Review of Ayali - a Web series about women's empowerment

We might have watched many women's education-centric movies and web series. But Ayali, the web series in Tamil that premiered on Zee5 with eight episodes is thought-provoking with a wonderful message on women's empowerment interlinking education and puberty. This is a review of the digital show through a woman's lens.

About Ayali, the Web Series

Recently, multiple web series are streamed and watched, but barely a handful do manage to have an impact on the audience. As such debutant, Muthukumar's Ayali sets a new labarum among web shows and OTT platforms. Ayali, the web series in Tamil, focuses on how a teenage girl breaks all odds to move on to her dream of higher education to become a doctor in a male-dominated village in Tamil Nadu. This has been released in January 2023 on ZEE5 streaming eight episodes.

Genre: Family
Original Language: Tamil (also released in Telugu)
Country of Origin: India
Streaming Network: Zee5
Released date: On 26 January, 2003
Run time: Eight episodes, each with 35-40

The crew behind the screen

Direction: Muthukumar (Entry into the Web series)
Screenplay and Dialogues: Muthukumar, Sachin, and Veenai Maindhan
Music: Revaa
Cinematography: Ramji
Editor: Ganesh Siva
Producer: Kushmavathi
Production Company: Estrella Stories

The crew on screen

Abi Nakshathra as Tamizhselvi, Anumol as Kuruvammal, Madhan as Thavasi, Lovelyn Chandrasekar as Mythili, Linga as Sakthivel, Singampuli as Thiruppathi, TSR as Dharmaraj, Thara as Kayalvizhi, Pragadheeswaran as Murugan, Jenson as Sekhar, Rajamani Melodi, Goutham, Reshmi, and Muthupandi.
Guest appearance: Lakshmi Priya as Inspector, Smruthi Venkat as English Teacher, Sendhil Vel as Collector, Bagavathi Perumal as M.L.A., and Kodangi Vadivelu

The premise of the series

The storyline sets way back in the 90s and portrays superstitious faith fuelling male chauvinism and women under their sway in a village called Veerapannai in the Pudukottai district in Tamil Nadu. In this village, a goddess named Ayali is worshipped and only girls who have not attained pubescence are allowed. No other men and women of the village are not supposed to enter the temple and worship the deity and even go out of the village. Moreover, girls after attaining puberty should not go to school and get married immediately after their first periods. This has been a tradition and culture followed as per the spooky folklore of their male counterparts.

However, a girl named Tamizhselvi brought up in such circumstances studying in the 9th grade dreams of becoming a doctor. No other girl in the hamlet has even reached the 10th grade and Tamizhselvi frightens that her dream of becoming a doctor would not be fulfilled when she reaches puberty and that her parents abiding by the customs of the village would not support her. In order to make her dream come true she decides to hide when she attains her age. Tamizhselvi's friend Mythili gets married as soon as she reaches puberty to a drunken relative who is much older than her and died due to alcohol poisoning.

Tamizh Selvi and her other friend, Kayalvizhi, who also gets her periods, have decided to stop her marriage by breaking the village custom. But the village men get irritated that Tamizhselvi is responsible, who hides her puberty and plans to get her married to Sakthivel. All women unite at the temple premises and raise their voices to stop the marriage and for their freedom to break the traditions swaying them under male chauvinism. At the climax, Tamizhselvi gets a chance to elope to study further but refuses to do so and decides to fight to stay back in the village for the freedom of the entire women in the village. Her father supports her as the first man in the village who breaks the rule while the school has been damaged by the other men folks.

In the above sets of the show, let us have a glimpse into certain issues that the women have confronted and how they have been tackled wonderfully by the creator and director of Ayali, the web series.

Breaking the mythology

Most regions, religions, or cultures follow some traditions out of certain myths, which have become norms. Often, these myths limit the liberty of women, and this is highlighted in Ayali too. The show begins with the myth of the fear of Goddess, Ayali, by whom the village has been prosperous and people in the village live peacefully. A young girl after falling in love with a boy from outside the village elopes one day. Following this, a natural calamity of the complete firing of the village occurs and it is believed that this has happened due to the deity Ayali's annoyance with the girl who has eloped. In order to avoid such instances of eloping, the villagers decide to move on to another village, and the girls should get married as soon as they reach puberty.

Women alone are forced to carry out the tradition or customs in fear of God and men are always kept out of that belief. The hypocrisy of the socioreligious myths is clear that both the boy and the girl have eloped but why the girl alone is targeted? At the end of the show, Mythili raises her voice about the issue of following this kind of culture. "What do the other boys in the village do after the boy runs away? Have they been stopped from going to school or after attaining adolescence do they get married sooner?" Never, they are.

Attaining menarche

Ayali has done justice in dealing with the woman's issue of menstruation, not hiding away to show the menarche/bleeding of a girl on the screen. In the series, having menarche is a grand event of celebration for men because as soon as the girl gets her first period, her education is stopped whether she likes it or not. The innocent girl (Mythili) initially gets entertained by the celebrations but then she is deprived of her freedom and basic rights of going out anywhere and she is indulged in all household chores forcibly.

Women solidarity

Throughout the series, the director skillfully aces up. However, in the climax, he indeed portrays women's solidarity when the entire women in the village group together to safeguard Tamizhselvi. They raise their voice irrespective of age backing up Tamizhselvi to support her since they have their vision through her offending male counterparts. They react to the men of the village to leave them alone saying "we have had enough of your protection."

When Tamizhselvi accepts that she has hidden her puberty to save her friend, her father ascertains that he loves his daughter more than his life and she makes him dishonoured by hiding the truth. Tamizhselvi comes out with a slippery shot dialogue, "You are here having a weapon to kill me and my mother so far against but now stand by me." And the director speaks about honour-killing at any cost. Following is the climax of the series all women in the village have chosen to send Tamizhselvi out of the village. Instead, the brave girl has decided to stay back. This is because she thinks that would do nothing good for the other girl folks except the fact that she alone benefits. This is real women's solidarity and kudos to the director for the wonderful screenplay depiction.

Social binding

Ayali displays the social constraints of women brilliantly. Kuruvammal, Thamizhselvi's mother initially hesitates to break the superstitious myth since she is not educated even though she is willing to go to school in her childhood. However, she realizes the dream of her daughter and supports her later wishing at least Tamizhselvi would have her dream fulfilled. As a bright teenager, Tamizhselvi understands the fact quite earlier that women alone are the first opponent to break any rule, and the same for education as well. "They have dreams but hide, and forget their wishes in the long run" she interprets. (This may be due to Stockholm syndrome!!) Being a great homemaker needs to be willing but not enforced, and not to self-pity that this is the fate of women accepting all taboos customized by men.

Women's education/child marriage

The main core of this series, the right to education displayed by the director has been dealt with nicely throughout alongside multiple women's issues. As expressed by Muthukumar, the idea for the show has been influenced by the practice of child marriage in some villages in Tamil Nadu (still exists in many other states at present too). Why be girls not allowed to study or to be educated about menarche? Why not let them continue their education after marriage or menstruation? Everything is because men believe education empowers women and hinders the age-old subjugation of their female counterparts. In this regard, Tamizhselvi speaks aloud about hampering women's education through child marriage/concept of puberty.

Ayali serves as an inspiration for how digital media can bring about relevant transformation in a society in which women have a crucial role. When a woman is educated the whole family would be educated. It is a wonderful piece of socially relevant fiction but entrenched in real life with great nuance. Let us hope for many web series that would amplify the voices of women's empowerment to make awareness around the world.


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