Punnagai Mannan controversy: It is never too late to talk about consent

Manoj Kumar R
Punnagai Mannan kiss

Punnagai Mannan released on November 1, 1986.

Late director K Balachander’s 1986 movie Punnagai Mannan opens with music maestro Ilaiyaraaja’s melody “Enna Saththam Indha Neram”, soulfully sung by SP Balasubrahmanyam. The song makes us believe that a couple, who is head over heels in love, is enjoying an intimate outing in and around a waterfall. But, soon after the song is over, we learn that the couple is about to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff.

The scene features Kamal Haasan and Rekha as star-crossed lovers. The couple will jump on the count of three. As Kamal begins the countdown, he is overcome by anxiety. He is seemingly not as determined as his lover, who stays calm as she awaits her end. Kamal pauses counting, takes a final look at his girlfriend, lands a passionate kiss on her lips, gives her a tight hug one last time. And he goes 1,2,3…JUMP. He survives the fall, but she is not that lucky.

It is an iconic dramatic scene in the history of Tamil cinema. Only Kamal could have pulled off this scene so well as no other actor could have mustered such a heartfelt smile on the verge of certain death and amidst an avalanche of mixed emotions.

And perhaps I can’t look at the scene the same way again. A part of Rekha’s old interview is gaining a lot of traction on social media. In the almost a year old video, she has recalled that late director K. Balachander and her co-star Kamal Haasan did not take her consent for the impromptu kissing scene. She suggested that Balachander and Kamal decided between themselves that she would be kissed without her consent.

Now, many have questioned what was the need for Rekha to bring up something that happened decades ago? Is she doing for media attention? What are her true intentions?

Consent is the keyword here. A, it is never too late to talk about the violation of one’s right to consent. B, it is never too late to learn a lesson or two from the experience and do the course correction, so there is no other novice 16-year-old female actor who is kept in the dark about an incoming kiss. No matter how iconic the scene in question is, and the passion that it inspired for generations, we must disown the method that was used to create this timeless image.