All Hail the Queen

Sohini Chattopadhyay, The Indian Quarterly, July-September issue, 2016.

This isn’t technically an academic paper, but that shouldn’t stop us from reading exceptional research/writing on film. In the latest issue of the Indian Quarterly, Sohini Chattopadhyay explores the on-screen depiction of a ‘veerangana’ — as a warrior, a queen, an outlaw, a cop, among others.

Chattopadhyay explores how the veerangana is being adapted for screen from various sources in warrior queens/princesses, folk tales and B-grade stunt films. She writes, of course, about ‘fearless’ Nadia, but she also draws parallels to Sivagami and Avantika of Baahubali, and Inspector General Meera Deshmukh of Drishyam.

The slight nagging I had with Chattopadhyay’s writing is of course the boundaries she draws for herself. The narrative arc or the purpose of the veerangana in the narrative isn’t much explored  — for instance, she talks of Avanthika in Baahubali, she says:

“In SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali, Tamannaah plays Avanthika, a committed soldier of an underground rebel movement in the kingdom of Mahishmati, ruled by the vainglorious king Bhallaldeva…..Her hair is pulled back from her face, her backpack is a quiver of arrows, her ears are unadorned with earrings; she climbs trees and jumps from them with the ease of a wood sprite. When the leader of the movement fixes a date to assassinate the king, it is Avanthika he picks for the job.”

But she doesn’t explore how Avantika in this film is ‘feminised’ and her ‘mission’ taken over by Shivu.

As I read this fascinating study of these veeranganas, I couldn’t resist thinking of Vijayashanti’s stunt films in Telugu and Tamil of the 90s. And of Uma Riyaz’s Palaniammal in Mounaguru.

Full-text here at The Indian Quarterly.

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