I woke up today morning to read the news of an honor killing here in Kerala. It’s a supposedly educated and progressive society over here. But their education stops at their pride. We humans are a social species — this is something my parents always tell me whenever I refuse to follow the social code. Rules and regulations are laid down so that we could live a life with cooperation and order. Thus, everything that we say and do become governed by “What will others say?” Even if you know that you do not accept it, you stay mum and swallow the bullshit society throws at you because “we humans are a social species”. The herd matters most to us, above all forms of individual freedom.
This herd mentality is a topic we’ve all been engaged with continually. Herds of different levels of identity. The herd that keeps us warm and secure like plush burritos by validating our identity and giving us that one thing which perhaps separates us from the wild — “honor”. And boy, would we not do anything to protect our honor, our dignity?
Paava Kadhaigal (2020) does not show us many new things. In fact, we have all grown up watching people kill each other for love and pride. Right from Homer, entire kingdoms have gone to war with each other because illegitimate love tarnished their reputation. Thousands have died in the name of love and we enjoyed their deaths and gracefully called them “tragedies”. Despite the innumerable films and stories we’ve grown up on about people killing for honor, every time I watch a new story about this, it shooketh me, buddy, it shooketh me real bad. It pricks me that people are going to unfathomable extents for their “good name” when their significance on this earth is next to nil. Nil. That’s what we all are, and yet we want to fit in, we do not want to be the outcast. So we purse our lips and stand on the sidelines watching shit go down.
Coming back to our topic, there have been a lot of anthologies and multi-narrative cinema coming up lately, especially in the Indian scene. Paava Kadhaigal comprises four shorts by four prominent directors of Tamil cinema, with the four stories linked by the idea of honor killing. The star cast was interesting, the trailer seemed promising and social realism has become people’s new favorite theme. So I decided to give it a watch.
Now, the anthology in itself is quite flawed. There were lots of moments when I just wanted to skip through to the end. There aren’t many spoilers to give away, to be honest. Just a lot of regressive patriarchal and caste-based ideologies that a lot of us are privileged enough to know about but still manage to escape the catastrophic repercussions of. The anthology succeeds in its task of making us feel disgusted about the very same society we are a part of. It also made me want to hug someone and cry because I saw fathers killing their daughters for superficial approval from superficial people they don’t even properly know. I saw people stand by and watch a helpless human die and then celebrate their death with biryani. A lot of overwhelming things happened within the two hours of the runtime of the film that I had to diffuse it all with a session of Hans Zimmer’s saddest background music.
While I absolutely hated Gautham Menon’s short Vaanmagal, Vetrimaaran’s segment Oor Iravu was the most impactful one of them all. It made my chest tighten up even though there was nothing happening there that I could relate my real life to. This very same uncanniness could be the reason why the segment affected me so much because the thought that this could all be very real was always at the back of my head.
At this point, I highly recommend The Pyre by Perumal Murugan, which is also centered around the idea of caste-based honor killing. The novel talks about how an upper-caste woman who elopes with her husband, who belongs to a lower caste, is outcast by his entire village, while her family is hunting the couple down. It also discusses how her mother-in-law is also ostracized by her conjugal family as well as the villagers and how even getting water from the public well becomes a task of humiliation for her.
We see instances of similar ostracization of the family members in Paava Kadhaigal as well — Sathar’s sisters are harassed by the villagers because of their transgender identity, to the point their mother begs them to go die, Sumathi’s family is outcast by the village, her elder sister’s husband abandons her while her younger sisters were pulled out of college. It’s the women who face the most oppression in these situations because they have to face wrath at the public as well as private level — the outside society as well as the men inside their homes.
Strong performances highlight the anthology, especially that of Prakash Raj, Sai Pallavi, Simran, and Kalidas Jayaram. I do have my objections with the choice of actor to play the role of Sathar because, at a time when representation is increasingly becoming the focus, it is prudent that filmmakers give more opportunities to people from marginalized communities. No matter how good of a performance Kalidas delivered, the role he played was that of a trans-person and a trans actor could have given the part more justice. It becomes counterproductive otherwise.
Paava Kadhaigal tries to explore the idea of honor and pride with depth but falls short of making a cumulative impact. My heart went out to some of the characters but then again, there were times when my mind went bonkers and I wanted to skip through the entire short. It deserves a watch, at least for the first and the last short. But be prepared for the drama and the waterworks every half an hour.