 10.30PM. Each serial is for a total of 30 minutes out of which about 12 minutes are for advertisements. In this limited time of 18 minutes, the director has to create twists and turns, tears and screams, love and hate. The forenoon, noon and afternoon serials are mainly watched by housewives while they cut the onions, check the pressure cooker, dump the clothes in the washing machine and eat their lunch or get ready for the post-lunch siesta. These serials are heavily women-oriented and the storyline is a throw-back to the 1960-s. Mother-in-law torturing the daughter-in-law, parents of the bridegroom troubling the parents of the bride for dowry, widows bringing up their young children against all odds etc. etc. It is a catharsis for the women viewers. Even if the social changes in the last few decades and the spread of the nuclear family system have rendered the ubiquitous mother-in-law toothless, the serials depict her as an ongoing unwelcome reality. The mother-in-law who watches it has a long sigh, thinking about how fate has cheated her of her divine rights namely torturing her daughter-in-law. She can at least watch the small screen mother-in-law doing things which she herself has always wanted to do, but which the changing times have tied her hands from doing. Euphemism for making the daughter-in-law's life miserable. The real life daughter-in-law watches the serial empathizing with the small screen daughter-in-law though in real life she could be living several hundred kilometers away from her real life mother-in-law and it is the latter who is probably scared of living with the former under the same roof. Though the serials are old fashioned with regard to mother-in-law and dowry nuisance, they do not hesitate to co-opt recent social developments. For example, no serial is free from divorces sought by women themselves on grounds of cruelty by husbands, widow remarriages, upwardly mobile professional women, college girls having boy friends etc. The evening serials are more generous in accommodating men. The reason is that men who return from their work spend a few minutes in front of the TV before they eat their dinner and doze off. So, one gets to see some male characters mouthing dialogues and playing more substantial roles than in the day-time serials. But even in the evening serials, the main characters are heroine and villi, not hero and villain. A serial producer can break this formula only at the risk of slipping in TRP rating. More than the heroine i.e. good woman , it is the villi, the bad woman who keeps the viewers in thrall. There are two types of villis. The first belongs to the old school of villainy. She wears Kanjeevaram silk saris, consults astrologers ( who in this new millennium still count the star movements on their ten fingers) on when disaster will strike the heroine and her family and abuses one and all in chaste Tamil. Vadivukkarasi belongs to this first school. The second type belongs to the new school of villainy. This new school villi is well-educated, uses plenty of English words, wears kurti and jeans, uses digital technology freely , such as videographing a murder using her smart phone so that she could later blackmail whomever , using a pen drive to copy sensitive information from a company's files, google-searching on her iPad or Android for the best supari talent in town etc. Rani of Athipookkal fame is from this new school. Though there are outward differences between the two types, the basic nature of all the small screen villis is the same. Their sacred mission in life is to destroy good people, rob their wealth, separate couples, kidnap for ransom and such other sadistic acts. Nothing new in this since big screen villis have been assisting the villains in doing this for ages. But what is new is that the villis of today do not need the villains' assistance to do these bad acts ; moreover, todays' female viewers have begun to lap it up and ceased to be shocked no matter to what crude and cruel level the villainy degenerates , as long as the episode remains spicy and absorbing. Every Friday episode ends with such a heart-pounding turn thanks to the villi's machinations that there is tremendous longing in the viewers' hearts for Monday to dawn without delay. The villis have finally edged out the heroines as the pivot of the story and enjoy better billing than any one else including heroines. The only exception to this is Radhika's serials in which importance given to villi is minimal and grudging. It is Radhika all the way, sometimes twice over !


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