Are our ‘heroes’ endorsing stalking, violence against women?

All of us know of the horrifying murder of Infosys techie Swathi, and the immense manhunt that followed to nab the killer. The 24-year-old was allegedly hacked to death by Ramkumar, an engineering graduate from Tirunelveli. According to police reports, he was stalking her for over a month in pursuit of love.

Sounds filmy, doesn’t it? Because it is. It is exactly the stuff some Tamil films are made of. Going by the number of films, it seems like the dream storyline of several commercial-filmmakers.

Right from the times of Rajinikanth to Kamal Haasan to the modern youth icons Dhanush and Simbhu, films and heroes have glorified stalking. The concept of stalking has become so synonymous with romance that we can’t even tell them apart anymore.

13689543_1058254340889752_1664540993_n.jpgKamal, the most celebrated romantic hero of south Indian cinema, has stalked his fair share of beautiful heroines in films. In ‘Singara Velan’, he went to the extent of modifying a childhood picture of his “lady love” to find out what she looked like in the present. He then found her, stalked her despite her disinterest, and just couldn’t take no for an answer. He ultimately managed to woo Khushbu — with lewd lyrics.

13694135_1058254357556417_2073388786_o.jpgSuperstar Rajini is no exception. His stalking of Soundarya in ‘Padayappa’ to ask for her hand in marriage is seen as mild persuasion. The comic “vaanga pazhagalam” dialogue from ‘Sivaji’, where he stalked heroine Shriya Saran’s family, was not only irritating, but creepy. He found out where the family lived, went to their house, and ultimately got Shriya to agree to marry him with his persistence.

Vikram followed suit. In ‘Sethu’, he was seen harassing a shy, helpless girl, going to the extent of kidnapping and threatening her and forcing her into “loving” him.

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Thanks to Dhanush’s ‘Kolaveri di’, the latest trend is the ‘soup boys’, as the rejected men are officially called now. The song is about a ‘fair girl’ with a ‘black heart’ rejecting him, and “spoiling” his life. The film ‘3’ in which the song was featured, is about Dhanush falling in love with Shruti Haasan. He followed her after school hours, joined the same tuition centre as her and even followed her home.

Worse was ‘Adidaa avala’, a cult hit of sorts among the youth, from the film ‘Mayakkam Enna’. The film’s lyrics are a ‘clarion call’, so to speak, to physically abuse and kill a woman who rejects a man. Once again, it’s our youth icon Dhanush who does it for us.

13713417_1058254347556418_2024148692_n.jpgHow can we forget Simbu’s hot pursuit of Trisha in the top hit ‘Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya’. They lived in the same building and were neighbours. Our hero fell in love with the girl-next-door and couldn’t stop following her wherever she went. I’d be creeped out if I had a neighbour who walked behind me all the time.

13689494_1058254354223084_417110198_n.jpgEven the ever-so-charming Madhavan has had a faux pas. In his debut ‘Minnale’, he went as far as posing as the man whom the girl’s parents had found as a match for her. In his much adored flick ‘Alaipayudhe’, though there were no violent threats involved like in many other films, Madhavan followed the heroine, Shalini, on her train journeys every day to and from college, and ultimately got her to fall for him.

Oh, is our dreamy Surya any different? In ‘Vaaranam Aayiram’, he set a new benchmark in stalking by following his dream girl all the way to US — with blessings from his own father. Does this mean parents encourage it too? The father character too had stalked the mother, Simran. Seems like “romantic” stalking transcends generations.

Ultimately, the male lead is always the aspirational character who turns the odds against him to prove to the female lead who called him ‘porukki’ (rogue) for following her, regret her decision. All’s well that ends well when the heroine finally gives a nod to the relationship and they live happily ever after.

But is it really a happy ending for us who carry pepper sprays, Swiss knives, and a look of panic on our faces?

As I walk home from the station everyday, I’m repeatedly looking over my shoulder

It was another night after a long day’s work. The bus was late and I reached Nungambakkam railway station at 9.20 pm — the time I usually walk home from my destination railway station. Concerned calls from my family come every single night ever since that fateful day poor 24-year-old Swathi was hacked to death on the very same platform that I board my home-bound train every day.

Ramkumar was stalking her, the reports said. Shudders ran through my spine the moment I read that particular statement. Why, you ask? The memories of being stalked as a school girl rushed back to haunt me. Those days of riding a bicycle home and being carefree were daunted by senior boys who bicycled behind me.

“Don’t you understand? He loves you,” a friend of his told me once. I never understood. I was all of 15 anyway. “What does love have to do with following me around,” I mused, until I realised how scary the whole situation was. Was I supposed to swoon over the fact that an unknown person, who not only studied in the same school but knew where I lived, could cause me physical harm, or worse yet make me the reason he committed suicide? I remember being scared, and the distinctive feeling of making my friend (lest he get the idea I’m interested in him) look over our shoulder every corner we turned.

Nungambakkam at night: Has Swathi changed it all for us suburban commuters?

It was 9 pm and Nungambakkam railway station was in its normal Friday night torpor of tired commuters going home, shop-keepers checking the clock and the lighting in power save mode.

Only, this was not any other day. Earlier in the morning, this station had hit the national headlines for the gruesome murder of a 24-year-old Infosys employee, Swathi S. As I walked up to the spot where she had fallen after being hacked down by a helmeted man, I looked around to get a sense of that moment when a horror is committed amidst a placid sea of impassive faces.

But Platform 2 was back to its business of arriving and departing. The beggars were still begging, the shops were still open and functioning, people were boarding and alighting. At the spot where Swathi had lain, the cold concrete had been washed clean of the blood that had flown for two hours. There was no barricade to momentarily commemorate the spot, not even a deferential muffling of voices. Those who didn’t know, trod over the spot, eyes trained only on the incoming 9.20.

Had this been the scene too when the man cut her down and bystanders reportedly halted their stride for an instant and hurried on with their lives? Earlier that morning, I had got down at the station from the incoming 6.08 am, perhaps 20 minutes before the killing, and gone on to capture the horror on my news website. But had I been there 20 minutes later would I have done anything different?

The ones who knew this was the spot, huddled far from it and spoke in hushed tones to friends or strangers about the lack of CCTVs, the absence of Railway Police personnel and alas what had become of Chennai.

I’m a regular at Nungambakkam. I’ve been suburban commuter for seven years. Had I seen her, maybe texting by that pillar, or chatting with a colleague? Had she brushed past me sometime? Had I shared a seat with her?

In the trains going into the suburban night on Friday, the talk was obviously about Swathi, branching off into relationships, stress, family values, etc.

But how could this have happened at Nungambakkam? In my seven years as a commuter, I had taken the last train back home with just about four or five people in the carriage, but never a thought about safety. There had been a murder over on that foot-over bridge, but a 11 pm ride was never filled with dreaded prospect.

Has Swathi changed all that?