Nothing is taboo or off-limits for the four celebrated South Indian directors as they push you to explore those bestial impulses that lurk behind our civilised veneer in their new anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’, streaming on Netflix now.
Each dark, disturbing and stirring vignette — led by directors Gautham Menon, Sudha Kongara, Vetri Maaran and Vignesh Shivan — tackles complex social issues such as honour killings, rape of minors, alienation, identity, caste injustices and gender inequalities with as much subtlety as a sledgehammer.
The idea is force their viewers to take stock of their own nature, conscience and morality code, claims the accomplished directors.
“The world that we create in this anthology is meant to shake you and not just make you merely uncomfortable … Every story is a reflection of our current reality in our society today,” said Maaran in a group interview over Zoom.
Doting dads murdering their own daughters in a cold-blooded calculative manner is a recurring theme in this Tamil-language production.
“Our idea was to break the shell that we think all live in and break that mistaken notion that we are all evolved, civilised beings. We still live in a country [India] where all the things we have shown are happening … Our idea is not to make people uncomfortable alone, but to shake them and start a discussion,” added Maaran.
By that definition, the accomplished quartet have achieved what they set out to do. Each short film in ‘Paava Kadhaigal’ is a powerful anecdote of all that’s wrong with the times we live in.
Hard hitting tales
If the first anthology ‘Thangam’ directed by Kongara explored the bigotry and intolerance towards an endearing trans-woman villager (played brilliantly by actor Kalidas Jayaram), director Gautham Menon’s ‘Vaanmagal’ starring Simran and himself as shook-up parents grappling with the rape of their minor daughter are any indication, they have achieved what they set out to do with aplomb.
The anthology is deliciously disconcerting and is filled with repugnant characters.
Vetri Maaran’s brutal tale ‘Oor Iravu’ of a father (an on-point Prakash Raj) punishing his beloved heavily pregnant daughter for falling in love with a man from a different caste and penalising her for eroding their family honour is another gem, while director Vignesh Shivan forces you to question the prejudices against sexual orientation in ‘Love Panna Uttranum’.
They all believed that their stories made for compelling viewing and that truth is often harsher than fiction.
“Our reality is so uncomfortable … What we have shown in our film is what’s happening in real. We wanted you to know how brutal and unbelievable certain things are in our lives today,” said Vignesh. Vetri Maaran points out how his anthology chronicled in great detail about the visceral anguish faced by an ageing father as he does something heinous and unpardonable to his pregnant daugther for the sake of upholding his honour anong his family elders and villagers.
In his bid to reclaim his lost pride when his daughter (Sai Pallavi) dares to fall in love with a man not chosen by him, the family patriarch sheds his cloak of civility and reveals the animal in him. The recurring theme in this anthology is also about the onus of the family honour and pride resting with the women alone and how freedom to choose is denied to women and men.
“That’s precisely why we have made this film, to find an answer to that question – why should the onus of honour rest with the women alone?,” said Maaran. Director Menon, who has also acted in his short film about a father grappling with the rape of his minor daughter, also points that each anthology addresses that grim question.
“I can point out parts from my film, Sudha’s films and others that asks the exact same question … If you watch my film again, you will understand that my wife [Simran] in the film reacts just in the way society perceives things to be. That’s how we are taught how a woman is meant to react … Many such crimes [rapes] go unreported because we are expect to conform to the idea of a woman’s purity … But somewhere as a filmmaker we are hoping that things will change. Our films are just mirrors doing the reflecting of reality now,” said Menon.
This question about honour lying on a woman’s shoulders alone was initially posed by Oscar winning Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy in her acceptance speech as she took home the golden statuette for her film on honour killings. The filmmakers of ‘Paavai Kadhagal’ has only attempted to bring to life the common real-life narrative of women and men being hurt for not toeing the line, and perhaps nail an elusive answer to that deep question through their terrifying tales.
All the short films in PK deal with subjects that are grim, intense and murky. Tidy endings weren’t a feasible option for these filmmakers, but they seem to have cherished that conflict and revelled in giving their fans sobering endings. Every character in this story is either misunderstood or craving for familial or societal sanctions and approvals.
“In my film, it’s the woman/mother who decides and tells her son [trans-gender] that he shouldn’t be alive. That was the ultimate cruelty on display because they loved each other and shared a beautiful bond. She makes that decision and not the father who hits him. For the son, his father’s actions were meaningless because there was no love, but hearing his mother say that she doesn’t love him anymore was so painful. I have tried to show that pain of rejection by his own mother that he loved dearly.” Her tale was a painful nod to how transwomen are ostracised and sidelined for exercising their right to choose.
“He was the most misunderstood part of the film and of society, but that is not his fault of everybody around him. There is no empathy or education in their mind to understand a character like him,” said Kongara.
She isn’t alone in dealing with sticky topics. Menon’s anthology about a family struggling to come to terms when their youngest is raped is equally stirring.
“The father is going through his own crisis when he is not able to see his daughter like the way he saw her before the crime … He’s not able to hold her and comfort her and it took him time to come to terms with the turmoil … What happens to the family when they go through something like that … I talked to families and they all said that in most cases such crimes [rape of minors] aren’t reported ... But I hope things will change.”
Each filmmaker is hoping that those propogating prejudices and honour killings will be penalised, instead of being given a free hand.
“Ours is a collaborative effort … We set out to make a compelling film that forces you to ask some tough questions,” said Menon. But making this film wasn’t an easy task.
“We felt anger, pain and trauma,” was their chorus.
The viewers will agree too.
Don’t miss it!
‘Paava Kadhaigal’ is out on Neflix now.