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Laura Mulvey, Marion Crane and the Victimisation of Tamil Film Actresses

Remember Marion Crane? Remember what Laura Mulvey sought to convey about the patriarchal moorings of the classical film narrative in her defining work, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema? Marion Crane of Psycho (1960) stands out from the multitude of Hitchcock’s female stars in one respect. When it comes to defining the victimisation engendered by the male gaze, Marion Crane succeeded remarkably well. She expressed well the trauma of being gazed and pursued by scores of male eyes and finally trapped and subjugated by Norman Bates, a male who was also a female (his mother). As a subject of surveillance, control and subjugation of the patriarchal male order, Marion Crane personifies a leitmotif of not only the oedipal narrative in Psycho, but also the countless number of visible and invisible potential victims of the patriarchal male order in every society.

Despite the powerful manner in which the Marion Crane was etched as a victim of the male gaze, this character did not find mention in Laura Mulvey’s essay. It is a glaring omission, no doubt. But the omission did not spoil the soup Mulvey was cooking up with characters from other Hitchcock films such as Rear Window and Vertigo. Towards the end of her essay, Mulvey said: “The image of woman as (passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of man takes the argument a step further into the structure of representation, adding a further layer demanded by the ideology of the patriarchal order as it is worked out in its favourite cinematic form – illusionistic narrative film.”

In our times, some may find Laura Mulvey’s essay as very dated. But her work still evokes a strong sense of relevance in the myriad contexts film feminism seeks to address in contemporary times. The central tenets of film feminism have always sought to see a link between women as objects of desire and, consequently, as victims of the acts of surveillance, control and eventual subjugation exercised by the agents of patriarchy, both on-screen and off-screen. The likes of Marion Crane, who fail to escape from the acts of surveillance, control and subjugation by the overpowering nature of the omniscient male gaze, it seems are not be seen only seen as misplaced figments of feminist imagination, going by the vicious manner in which Tamil film actresses have been made as subjects of surveillance, control and subjugation by the collective male gaze of the patriarchal order. Two recent events concerning Tamil film actresses, Khushboo and Shreya, raise questions that have something to do with what Laura Mulvey wrote and what Marion Crane suffered. These questions relate to the growing tendency on the part of the predominantly male dominated political and communal groups clamouring for the surveillance and subjugation of Tamil film actresses like Khushboo and Shreya, all in the name of protecting Tamil/Hindu culture from the threats posed by them. For the uninitiated, Khushboo and Shreya are the Tamil film stars belonging to two different ages of Tamil cinema. Khushboo is a yesteryears’ star and is presently doing roles in Tamil television programmes. Shreya acted as the heroine of the reigning Tamil super star Rajini Kanth in the blockbuster film, Sivaji. Both the actresses are now being hounded by the collective male gaze on the specious plea that they pose a serious threat to the yet undefined Tamil/Hindu cultural mores. Their plight is also a story of the collective male gaze that has gone astray. I will focus on the same in my next post.

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