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Rowdy without a Cause?

Do the film choices of a popular hero like Vijay Deverakonda disrupt the misogyny and violence against women in contemporary Telugu cinema?

Publicly, I am a feminist academic-in-training. Privately, I love watching films from the Telugu film industry, aka Tollywood—cinema at its sexist, classist, violent best. At some point, I gave up trying to reconcile these two sides of me.

Every Telugu movie fan knows that Tollywood is all about its dynastic star families. The men from these families are “mass” heroes, who have earned massive popularity and star power playing hyper-masculine leads in big-budget blockbusters, but who simultaneously bar the women in the family from acting, because it is improper and not “sanskaari.” This says a lot—in fact, contemporary Telugu heroines exist to be objectified by the audience, violated or threatened by the villains, and saved and tamed into domesticity by the hero. In Aagadu (2014), Tamannaah is introduced as an ambitious businesswoman, but then immediately described as “dangerous” and “emotionless” because she values her career over getting married. Mahesh Babu, the hero, manipulates her, “tames” her, and marries her—ambition successfully averted.

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Updated On : 10th Feb, 2020

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