A new year is usually considered to be the harbinger of new beginnings. Tamil cinema, however, has returned to some old traditions. The theatres are open and full again, and we have brand new releases. But along with the festive cheer, two of the Pongal releases also brought back perhaps the most popular version of woman in Tamil cinema: the Loosu Ponnu™. Save for an errant occurrence here and there (the heroine from Dagaalty comes to mind), this woman seemed to have bid goodbye. This isn’t to say that women roles have always been written with diligence, but at least, they weren’t manic pixie dream girls. Sadly, Bhoomi and Eeswaran bring back this woman back. More strangely, both roles were played by the same actor.
In the early minutes of Eeswaran, there’s a local cricket match. It is the final over—seven runs to win with just one wicket left. Eeswaran (Simbu) walks in to much applause. The other batsman Puli Kutty (Bala Saravanan) asks Eeswaran to hit a single and leave the rest to him. However, Eeswaran says, “Crowd-a paathalla? Naa aadithan jeikanum nu wait panraanga.” This last over becomes a metaphor, as Eeswaran continues to waste balls. Once, he even picks up the ball and throws it to the bowler, almost getting Puli Kutty run out. And then, the final ball arrives, and Eeswaran hits the CG ball for a six.
Shraddha Srinath is on cloud nine, as Maara that is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, has fetched her much praise for her portrayal of Paaru, a restoration architect who goes on a journey in search of a fairy tale. “Paaru, like me, believes every brick has a story to tell. Like her, I too am fascinated by old structures.” For the longest time, Shraddha wished she had a time machine. “When I see a fort, I wonder how it must have been when bustling with activity. Paaru is like that too; it’s why she is a restoration architect.” She smiles at the realisation that she speaks of Paaru as though she were a real person. “She is, in my head,” she says.
We take stock of the music scene in Tamil cinema, this year: the trends, highs, lows, and how the industry survived a pandemic
Taylor Swift once said that while people have not always been there for her, music always has been. If there’s any one year in which this quote assumes special relevance, it has to be this year. A lonely year of forced isolation and uncertainty—not just for the future, but for human touch and connection—2020, to put it mildly, has been tough on everyone. It’s a year that reiterated the significance of artists and creators, whose professions seem to be thought dispensable. Holed up in our homes, almost all of us found solace in music, much more than we have been used to. The melodies and lyrics filled up the void for emotional connection we all longed for.
Netflix began its southern sojourn with Paava Kadhaigal, an anthology based on honour killing. Tackling themes like caste-based violence and atrocities against the LGBTQ+ community, Paava Kadhaigal is directed by some of the biggest names of Tamil cinema — Gautham Menon, Sudha Kongara, Vetri Maaran and Vignesh Shivan.
Here’s Sudha, along with her actors in Thangam — Kalidas Jayaram, Shanthnu Bhagyaraj, Bhavani Sre — talking to us about their short, the responsibilities of handling sensitive themes, and more.
Paava Kadhaigal (stories of sin in English) is quite the appropriate name for the new Netflix anthology, helmed by Sudha Kongara (Thangam), Vignesh Shivan (Love Panna Uttranum), Gautham Menon (Vaanmagal), and Vetri Maaran (Orr Iravu). In all of them, sin is at the centre, with the characters placing honour above love, family, and humanity. Another similarity here is that the victims are all women or those who identify as women. Honour and honour killings are usually associated with casteism, but I found Paava Kadhaigal to interpret honour in a different, more inclusive manner. It touches upon the complicated relationship women have with ‘honour’, and this goes beyond caste. The patriarchal society has saddled women with the responsibility of ‘honour’ for centuries, censoring their lives and choices. Ironically, Paavam is also an expression of sympathy in Tamil. There’s another layer then to this title, about stories that reflect the unfair universe that our women are bundled into.
Mainstream language tells us, ‘Men are generic, women are special.’ Men are thought to be the ‘default form of humanity’, while women are a specific subcategory. Mankind, for example, refers to all of humanity, but womankind is just women. There are several manifestations of this around us, but in cinema, there’s one in particular. It’s how when a character isn’t defined by their gender, by default, the character turns out to be male.
The first feature you note about Vinoth Kishan is his eyes—the same eyes that made an impact in Nandha, in which he debuted as a child actor, the same ones that drilled dread into us in Naan Mahaan Alla. It’s an important tool in his arsenal, but what if he could not use them at all? This was the thought that made director Vignarajan approach the actor for his film, Andhagaaram. It is what made Selvam interesting to Vinoth as well. The duo decided that they would retain the look of the eyes, but that Vinoth would adapt to the lifestyle of a blind man. “I learnt their lifestyle. They have a way of doing everything—reading Braille, using laptops, general navigation etc. My character, Selvam, is a confident man.” Sympathy is a cornerstone of Selvam’s persona. “His problem wasn’t his disability, but other issues… Anyone who sees Selvam should feel for him.”
When Krishnakumar was in Class 6, he watched a play that fetched one of the actors a standing ovation. That kindled acting interest in his young mind. More than a decade later now, a film in which he has acted, Soorarai Pottru, has fetched him similar appreciation—so much so that he is now referred to as ‘Che’, the name of his character from SP. He is full of praise for director Sudha Kongara. “Every period has a filmmaker, who changes how the industry looks at cinema. Sudha Kongara is that person.” He says he knew the film would reach people the way it has. “The team is amazing,” he says, and adds that he considers all the love that has come his way to be a gift. “I was very surprised and am truly grateful.”
There’s a story about a baby elephant being chained. Introduced to the chain even before it can walk, the young elephant thinks it can only move as far as the chain allows. It gets so accustomed to this, that it refuses to go out of those boundaries, even when there is no chain. It is a good analogy of how conditioning works, how patriarchy works. But, with each generation, we become more confident to push forward, closer to equality. This is visible a lot in mother-daughter relationships. Most mothers don’t want their daughters to face the struggles they had. And daughters, after they grow up, become the strongest supporters of their mothers’ desires and push them to go for it. This understanding comes from having a common enemy, and a shared battle. This is the premise of the short film B Selvi and Daughters, starring Kalaivani and Gayathrie Shankar.