In January, the Thai soap opera "Nua Mek 2" was abruptly pulled off the air. Channel 3 offer a simple explanation, saying it was due to “inappropriate’ content. But viewers largely suspected the decision was made because of the series’ politically charged dialogue.
I was one of the viewers who had followed the series. I admit I enjoyed the satire that targeted blatantly corrupt politicians. But what impressed me the most in Nua Mek 2 were the strong roles for female characters.
The series was produced by Chatchai Plengpanich and Nonsi Nimitbut. In fact, the entire production team are men. Nonetheless, the program took strides to glorify and promote its women characters. Instead of being beautiful, evil and bitchy as in most dramas, the women portrayed in Nua Mek 2 were intelligent and morally sound, and possessed self-assurance.
I wonder sometimes whether strength and confidence are qualities that Thai society truly embraces in a woman. Most men seem to prefer beauty over character. In Rang Pradthana, the new series which replaced Nua Mek, the main female character, Kratae, is almost ridiculously cast as a shallow vain woman, disinterested in anything other than going shopping.
How different from Nua Mek where the leading character is Napha, a former commander of the Special Investigation Bureau who sacrifices so much for duty and justice. She was portrayed throughout the first series as wholesome, brave and intelligent.
Praepailin, the other leading role, was the head of the Forensic Science Division. She was smart, sensible and meticulous. Her strong will saved her from imminent danger and helped her achieve success on several occasions. But are these not storylines normally only reserved for male hero characters?
Nua Mek’s other popular female character is Nahmsai, a straight-talking reporter who neither fears nor favors anyone. Yet she still had feminine qualities, and her pragmatic reaction to unrequited love was quite unlike the drama queens featured in most soaps.
In most Thai dramas, a woman who is jilted or broken hearted frequently fails to win sympathy because she is cast as an evil manipulative she-devil, constantly plotting against those she envies or despises, and flirting relentlessly with the dashing males who are indifferent to her cunning charms.
The other female character I admired was Taw-Rung. She was a volunteer at an orphanage. Apart from her compassion, she was forthright and honest. But she exhibited wifely attributes—she stood by her husband no matter what, and she saved him when he most needed it. Taw-Rung was, to me, proof that a women character on TV can be feminine and loving, but also assertive and brave.
“A man is the forelegs of the elephant and the woman the hind legs,” goes an old Siamese saying. If that is the case, then maybe an elephant uses its hind legs to brake and stop because it sees the situation ahead of time. Perhaps an elephant has a sixth sense too?
Text by Utong Prasasvinitchai, Translated by Panitee Nuykram, English Consultation by Colin Hinshelwood, Illustrated by Yim