Paava Kadhaigal on Netflix: An intense watch to say the least

Spoilers ahead...

I had said in my earlier review of Putham Pudhu Kaalai ( that anthology was an important step for Tamil cinema in the space of anthologies. Bollywood had already started its journey in the space as early as 2013 with the wonderful Bombay Talkies. Following Sillukarupatti, ( Paava Kadhaigal is just the third in line and yet is the best in my opinion.

Based on the disturbing practise of honour killing, the directors Sudha Kongara, Vignesh Shivn, Gautham Vasudev Menon and Vetrimaaran come together to entertain, pain and educate the viewers of the evils in our society - of which mainly the women are the victims.

Before I get on to each of these films, I must make an important declaration. This anthology is not for the weak-hearted. The pain, agony and gut-wrenching scenes in each of the shorts are as close as reality gets. In fact, some of the practices are prevalent in various parts of our country. Let's dive in.

Thangam - by Sudha Kongara:

This is the most brilliant segment of the lot in terms of acting. Kalidas Jayaram as Sattaru is hands down the man (or should I say the woman?) of the match. The story is about a possible love story between a man who wants to become a woman (Kalidas Jayaram) and behaves so in public without any fear and Saravanan (Shantanu Bhagyaraj). The staging also makes you believe that it is an LGBTQ film. In fact, it is to some extent. Satharu is saving up money to have a sex change operation done so that he can marry Saravanan who he affectionately calls Thangam. But Saravanan is in love with Sattaru's sister Sahira (Bhavani Sre). Let me not spoil it any more for you and get into the different aspects of the film that stand out.

Sudha Kongara, in an interview, said that she didn't treat this segment any different from a feature film and went ahead accordingly. Probably that's why there is a song in this segment. The song doesn't hamper the progress of the story much and only adds to the beauty of the segment. A major part of the central idea of the anthology happens to the character off-screen and still, we root for that character. Kudos to the director for this achievement which is very difficult to pull off. We often watch films that fail to emote us despite spoon-feeding us with the situations and cues (background scores). The closing scenes, though melodramatic don't fail to hit hard. My favourite acting scenes are the ones where Kalidas Jayaram is distraught when he learns that Saravanan doesn't love him. Another scene, during the introduction of Sattaru where he makes a face at the owner of the ration shop, is pure brilliance. Kalidas Jayaram after an impressive performance in the Amazon Prime Video anthology Putham Pudhu Kaalai is here to stay.

Love Panna Uttranum - by Vignesh Shivn

This is a story about twins Aathi Lakshmi and Jothi Lakshmi (Anjali) and their love interests Penelope (Kalki Koechlin) and driver of the twins' father (K. Manikandan in a nameless character). One of the twins decides to come clean to her father (Padam Kumar as Veerasimman) about her love for the driver. The father decides to kill her; and just as she dies, the other daughter comes home, hearing the happy news that the father had agreed to their marriage. Shit hits the ceiling as another key characteristic of one of the daughters comes to light.

This segment is the most entertaining of the lot. The director seems to be at his elements while writing for this short and the passion and fun he had while writing is evident in the way it's been filmed. With such a dark central idea, this segment as fun as it can get. His signature dark humour and the mind-boggling twist would make you laugh while watching it. This probably the short where you will laugh the most while watching. Replete with pop-culture references (there is a character by the name KGF!) and some signature Vignesh Shivn wordplay (look out for the play in the word Penelope and ESPN!), I could never imagine that such a dark theme can be used to evoke laughter as well... that too in the most unexpected situations.

Vaanmagal: by Gautham Vasudev Menon

GVM uses his signature style even in this short. It is interesting to see how the master of romance - an idea and concept where he explores all thing beautiful and sweet - handles such a dark and cruel subject. He picks up from where Vetrimaaran's Oor Iravu ends. Therefore, there is a huge spoiler in the initial frames of this segment. But that is only a prop and has got nothing to do with the story of this segment. This is about a daughter of a conservative family in the interior suburbs of southern Tamil Nadu. The family consists of a working father (Sathya played by GVM), a home-maker mom (Simran as Madhiyazhagu), a college student son (Adithya Bhaskar) and two daughters Ponnuthayi (Angelina Abraham) and Vaidehi (Sathanya). Ponnuthayi experiences a traumatic accident that changes the lives of the whole family.

This is the most moving segment after the spine-chilling Oor Iravu by Vetrimaaran. The idea is gaining knowledge of certain things that comes with puberty - naturally. What would happen if you are forced to learn it earlier? This trauma and contrast are brought out brilliantly on-screen with the help of visuals and sharp dialogues. The festivity and celebration of attaining puberty and the trauma of experiencing it earlier on - the point where Sathya says "Ippave periyavalaitaa.." (She's grown) I had a lump in my throat - are contrasted with the dead silence in the household following the incident. The elements of nosy neighbours, relatives waiting to point a finger and the idea of "cleansing" in order to absolve of the impurity, etc are all shown earlier in the form of either dialogues or scenes (the first shot of Simran is more than just a trope here). However, GVM seems a bit uncomfortable in his role and his dialogues alone are not that convincing. But what he lacked in acting is more than compensated for in writing and direction.

Oor Iravu - by Vetrimaaran:

I think there is a reason why this was kept as the last segment. Vetrimaaran hits the home run with this one. There is no way you would be unmoved or unaffected by this spine-chilling short. This is the story of a daughter, Sumathi (a brilliant Sai Pallavi) and her father Janakiraman (Prakash Raj in terrific form). Sumathi elopes with a lower-caste boy and marries him. After a year, Janakiraman comes to know that she is expecting and decides to pay the daughter and the son-in-law a visit. What happens after convincing him to have a valaikaapu function (a function for the well-being of the mother and the unborn child) forms the crux of the story. Vetrimaaran cuts the film back and forth in time to enhance the mood of the segment. The film starts with Sumathi looking for her father and after opening the door, it cuts to the past. It ends behind closed doors again. It is just poetic. Sai Pallavi and Prakash Raj steal the show with their accurate and controlled performances. This is the closest-to-reality depiction of how much the people of a community hold honour and respect in high regard - most often at the peril of the people around them. Vetrimaaran proves that his direction is enough for a film and no other accompaniments (like the songs, dances or even background score in this short) is required.

The final scene seems to have been shot in a single take with the camera placed at the centre of the hall. With literally no background score this scene drives home the chilling cruelty of the father like no other film ever has. Unlike his other films where the camera doesn't stay in one mood for long, the camera stays here. Watch out for the last shot of the film before the animations take over and also the shot where the father and daughter lock gazes when she is in a yoga class. This is my favourite of the short and the one that affected me the most. Don't watch this segment if you don't like blood.

With honour killing as the central theme, red seems the go-to colour to set up the mood of the anthology. Right from the beginning of each episode, which is an animated series of events starting with a red colour and ending with the red sun, red is a recurring colour in all of the segments. It is the red lips of Sattaru in Thangam, red kumkum during a pooja and also the colour of the shots in Love Panna Uttranum, red colour uniform in Vaanmagal and blood in Oor Iravu. The cinematography is brilliant in each of the shorts and my favourite is the way the olden days of Coimbatore is depicted in Thangam. With limited actors, technicians and crew, each short would stay for long with the viewers.

Paava Kadhaigal is a small but sure-footed entry into the realm of OTT for Tamil Cinema and would definitely turn heads - locally and beyond.

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