We generally believe that men govern households with the able support of women.But at times the system of family governance takes a U turn, seeing women rule their homes, with the simple submission of their spouses.Such women soon become unbridled, to turn to formidable mothers in future.The concept of formidable mothers, has been suitably handled in Tamil Cinema, to depict gynocracy and matriarchy with a catchy story line and characterization involving electrifying performance of actresses fit for playing such roles.
As Tamil Cinema has never faced dearth of talents to play any kind of character with ability and force, it could conveniently enroll women to transform into ruling prototypes of motherhood, anticipating simple obedience from children,particularly daughters. However,in such contexts,submission of husbands precedes that of children.The leading mothers of Tamil films were Sundaribai, P.SGnanam, C.K.Saraswathi, G.Varalakshmi and S.Varalakshmi. The later additions to this category of dominant women were, Sukumari Pushpalatha and Jeyachitra..
Actresses like Kannaamba. M.V.Rajamma and Pandaribai belonged to the meekest brand of women and they could never be imagined to play as rough and tough women.Among the next generation women artists,Sujatha and Srividya have been seen only as docile women.But even Srividya,once appeared as the mother of Amala in the film 'Mappillai' and as a rich and snobbish mother,she was found influencing her daughter and throwing challenges to her son-in law played by the Superstar.The first thing she did was discarding her husband, who did not toe her line of arrogance.
Among the senior artists listed here,Sundaribai was always seen as a noisy woman quarrelling with her husband and dominating the domestic core.Whenever directors thought of the role of a harassing mother-in- law,they would immediately ask for the call sheet of Sundaribai or C.K.Sarawathi.These two women would deplorably demonstrate third level scheming and cruelty both as step mothers and as mothers-in law. Sundaribai was also capable of playing grumbling type of characters,interested in gossiping and finding fault with others.Her role in Padikkaadha Medhai is a memorable one. C.K.Saraswathi as Vadivu, in 'Thillaanaa Mohanaambaal' was the dominating, greedy mother of Padmini .She had played as a greedy mother and mother-in-law in several films and it was her greed that used to make her ill treat her daughter-in-law, in most of the films. P.S.Gnanam would frequently play the role of a scheming woman disturbing the peace of not only her family, but also that of others.Her most detestable role was in 'Paasamalar' as an elder relative of Gemini Ganesan,with her devilish moves leading to the separation of the most loving siblings [Sivaji and Savithri] and then causing their death.She acted as the most formidable and despicable woman in that film.
G.Varalakshmi performed the role of a dominant mother, trying to break her rich daughter's love marriage with a man from a socially modest background, in A.V.M's 'Kuzhandhaiyum Dheivamum'.She went to the extent of influencing her daughter to get divorced from her husband and separating her twin grand daughters from their father.How the formidable mother was finally reformed, came as the sweet climax of the story.She had earlier played the role of Kaigeyi very impressively in Sampooreana Ramayanam.The other cruel mother on screen was S.Varalakshmi,who was even ready to see her daughter as a widow, rather than watching her live with her financially poor son- in- law and this story line was witnessed in the emotion packed film 'Panama Paasama' directed by the most esteemed K.S.Gopalakrishnan. The same actress performed a similar role in K.Balachander's 'Poova Thalaiya' with a lot of manipulations to control her widower son- in- law and his uncontrollable younger brother.Interestingly,in both the films,it was Gemini Ganesan who played the role of the son-in-law.Unlike G.Varalakshmi,whose character of female arrogance was hidden in graceful silence and look of pride,S.Varalaksmi's arrogant stuff was bigger in looks and louder in thoughts and words.
In dealing with such adamant and unruly mothers. the male heads in some films were shown as shrewder and invincible.For instance,V.K.Ramasamy brought in through the backdoor his nephew [Sivaji Ganesan] to handle his virago type of wife [played by Sugumari] in 'Pattikaadaa Pattanama'.Through a manipulative arrangement, the maternal uncle and his nephew not only reformed the lady of the house, but also her pampered daughter.The same theme was repeated in AVM's 'Sakalakala Vallavan' with the same V.K.Ramasamy, using the services of his nephew Kamalahasan to tame his formidable wife Pushpalatha who had successfully groomed her son [Ravindar]and daughter Ambika to follow her haughty and status- conscious frame of mind.In both the films, the female domination was brought down, by contrived sequences of events, stage managed by the male head, with the genuine support of the younger relative.
A decade later,director Guru Danapal did a similar hat trick using the smartness and style of Manivannan and Sathyaraj to bring down the matriarchy of Jeyachitra in 'Maaman Magal'.In this fresh venture, the maternal uncle and nephew game was played to save the formidable mother's perverted daughter Meena, from getting married to any undesirable person, in the name of status and riches. For Jeyachithra, who had impressively portrayed the role of an arrogant girl of riches in a few films earlier, this character of a wealthy snobbish mother was a cake walk and she did it with convincing elegance.
Really, starting from Sugumari ,all the three actresses performed the role of imperfect motherhood in their own independent style, delivering a portrait of hateful mothers.The directors of all these movies, should be applauded for invigorating freshness in the treatment of a repeated theme in a new dimension and making the outputs different from one another.The over all impact of the portrayal of formidable mothers, has always been towards bringing out the intrinsic softer side of motherhood, winning over the harder exterior.The logical and most welcome culmination has ever been, the reformation of formidable women, into endearing and acceptable individuals, with a true understanding of the spirit of maternal love.This could be achieved only by subtle handling of situations by the understanding male heads, without complicating issues that come on the way. Shakespeare wrote a wonderful play called 'Taming of the Shrew.' Tamil film directors have once a way turned their attention to project many such shrews in the guise of domineering women and their show of supremacy, only to be cowed down by their clever ,well meaning husbands.