Tamil Nadu

Udumalpet honour killings documentary nominated for International Emmy

Sadhana Subramaniam  

In March 2017, Sadhana Subramaniam was going through newspapers looking for a story for her university graduate project when she happened to read about the honour killing of Dalit youth Shankar.

Shankar and Gowsalya were attacked in broad daylight and he was hacked to death in March 2016 in Udumalpet.

Ms. Gowsalya subsequently accused her parents of orchestrating the killing since her family, from a dominant caste, could not bear one of their own marrying a dalit.

Ms. Sadhana’s documentary, India’s forbidden love: An honour killing on trial, follows Ms. Gowsalya as she fights for justice through the courts, testifying against her parents, as well as her brother-in-law Gowtham, who awaits the verdict and is hoping that his parents will be acquitted.

The 25-minute documentary which was aired on Al Jazeera’s Witness in 2018, is one among four films from across the world nominated for an International Emmy Award in the Documentary category.

Larger problem

“I knew there was a story here to tell but realised that it was about a larger problem that was deeply entrenched in society,” she says.

Ms. Sadhana shifted base from the U.K. to Coimbatore and with one camera person, followed the court trials for the next eight months.

“Gowsalya was very forthcoming but there was some initial resistance from Gowtham’s side. I had to make it clear that I would not misrepresent anything they say. Through the making of the film, I had to ensure that there were strong boundaries drawn. I would not discuss the developments or share information from either side with the other and they respected it as well,” she explains.

Follows both sides

The film follows both sides of the family through the trial, which culminated in death penalty being awarded to six persons including Ms. Gowsalya’s father for conspiring and killing Shankar.

While it began as her final year graduate programme project, award winning film maker Orlando von Einsiedel later came on board and her pitch was soon picked up by Al Jazeera.

From Coimbatore, the film maker divided her time between Coonoor, where Ms. Gowsalya lived, Palani, where Mr. Gowtham and his family stayed, and the Tiruppur court.

“At the end of 8 months, I had over 150 hours of footage.

There were additional responsibilities as well since I had to fact check everything that was included in the final cut and work with a legal counsel,” she says, when asked about how the film took shape.


“Having grown up shielded from caste and how it affects society, the process of making this observational documentary was an eye-opener for me. We are all responsible for the prevalence of such issues in a direct or indirect way and as a society, we need to have more conversations about this,” she adds.

An investment banker by profession, Ms. Sadhana changed careers in 2016 and enrolled herself in a masters programme in documentary film making and investigative journalism at University College London.

While she still occasionally consults as an investment banker, Ms. Sadhana says she’s already begun work on her next project, which is a feature length documentary.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 6:57:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/udumalpet-honour-killings-documentary-nominated-for-international-emmy/article29986723.ece

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