Panjim, 24 Nov 2018 4:32 IST
Director Priya Krishnaswamy takes an almost voyeuristic approach in her narrative to showcase the social evil of Thalaikoothan in parts of Tamil Nadu.
Baaram (2019) opens with a close-up of an angry man’s face and cuts to an old man enjoying a village fair.
The old man is Karuppasamy, who lives with his sister and nephews Veera, Mani and Murugan. When he reaches home from the fair, we see glimpses of his family that is quite fond of him.
One fateful morning, on his way back from work as a night watchman, Karuppasamy meets with an accident, severely damaging his hip.
It is only after the accident that we learn that Karuppasamy's son Senthil and daughter-in-law are not too keen on taking care of the old man. Despite his nephews’ insistence on getting treatment in the town, Senthil takes Karuppasamy to the village to be treated by a traditional bone-setter. A few days later, Karuppasamy dies. His mysterious death gets Veera, an activist, suspicious.
Through Baaram, writer, director and editor Priya Krishnaswamy brings to mainstream filmmaking a subject many would be in the dark about. With the help of director of photography Jayanth Mathavan, she portrays a real rural phenomenon using handheld cameras.
The camera shakes add to the element of an eerie reality of a social evil called Thalaikoothan (literally meaning cold water head bath). The term is a euphemism for the practice of 'mercy' killing, where, in some parts of Tamil Nadu, the elderly are dispatched through lethal injections or pills, supposedly to end their suffering. To see how organized this crime is is alarming.
The film becomes essential viewing as it also poses an ethical dilemma for the viewers, which comes as baggage with the term 'mercy killing'. Through her extensive research, Priya reveals that there are 26 different ways known of putting the elderly to rest. One of these is to shove mud down their throats. So aware are the aged of this practice that some even ask for mud from their own land as they believe it will grant them salvation. Then there are others who leave home so they don’t fall prey to Thalaikoothan.
The director takes an almost voyeuristic approach in her narrative. As Karuppasamy is ferried to and from the town and village, a certain carelessness for the value of life is evident. Thalaikoothan is simply an extension of this disregard for the life of the elderly.
Priya, an experienced film editor, ditches glamour to make a point through the craft of storytelling. Her artistes support her ably. R Raju, who plays Karuppasamy, is brilliant as an ailing man, who speaks little of the ill-treatment at the hands of his son and daughter-in-law. His character is bed-ridden after the accident, and Raju brings out his pain without going over the top.
Sugumar Shanmughan, who is also the casting director on the film, puts in a measured, memorable performance as Veera.
Priya has previously made Gangoobai (2013), starring Sarita Joshi, which celebrated old age. In Baaram, she highlights the ill thinking of ungrateful children that senior citizens are a burden who need Thalaikoothan for the peace of everyone involved.
Baaram is a beautifully crafted social film which will make you question your own actions and rethink your stand on the grave subject of mercy killing.
Baaram was screened at the 49th International Film Festival of India on 22 November 2018.
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