‘Paava Kadhaigal’: Exploring unconventional relationships with Kalki Koechlin, Anjali and Vignesh Shivan

Kalki Koechlin and Anjali in Love Panna Uttranum, which is part of Paava Kadhaigal, the upcoming Tamil anthology on Netflix   | Photo Credit: Netflix

Stories of forbidden love have always made the news for all the wrong reasons, more so now with Uttar Pradesh’s ‘love jihad’ law. Amidst this, there have been stories of hope. Like the India Love Project, launched on Instagram in October by journalists Priya Ramani and Samar Halarnkar, and writer Niloufer Venkatraman. The forum shares stories of “love and marriage outside the shackles of faith, caste, ethnicity and gender”. Actor Kalki Koechlin, too, has written about her love story with partner Guy Hershberg, and on bringing up her baby girl Sappho. This underlying theme of unconventional relationships ties in with the topic of her Tamil film debut, as part of Netflix’s upcoming anthology, Paava Kadhaigal (Stories of Sin).

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“There aren’t too many vellaikaara [white] actors who can speak Tamil, so it was hard to turn down a role that fit me so perfectly,” says Koechlin, who was born in Puducherry and is known for portraying unconventional characters on both the big screen and OTT platforms. She plays Penelope, one of the protagonists in Vignesh Shivan’s Love Panna Uttranum, alongside Anjali (Kattradhu Thamizh, Nishabdham).

The story revolves around caste-based honour killings inspired by real-life incidents. Shivan — known for his humorous take in films like Naanum Rowdydhaan and Thaanaa Serndha Koottam — says that most films that tackle this topic are hard-hitting, and can be disturbing for audiences. There’s also a large section of people who are sceptical about watching anything with a tragic ending. “I wondered if there is a lighter vein to handle such things. This was my challenge when I started writing this,” he says. The result is a 37-minute film that takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions.

Kalki Koechlin and Anjali in Love Panna Uttranum, which is part of Paava Kadhaigal, the upcoming Tamil anthology on Netflix

Kalki Koechlin and Anjali in Love Panna Uttranum, which is part of Paava Kadhaigal, the upcoming Tamil anthology on Netflix   | Photo Credit: @wikkiofficial on Instagram

Finally, a Tamil debut

It has been almost a rite of passage for Bollywood stars, including Aishwarya Rai, Taapsee Pannu and Priyanka Chopra, to act in Tamil cinema. However, it took over a decade for Koechlin — who was raised here and speaks the language — to even get a cameo in 2019’s Nerkonda Paarvai. (She has expressed a desire to play roles in regional cinema ever since her Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani days.) “When Vignesh narrated the story, I liked what he was trying to do, which was to take a serious subject and approach it with a unique perspective,” she says of this film, which throws back to her role in Margarita with a Straw (2014) — on same-sex relationships and how they are perceived.

She also got a chance to add to her repertoire of Tamil cuss words! Quite the linguistic contrast to the sweet Tamil lullaby we heard her sing to Sappho on her Instagram a few weeks ago.

Anjali plays a dual role, as twin sisters Aadhilakshmi and Jothilakshmi, in her OTT debut. “Although it was not my first time playing two characters on screen, I wanted to go beyond using differences in clothing and make-up to distinguish between them,” she says, explaining that she tapped into the similarities in their characters and in the way siblings talk.

Director Vignesh Shivan with Anjali and Kalki Koechlin

Director Vignesh Shivan with Anjali and Kalki Koechlin   | Photo Credit: @wikkiofficial on Instagram

The OTT experience

Koechlin, who is a Netflix pro with roles on Made in Heaven and Sacred Games, says that as an actor, she feels no difference from acting for the big screen. “There is still a camera in front of me. I still wait for many hours in the caravan between shots,” she deadpans. On a serious note, she says the advantage is that you are reaching out to a global audience. “In terms of web series, you have a much bigger character graph, even if you are not playing the main role. In my case, it is very exciting, not just being a sidekick, but getting to delve into a character for an extended period of time,” she adds.

From a filmmakers’ perspective, Shivan says that the platform gives him the opportunity to work on projects that would otherwise never see the light of day, not to mention the massive reach across countries. “There are so many ideas that you never get the opportunity or liberty to make, or watch, for yourself. You can directly express what you want to on screen without taking a roundabout approach. This is an interesting phase and we are certainly making the most of it,” he concludes.

Paava Kadhaigal, an anthology of four films, is Netflix’s first foray into Tamil content. Directed by Sudha Kongara, Vignesh Shivan, Gautham Vasudev Menon and Vetri Maaran, it covers themes of honour killings, inter-caste and inter-religious marriages and unconventional relationships. Streaming from December 18.

Watch: The people of 'Paava Kadhaigal'

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 6:53:45 PM |

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