Paava Kadhaigal (Sinful Stories)
Directors: Sudha Kongara, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Vignesh Shivan, Vetrimaaran
Cast: Kalidas Jayaram, Shanthnu Bhagyaraj, Bhavani Sre, (Kongara's Thangam), Simran, Gautham Vasudev Menon (Menon's Vaanmagal), Kalki Koechlin, Anjali (Shivan's Love Panna Uttranum), Sai Pallavi, Prakash Raj (Vetrimaaran's Ooru Iravu)
Netflix's Paava Kadhaigal (Sinful Stories), an anthology of four episodes comes a couple of months after Amazon Prime had played Putham Pudhu Kaalai, with its five short stories. While the two series dealt with different aspects of life – Paava Kadhaigal is about sin and the sordid, Putham Pudhu Kaalai was about life and living. Sudha Kongara and Gautham Vasudev Menon feature in both anthologies.
Unfortunately, there is a world of difference between the Netflix and the Amazon offerings. Paava Kadhaigal is depressingly morose with very little light at the end of the torturous tunnel. There is nothing elevating about the shorts, coming as they do at a period of intense loss and suffering, panic and pandemic. One may argue that the anthology is all about sorrow and sin, yet it could have been narrated in a lighter vein. Some of the saddest stories have had a silver lining, a sense of relief at the end of it all.
Admittedly, cinema is all about the inspiration which writers and directors discover, and the experiences they face in order to spin stories. But they would lose out if they are not embellished with some kind of variation and novelty. Otherwise, they could appear like monotonous media reports.
Paava Kadhaigal, I would presume, has been inspired by actual incidents of horrific honour killings, of how family traditions and personal egos barricade the path of love between two individuals. The anthology treads a beaten track: we have been reading for a long time how male members of a family murder their daughters only, only because they have chosen their own life partners, who may be from a different religion or caste. They may not be acceptable to parents, relatives and suffocatingly conservative societies.
In Shivan's Love Panna Uttranum, actress Anjali playing Jothilakshmi asks her brutish father whether love knows boundaries. Can we plan and fall in a romantic relationship – keeping in mind and adhering to the rules of the clan or society. She poses these questions to a cold-blooded killer who had a little while ago got Jothilakshmi's twin sister, Aadhilakshmi (also essayed by Anjali), electrocuted in the bathroom merely because she had wanted to marry his car driver. Anjali as Aadhilakshmi is convincing as the woman who trusts her father, little realising how evil he is. She also packs in power as the surviving twin, Jothilakshmi, who manages to escape his tyranny. Kali Koechlin as her friend Penelope is too superficial to add value to the narrative.
Shivan's piece is perhaps the best of the four, not that he has anything new to say, but the way he manages to underline the sheer hypocrisy of the father (he presides over inter-faith marriages in public, but turns a monster at home) is interesting. And there was something here that gripped me.
The rest of the anthology – including Sudha Kongara's Thangam – seems very, very ordinary – so much so that they could have been just documentaries with cliched conversations and happenings. Her Thangam is poorly structured, goes all over and gets lost. About a village transgender, Sathaar (Kalidas Jayaram) whose dreams of marrying his childhood friend, Saravanan (Shanthnu Bhagyaraj), go wrong when he discovers that the man is in love. She is none other than Sathaar's sister, Sahira (Bhavani Sre). Incidents of Sathaar being teased by village bullies and him destroying Saravanan's love note to Sahira have been beaten to death on the screen.
Gautham Vasudev Menon's Vaanmagal has him portraying the father of a boy and two girls, and when one of them, barely 12, is raped, the family sinks into shock. They are devastated that their baby daughter has had to go through such a horror. But, the family appears more concerned about what how the neighbourhood would react to this. The mother (Simran) is in a restless dilemma, and the means she adopts for a closure is terrifying. But again, nothing new. We have seen all this in our villages. And have been reading about them too.
Vetrimaaran, who has given us some excellent stuff in the past, seems to have lost his way in his Ooru Iravu. Prakash Raj is the father of several children, but when his favourite, a daughter, Sumathi (Sai Pallavi), elopes with her lover and marries him, the man is heartbroken. When he finds later that she is pregnant, he finds out her address. Paying a visit and he invites his daughter and her husband to their village home for a small ceremony to celebrate her impending motherhood. Ah, but the dad turns out to be the very incarnation of a devil.
Movies and the media have often gone to town with these kinds of stories, and Paava Kadhaigal offers nothing different -- not even a few add-ons!
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and author of a biography of Adoor Gopalakrishnan)