Dear fellow Machas,
I'm a pure bred Malayali. I have watched a hundred and more Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu movies, and sadly, I have to agree that the navel gets more than its fair share of screen presence. And because of this, I've been relentlessly prodded and asked why south Indians have this weird obsession with the midriff, anyway.
I've been asked this so many times, that I thought it's necessary to address the issue.
One would think that it's just an item number special, you know, something that you just see in the middle of the movie somewhere, but no.
The navel finds its way into the most obscure of scenes. From a love scene (chalo valid hai) to an emotional one, it's everywhere. So much so that it makes me wonder why can't we just leave it alone already! Not only does it look aesthetically horrifying, but a little too desperate as well.
From fruits like apple and angoor being casually dropped on the navel, to actors literally crooning to the belly button, south Indian directors have managed to make the navel a character in itself.
The traditional blouse and mundu attire has also contributed its fair share to fuel this obsession. If you ever get a chance to watch Rathinirvedam, you'll realize how a man can go cuckoo over a navel.
But seriously, what is the reason behind this obsession?
The navel has more sexual connotations in South Indian cinema than any other female body part. You see, it's one of the highly erogenous areas on a female body and when it comes to movies, visual imagery works best as a method of story telling in complicated and erotic scenes. Therefore, showing the belly button becomes an evocation of the sexual act, lust and love.
A more commercial reason would be that showing the navel gives the director the space to portray love and lust in the most non-cringe worthy, PG-13 way. They get their scenes done, and get the U/A certificate, giving their movie a wider audience.
During my quest for finding the reason behind this obscure obsession, I also stumbled upon a Quora thread that had some insightful answers on the topic.
Here's an industry insider's take on the issue:
And here's a guy who believe it's everywhere, but agrees that South Indians do it a little more.
From Vijayashanti to Taapsee Pannu, every Tollywood, Mollywood and Kollywood actress has been subjected to close-up shots of their navel being shown to the public and well, not in the most tasteful manner. After all, it's the easiest gimmick to rope in the loyalists and motivate the potential moviegoer for the film, and rake in some serious moolah.
In an interview, Taapsee Pannu said that costume designers down south have a simple brief - "Keep the clothes as short as possible and show much of the midriff".
With a brief as simple and sexist as this, it's quite obvious that most directors down south will make it their life's mission to cash in on the fetish as much as they can. The problem is so prevalent, that even movie posters have the leading ladies' belly button plastered across to lure in crowd.
But here's where the argument 'You give people what they want' comes in. After all, audience hi toh sab kuch hai. But how would the audience know any better if they aren't shown anything else? If exposed midriffs constitute a major chunk of your movie, why would a moviegoer care about anything else?
And then there's the most basest of reasons. Thanks to Silk Smitha, South Indian men like their ladies to be voluptuous and as gross as it may sound, seeing love handles does get them off. Seeing some belly button jiggle gives them a high and South Indian films cater to this demand, and hence so much screen is dedicated to the viewing of the navel.