The digital space was abuzz with an intense debate about the ugly truths behind honour killings across the country when Netflix’s multilingual anthology Paava Kathaigal (originally shot in Tamil) had released in December 2020. Comprising shorts by four filmmakers – Vetrimaaran, Sudha Kongara, Gautham Menon and Vignesh Shivan – the film dealt around those characters that weighed honour over the happiness of their beloved. Paava Kathaigal may have served its purpose as a conversation starter for sure, but it hardly does justice in exposing the brutality of the human psyche in honour killings.
The issue hits home in the Telugu land as well where caste, religion and class are undeniable links to marriages and relationships. Those residing in the Telugu states have almost become immune to such ghastly incidents over the years. Has Telugu cinema thrown any light on this issue? As actor Panja Vaishnav Tej’s launchpad Uppena, focusing on the doomed romance between a fisherman and a village headman’s daughter, gears up for release on February 12, we look at the few recent instances where honour killings have been the subject of focus in Telugu cinema.
Ramgopal Varma’s controversial film in 2020, Murder, tells the story of an honour killing episode from the father’s viewpoint. Inspired by the Miryalaguda incident where a man named T Maruthi Rao got his son-in-law Pranay killed brutally in the streets, the film comes perilously close to glorifying the father’s role in the incident. The film labels the character inspired by the son-in-law as an opportunist who trapped a high caste girl for monetary benefits. Murder is watchable and that’s saying a lot, given RGV’s notorious track record lately.
One of the other films that remain fresh in the memory of viewers in this context is Dorasani, starring Anand Deverakonda and Shivatmika in the lead roles. Dorasani is set amid a sleepy village in Telangana in the 1980s, revolving around the love story between a landlord’s daughter and a lowly painter’s son. The class/caste divide is such that any man attempting to glance at or even touch ‘dorasani’ would be subjected to severe punishment. Poetry becomes the medium of their communication until all hell breaks loose.
The ending where the landlord’s son sets up a trap to kill both the lovers in one stroke leaves a lump in your throat. However, neither does the romance nor the social divide impact you as a viewer. The simplistic treatment has nothing fresh to offer beyond the rural Telangana backdrop. All one could say about this under-wrought film is that it’s a lost opportunity. The hardly impactful performances contribute to its woes.
Gouravam, that infamously marked the debut of Allu Sirish, is certainly among the better films to have been made about honour killing. If only the filmmaker Radha Mohan could have found a better male lead than Allu Sirish, Gouravam wouldn’t have been dissed by many. The plot revolving around the lead character’s search for his missing friend catches your attention but soon loses its potential due to the uneven performances. Shaurya, starring Manchu Manoj and Regina, was an equally gripping thriller that discussed honour killing in a courtroom drama setup. Yet again in another instance of miscast leads, this Dasaradh directorial failed to get its due.
One common aspect that binds together all films made on honour killings – none of them have been successful at the box office. Is it because Telugu audiences prefer escapist stories to issue-centric films? Or is it purely because of the issues that many of these films had? Will Uppena break the jinx after all? Sekhar Kammula would be interested to know, as his next film, Love Story, is supposedly based on the same issue. All eyes on February 12.