Paava Kadhaigal Review: Sudha Kongara and Vetrimaaran shine in this middling anthology
Netflix’s maiden Tamil anthology ‘Paava Kadhaigal’ is out. It has films helmed by popular filmmakers Vetrimaaran, Vignesh Shivan, Sudha Kongara and Gautham Menon. The films deal with how love, pride, sin and honour influence complex human relationships.
Sudha Kongara’s ‘Thangam’, set in the 80s, tells the story of a transperson named Sathar. She is seen as an outcast by the villagers and her family members. The only person who genuinely cares for her is her childhood friend Saravanan, with whom she is madly in love. Saravanan, however, has feelings for Sathar’s sister. Though initially dejected, the good-at-heart Sathar brings together the two lovers only to invite more trouble for herself. It is a deeply moving story powered by an excellent performance from Kalidas, who plays Sattar. The actor is a true revelation as he gets the body language and expressions perfectly. He is ably supported by Shanthanu and Bhavani Sre, who play the cute couple in love. Shanthanu has also delivered a very mature act and his emotional outpour towards the end is heartbreaking. Unlike Sudha’s earlier films that have an outlandish appeal, ‘Thangam’ has a proper sense of rootedness. The makers have painstakingly recreated the era while also getting the Kovai slang right.
Gautham Menon’s segment ‘Vaanmagal’ is a disturbing watch as it has rape and child abuse as the conflict element. The director has taken a route that he has not treaded much and hence it lacks a sensitive approach. At the centre of action is a visibly happy family comprising a middle-aged couple and their kids — two daughters and a college-going son. Disaster strikes when the youngest of the two girls is kidnapped and raped. How the family deals with this trauma is what forms the plot. Gautham Menon’s intention to try and break the norms about what is generally perceived as honour is commendable, but where he falters is the execution. None of the characters are properly fleshed and how I wish a more seasoned actor was cast in the role, which is essayed by the director himself. Menon also got it terribly wrong when he included a grossly distasteful dialogue that is intended as a callback to Simran’s heydays. Another regressive thing is the makers resorting to unjust, violent vigilantism as some sort of solution to the crime. It is nothing but catering to the mass mentality. The film had the potential but it ends up far from being perfect.
Vetrimaaran’s ‘Oor Iravu’ tells a chilling story of honour killing. Right from the beginning, one can sense where this is going. But the genius of Vetrimaaran lies in the fact that he still manages to keep us hooked while building the tension gradually throughout. The screenplay goes back and forth but it isn’t just another gimmick. It is a clever ploy to present what is otherwise a predictable storyline. Sai Pallavi’s Sumathi hailing from a casteist family elopes and gets married to Hari. Years later, the couple is shown happily married with Sumathi expecting the arrival of their first child. Upon hearing the news, her father lands at her doorsteps and tries to pacify things between them. One thing to note here is Prakash Raj’s father character is not outrightly villainous. He has tender feelings for his daughter’s well-being but his casteist mindset and wrong sense of pride doesn’t allow him to accept the couple either. All through the film, we see him as this disturbed person who is torn between his love for his daugther and his status in a casteist society. The latter eventually drives him to do something ruthless. Vetrimaaran’s usage of lengthy single shots and long pauses helps in mood builiding of a chilling atmosphere before he finally nails the coffin with a hard-hitting ending. I felt they could have done away with the epilogue though.
Prior to release, Vignesh Shivan’s ‘Love Panna Uttranum’ promised to be the wackiest of the four but it ends up being the weakest. Unlike the other three films, this one is attempted as a dark comedy but what eventually manages to do is dilute an issue that’s as grave as honour killing. Apart from the fact that a murderous character gets a happy ending, the makers have also tried to fool the audience by posing it off as a pro LGBTQ film. Anjali and the sidekick’s performance is the only saving grace.