'I wanted actors without a set image for my short in Paava Kadhaigal'
...says director Sudha Kongara, as she joins actors Kalidas, Shanthnu, Bhavani, in a conversation about their short, Thangam, which is a part of Netflix anthology, Paava Kadhaigal
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
Sudha, what was the starting point for Thangam?
I had first written a story which I wasn't very convinced about. The representation wasn't accurate. At that point, a writer friend of mine suggested a published story of his: Thangam. I was touched and sent him a selfie of me sobbing. It took us six months to write the screenplay and dialogues for this story.
How did you go about the casting?
I was looking for a trans person to play Sathar, but couldn't find one with classical features. Also, I didn't have the time to train anyone. Kali (Kalidas) was initially supposed to play Saravanan, but eventually, this role went to him. For Saravanan, I wanted a good actor and I have been observing Shanthnu for a while. Bhavani too has a classical look, which suited the look for a period film. I wanted actors without a set image.
Kalidas, your delicate performance has fetched a lot of praise.
Since I come from a mimicry background, I was particular that my body language shouldn't look like I was mimicking someone. It had to come from within. Sudha ma'am had told me that there was a fine line between being underwhelming and caricaturish. I am glad I had people to guide me.
Most of us consider our homes to be a safe place. But for trans people, their problems begin at home. It was shocking to know the difficulties they face.
Shanthnu, what would be your takeaway from this project?
This was the first time I rehearsed before a shoot, and I realised how useful it was. My takeaway would be to be part of a good script, no matter what the role may be. In Tamil cinema, there's pressure to do roles only as at the lead. But I have realised that being part of a good script will take you forward in your career and show the actor you are. It didn't matter to me that Saravanan was the foil to Sathar; the character had its importance. I have received good word within the industry for my performance.
Sudha: Shanthnu did beyond what was there on paper. Saravanan is the alpha male, a privileged person. But his performance made me feel for Saravanan.
Bhavani, this is your second digital project after Ka Pae Ranasingam. Did you miss the theatres?
I didn't think that way. I am just glad that I got to be part of good films, one after another.
Sudha: When I called the men for readings and rehearsals, she would come along too even though she had very few lines. But by the end, she was so well-versed with the script that she could act any role with full emotion without the script. She perfected the dialect even before shooting.
Sudha, can you tell us more about your sensitivity tests? What did you learn from your interactions with members of the community?
I have done films on boxing, aviation -- the problems were different there. However, here, there was a singular emotion for everyone: rejection.
All trans people want is a bit of love. Their battle for identity begins from an early age. Every human has the right to determine their gender, but these people don't have access to it. It is such a violent life -- physically and mentally. There is sexual abuse as well. The most disturbing thing, for me, was they spoke of all this in a matter-of-fact tone. They must have died a thousand deaths already. I had to understand them, the way they are. That was a difficult journey, and I hope we have done justice.
Here's the video: