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Paava Kadhaigal Review: Tactfully depicts how the shallow concept of “honour” chokes the humanity out of people.

Subhadeep Das

Netflix’s Paava Kadhaigal is a brilliant depiction of how the concept of “honour”, dictated by a community, is often detrimental to the well-being of the people belonging to that community. The anthology consists of four stories concerning four people who somehow, either of their own accord or not, damage the honour of their families and the undeserving repercussions they deal with. In society’s view, they are nothing but deviants who have sinned and the anthology horrifyingly depicts those despicable people who gain from perpetuating this violence against these so-called deviants.

The anthology has structured the four films quite well and none of them ever do anything else except add to the growing resentment to the horrors occurring on screen. The series begins with Sudha Kongara’s, Thangam(My Precious). Set in a small village near the city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, we follow Satthar(played by Kalidas Jayaram), a transgender man who wishes to start afresh by moving to Mumbai, away from the constant abuses and bigotry of the villagers. He also wishes to get a gender reassignment surgery and is saving up for it. His father is tremendously disappointed with him which shows in the regular outbursts of anger towards him. The only person he can confide in, is his childhood friend, Saravanan(played by Shanthnu Bhagyaraj), who seems to be the only one not viewing him as someone different. It is a story of one -sided love that is rightly felt due to the restrained performance by Jayaram. He doesn’t strive for meager empathy, he digs deeper. Although not perfect, it is quite a commendable performance. The movie is not without a few flaws. The comic relief scenes at the beginning feel forced and often are not able to produce a chuckle and the screenplay does take quite a while to establish the main plot getting quite stagnant at times. However, the movie recovers quickly from the fatigued and a bit cliched start and goes on to give a heartfelt ending that did make me tearful.

In Vignesh Shah’s, Love Panna Uttranum (Let Them Love), the story follows twin daughters Aadhi and Jothi(both played by Anjali) whose father, Veerasimman(played by Padam Kumar), is a politician who though promoting inter-caste marriages for his image, is a man to whom honour remains above everything else. Thus, he employs his right-hand man, Narikuttan(played by Jaffer Sadiq) to adhere to their community and makes sure that the parity is met. The main conflict occurs when Aadhi declares her love for their driver who belongs to a lower caste and surprisingly her father agrees to their union. Seeing that her father has truly let go of his age-old beliefs, Jothi comes back to visit her family and check on her sister. She also brings along two of her friends Penelope(played by Kalki Koechlin) and Bad boy Bharani B-Cube(played by Tony Sebastian), who is a rapper from Mumbai but Penelope is the one who soon starts to realize that something is off about Veerasimman. The plot of this short may seem heavy but Vignesh Shah makes a bold creative decision of incorporating humour into the plot. The movie deals with the subject of honour killings and skillfully portrays this through dry humour. Characters often use movie references to justify their gruesome deeds and a character who resembles Kannada actor, Yash is also called KGF. While the premise ventures into borderline absurd, director Vignesh never mocks the situation they are in. Thus, as the story progresses and the situation becomes even more bizarre, you still remain invested due to the sheer gravity of it. The performances here are some of the best. Padam Kumar as the politician and the patriarch, Tony Sebastian and both Anjali and Kalki give faithful performances but it is Jaffer Sadiq who steals the show as one of the most despicable casteists ever seen onscreen. The way he justifies his actions is a treat to watch. The writing however, could have seen improvement as not all the comic scenes stick their landing. Some of the comic scenes feel extremely forced and inappropriate and often are placed at odd points in the narrative that the important scenes start to lose their finesse. Also, in an attempt to give a happy-ever-after, the movie forgives the father’s evil deeds and sort of ends up trampling on its subject matter that had been well-handled up until then. It does become frustratingly confusing at times as to what genre the movie is going for.

The third story, Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vaanmagal(Daughter of the skies), could have easily surpassed Vetri Maaran’s outing, had it been for a few questionable narrative choices due to which it does come as a close second to being the best out of all three. Vaanmagal is the story that focuses on the theme of honour through a family dealing with a victim of sexual assault, that victim being the youngest daughter of the family. In the early 90’s of Hindi commercial cinema, acts of physical or sexual violence have mostly been used as catalysts of revenge plots with the women immediately committing suicide as the pain of dishonouring the family. Gautham Menon’s narrative heart-wrenchingly portrays the internal dilemmas that each member of the family goes through after such a horrific act is committed. The film also showcases the societal expectations of women as they are trained from birth to live a life that is respectful to the family. In a particular scene, where the mother tells her eldest daughter who has gone through her first periods that she should not touch anything as she will dirty them, really goes to show how controlling our society has been towards women for generations. This movie highlights how the will to preserve the honour of the family, makes the parents oblivious to their child’s pain. They even go so far as to refuse to file a police complaint in fear of their eldest daughter also getting dishonoured. The performances in this short are the best among all the three. Both the performances by Gautham Menon as the father and Simran as the mother will tug at your heartstrings. They feel the most genuine and both of them beautifully portray their internal struggles with the matter of the assault. In an absolutely breathtaking scene, the mother asks the father as to why he wouldn’t talk or face his daughter. To which he replies that it is because he feels naked. This is an immensely powerful scene and the camera remains stationary on him as he goes on to say how he has failed as a father to protect her in her time of need. The one narrative thread which the movie should have avoided would be the physical revenge exacted by the brother. It fails to serve its purpose, feels forced and sticks out immensely like a sore thumb. It also feels petty in comparison to the sort of psychological revenge that the mother exacts on the society by refusing to live by its terms. It is what singlehandedly brings down the overall continued brilliance of the film and keeps it from triumphing over the fourth entry.

Finally to complete the anthology we have the Vetri Maaran directorial, Oor Iravu(That Night). Vetri Maaran has never shied away from narratives featuring the torment of the lower caste people at the hands of the upper caste and it is beautiful to see how a director when armed with an unrestricted canvas(referring to the OTT platforms), is able to make something that gets under your skin so effectively. This movie is a clear example of what a master filmmaker he is. That Night follows the story of the relationship between a father(played by Prakash Raj) and a daughter(played by Sai Pallavi) that gets ruined when the daughter decides to elope with her boyfriend from college, who happens to be from a lower caste. The narrative begins with the arrival of the father at the daughter’s house, who has been pregnant, and asking the couple to host a baby shower at his house. Like all his movies, Vetri Maaran uses the visuals to convey a lot of the internal conflicts. How the father refuses a glass of water at their house and also decides to accompany his daughter to her yoga classes in fear of having to stay back alone with the husband. These subtle cues really hint at how the father still hasn’t been able to accept them completely. Even though her daughter has the most financially stable life, the deeply ingrained caste system in his mind ends up clouding his judgement. The husband picks up on these details and confronts him about it but he ultimately agrees for his wife and makes one request of having the event held at a public venue such that both their families are able to attend the event as equals. A great moment of visual storytelling occurs in a splendid one-take scene when the daughter is back at her home and the father simply goes to bring a glass of water for her from the kitchen. This almost uneventful scene is actually the best in the whole movie as through the visuals the director conveys the unknown horrors that are unfolding offscreen. The camera refuses to go into the kitchen with the father and once he comes out refuses to show his face, quickly conveying that something is really wrong here. Unlike the previous three films, Vetri Maaran refuses to use any songs or background scores and simply lets us feel the intense affair in its absolute raw format. He achieves this great task through both his cinematographer, Suresh Bala and through some careful but genius editing and it just goes to show how well he is able to use the assets at hand. This film was the toughest to watch mainly due to the performances of Sai Pallavi and Prakash Raj, who are magnificent in their roles. It also made me quite happy to see Prakash Raj getting a role that is quite different from the commercial ones that he is used to. This just goes to show his immense range as an actor.

Paava Kadhaigal, from the onset makes it clear that it is not for the faint hearted but one should expose themselves to it regardless, to get an idea about how this concept of honour can harm us. This anthology rightfully overwhelms you with emotions and transports you to the creations of some of the finest directors working in films today. Even though some aspects of it disappoint, they are not overpowering enough to diminish or tarnish the overall image the anthology strives for and hence, one should definitely give it a watch.

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