There are a few movies that break your heart with the sheer emotion they evoke. Sudha Kongara’s Thangam in the Tamil anthology film, Paava Kadhaigal is one of them. It might be the most immaculate portrayal of love we’ve seen on the screen in a long time.
Set in rural Tamil Nadu in the 1980s, it tells the story of a trans woman Sathaar, played by Kalidas Jayaram who sacrifices her everything to protect the person she loves.
The story begins by giving us a clear view of how the town treats Sathaar and how the only person by her side, through it all is her childhood friend, Saravanan, played by Shantnu Bhagyaraj. Sathaar has always been in love with Saravanan but Saravanan loves her sister and so Sathaar takes it upon himself to give them the happily-ever-after they deserve. And this isn’t even the most heartbreaking part.
Shouldn’t have watched Paava Kadhaigal, Thangam with my mom because I didn’t know it was gonna end with me having a huge lump in my throat and then bawling my eyes out— Subashan (@suba_shan) December 19, 2020
Sathaar’s love for Saravanan and how she calls him Thangam, which means ‘my precious’ captures her affection. However, Saravanan is in no way the bad guy here, he loves Sathaar too, in his own way. He protects her from the village, doesn’t make her feel different and inferior, like her parents do. So you can’t ready pick a side in this film.
Sathaar’s pure appreciation towards how Saravanan treats her comes across in perhaps one of the most ground-breaking scenes of this short-film. When Sathaar is helping her sister and Saravanan run away, she tells Saravanan that he is the only person to ever hug him out of pure love – not because he wants to take advantage of her.
The brilliance with which Sathaar’s emotions move you when she pays the price for letting her sister and the love of her life get out of the town. Since their parents do not approve, Sathaar helps them run away so they can be safe elsewhere. Which leads to her being attacked by a group of drunk men, being shunned by her family and throw out of the village – a truth that comes out once Saravanan returns to the village a year later.
#PaavaKadhaigal | Thangam— Gloria Mary Peter (@Suriya_Gloz) December 19, 2020
Sudha as always a wonderful story teller has handled the subject brilliantly. Each and every character be it a very small role too was written and given its place. All technical aspects were also at its best. Kalidas blew my mind. Had me in tears. pic.twitter.com/HZgFxRPwiU
While the story itself seems like a lot to take in, a few scenes leave you especially overwhelmed and truthfully, sobbing. One being, when Sathaar’s mother asks her to die so her sisters can live in peace, a sentence that marks Sathaar’s split second decision while running away from harassers.
The lipstick that Sathaar cherishes till her death, because Saravanan gave it to her and said it made her look like a Bollywood actor. Saravanan missing Sathaar at their spot by the lake, heartbroken over the choice he made. All these scenes in a 33-minute film leave you devastated, because of the perfect and simple story telling.
The impact Sathaar’s story leaves becomes tenfold when you realise it is a true story. In an interview, Sudha Kongara explained that Shan Karuppusamy, the script writer, based this story on a Sathaar he knew. He often went back to Coimbatore and came across a trans woman who was clearly fascinated with him. Shan only spoke to her when no one was around and one day she disappeared, hence the story to a certain extend comes out of guilt.
Apart from the storyline, Kalidas’ brilliant performance makes this movie a must-watch. A sensitive yet honest portrayal, Thangam is in a league of its own.