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‘Thangam’ was a journey for me to understand the transgender community: Sudha Kongara

Bhavani Sre, Kalidas Jayaram and Sudha Kongara on the set of ‘Thangam’, their short film that is part of Netflix’s upcoming Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’   | Photo Credit: @bhavanisre on Instagram

“If you give me an opportunity to work only with Sudha Kongara for the rest of my life, I would happily take it,” says Kalidas Jayaram. Earlier this year, he starred in Ilamai Idho Idho, the director’s segment in Amazon Prime Video’s Putham Pudhu Kaalai shot during lockdown. The two reunite for yet another short film, this one titled Thangam, which is part of the upcoming Netflix Tamil anthology, Paava Kadhaigal.

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Kalidas plays Sathaar, a transgender in a small village in the 80s. Reviled by the townspeople who pay her a pittance to do menial jobs and barely tolerated by her family, she finds joy in her friendship with childhood companion, Saravanan (Shanthnu Bhagyaraj). “In popular and mainstream media, we hardly have any representation of LGBTQ issues. Having said that, I did not choose the story for this reason,” says Sudha. Instead, it was the sensitively-told narrative that drew her in. “All my life, I had often seen people like Sathaar, but I never comprehended their lives. This was a journey for me to understand the community,” she adds.

Kalidas Jayaram and Sudha Kongara on the set of ‘Thangam’, their short film that is part of Netflix’s upcoming Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’

Kalidas Jayaram and Sudha Kongara on the set of ‘Thangam’, their short film that is part of Netflix’s upcoming Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’   | Photo Credit: @kalidas_jayaram on Instagram

No parodies here

Queer representation in Tamil cinema has been murky at best, especially with the problematic depictions of the transgender community. Films such as Eeramana Rojave (1983), Thullatha Manamum Thullum (1999) and Thiruda Thirudi (2003), all the way up to Shankar’s I (2015) have represented them as parodies. Kanchana (2011) was an outlier in the mass film market, giving a positive portrayal of the titular trans character. And while Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s 2019 flick Super Deluxe, starring Vijay Sethupathi as Shilpa, was lauded for giving them a voice, it was still a hetero cis male playing a role.

While similar casting is continued in Thangam, Sudha organised workshops for the actors with transgender representatives — who were also at script readings, on set and at dubbing — to ensure that the portrayals were as close to reality as possible. Kalidas recounts, “Kalairani ma’am, a theatre and movie artiste, really helped me get into the skin of this character. Jeeva, another transwoman, helped with my body language. She also shared stories and incidents from her life, which helped me understand Sathaar better.”

The result is a subtle portrayal of a well-rounded character and not a caricature with exaggerated mannerisms. “Coming from a background of mimicry, it is really easy for me to slip into that mode. But I was very conscious of not going down that route; there was a very fine line I had to tread,” adds Kalidas. This included not watching content with trans characters that would influence his acting in any way.

Bhavani Sre, Kalidas Jayaram and Shanthnu Bhagyaraj in ‘Thangam’, their short film that is part of Netflix’s upcoming Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’

Bhavani Sre, Kalidas Jayaram and Shanthnu Bhagyaraj in ‘Thangam’, their short film that is part of Netflix’s upcoming Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’  

Capitalising on OTT

Bhavani Sre, who makes her OTT debut with this film, plays a pivotal role. “I have always been empathetic to the LGBTQ cause. This story was told so beautifully, and I had never seen it treated that way. So when I was called to audition, I went with the aim of cracking it,” she says with a smile. Shanthnu adds that his first priority was working with Sudha. “Compared to Sathaar, Saravanan was an easier role to play. But he has his own transformations as well: being in love, being a friend, facing the parents, facing the society... Though he is fond of Sathaar, there is still a small amount of selfishness, which portrays a majority of the society,” he says.

Both Bhavani and Kalidas agree that a film like this might never have made it to the big screen. “OTT gives us the freedom to come up with content that we could not otherwise create,” she says. For Sudha, working during the pandemic put many things in perspective about the production process. “We shot [Ilamai Idho Idho] with a crew of 10. The efficiency I saw was something I had not got from a crew of 185. For Thangam, we had to dub with only five people in the studio, so the actors doubled up for crowd dialogues as well. I would love to take forward this indie style of shooting even post-pandemic,” she concludes.

Watch: The people of 'Paava Kadhaigal'
 

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 7:52:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/sudha-kongara-kalidas-jayaram-bhavani-sre-and-shantnu-bhagyaraj-on-thangam-their-short-film-that-is-part-of-netflixs-upcoming-tamil-anthology-paava-kadhaigal/article33327607.ece

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