Honour, pride, shame and brutal crime play a big hand in this grand though flawed omnibus of four stories, each devoted to bringing out the pungent flavours of the fierce rules of patriarchy that govern lives of women.
In Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vaanmagal, a griefstricken mother contemplates the thought of killing her 12-year-old daughter after the child is raped by ruffians known to the family (this is an important point: sexual violation is often perpetrated in known territory). Menon who also plays the rape victim’s father effectively, here toys with the middleclass’ obsession with respectability without irony or prejudice. Menon’s heartbroken confession to his wife that he can’t bear to look at his child without feeling naked, is a takeaway moment from this flawed but powerful story.
But the treatment of the story, so stark and affecting to begin with, lapses into excessive melodrama and the sequence of the rape survivor’s brother castrating the rapist is hideously out of place. Simran as the survivor’s mother breathes fire and passion into her part, though her makeup and appearance could have been less immaculate.
More charming, heartwarming and affectionately designed is Sudha Kongora’s Thangam, a fable-like melodrama replete with sex, crime, revenge and redemptiom, with a very convincing Kalidas Jayaram as an effeminate villager who takes everyone’s heckling in his stride and blows up his savings for a gender-reversal surgery on seeing his sister elope with the man HE loves played handsomely by Shnatnu Bhagyaraj.
A heavyhanded melodrama in spirit, Ms Kongora transmutes the first -half of her 35-minute film into a smark, puckish, flirtatious fable with Jayaram and Bhagyaraj killing it. Then the curse of the second-half sets in. Much wailing and shrieking transpires before we get to the “moral” of the story.
I am not sure what it is. But the sincerity of the central performances and the director’s faith in love as a panacea help to keep you invested in the characters and their tumultuous lives.
Love Panna Uttranum directed by Vignesh Shivan is the weakest of the four stories. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess with the caste system and honour killing being mixed with a lip-smacking black comedy which sits as uneasily on the theme as potato chips at a Sunday mass.
Kalki Koechlin and Anjali are lesbian lovers (or so we are made to believe) who visit the latter’s radically conservative feudal father in a village. Anjali has a twin sister who has just been bumped off in the bathroom by her Baabuji and his favourite sidekick. The entire black comedy goes into a wild spin with characters running around trying to make honour killing look goofy, and never quite gets a grip on itself. Jokes on ‘Lesbian’ being called the ‘ESPN channel’ could only induce giggles if you are a schoolboy on WhatsApp.
The anthology saves the best for the last. Oor Iravu directed by Vetrimaaran is a powerful muscular soul-searing and gut-wrenching study of honour killing. The unfailingly exceptional Prakash Raj plays a wounded father, who lures his happily married pregnant estranged daughter (Sai Pallavi) back to her parental home, poisons her and watches her die. The harrowing story unfolds in a traditional middleclass house with the rooms around a darkly-lit courtyard. The use of the traditional homespace to portray this unspeakable crime is masterly moving and horrifying. Shot in a scorching night light, the camera trails the agonizing drama in a dance of tragic travesty. This segment of the four-story anthology (each story is accessible separately) would have qualified as a masterpiece, were it not for the closing scenes which replace live images with static sketches. A Covid compromise?
For all the flaws, Paava Kadhaigal is an unforgettable journey into lives where social norms govern human emotions to a lethal extent. It is not always a pleasant experience. But eventually, tremendously rewarding. I'll go with 4 stars.
Image source: IMDb
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