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Portraying harsh realities on screen

Tamil film ‘Baaram’ (The Burden) directed by Priya Krishnaswamy touches upon the prevalence of the illegal practice of Thalaikoothal – a form of senicide in Tamil Nadu. NT BUZZ finds more


When you hear about ‘Thalaikoothal’ it is sure to send chills down your spine and will make you think if humanity still exists. When director, writer and editor, Priya Krishnawamy first heard about ‘Thalaikoothal’ she could not believe it; after reading and researching about it online she realised how this evil practice was a way for children and relatives to get rid of their elders. She decided to highlight this story through her film ‘Baaram’ which is part of the Indian Panorama -Feature Film category at IFFI.

The film ‘Baaram’ is about a widowed night watchman who lives with his sisters and three nephews in a small town of Tamil Nadu. While returning from his shift one morning, he breaks his hip in an accident. While his nephews want him to be treated in town, his son takes him to his ancestral village, to be healed by a traditional healer. After eight days he dies, and at his funeral, one of the nephews hears something odd that makes him wonder.

“The story is based on ‘Thalaikoothal’ practice. ‘Thalaikoothal’ is a traditional practice of senicide (killing of the elderly) or involuntary euthanasia, of older people by their own family members which has been observed in some parts of southern districts of Tamil Nadu. We tried to keep the story on a lighter side as it would instigate and give people ideas.” she says.

Explaining the practice, Priya adds: “Traditionally, if an elderly person was sick the family members would keep them starving for days so that their body would become weak. Later, they would call in a Thalaikoothal practitioner who would give them a cold head massage and a cold water body bath in the morning. Soon after they would give the person tender coconut water to drink which would lead to renal failure and within two to three days the elderly person would die.”

This was just one way, says Priya who during her research discovered at least 26 different gruesome methods of ending the elderly person’s life like plugging the nose, causing breathing difficulties or the use of poisons.

Having made films, documentaries and worked in various fields related to bonded labour, child sexual abuse, child labour and others, Priya feels that every story has to deal with the human society. She does not believe in taking up a particular topic or theme but she wishes to take stories that matter to the audience. “My understanding about the society is that nobody wants to be a horrible person, it’s just their reaction to a situation. And I think it’s all about self-defence. I think what we need to do is be kind and it will change things immediately,” she says.

Priya thinks that in order to change the mindset of the society, people need to be ready to create a space for openness and accept differences after which they can work towards achieving our goal.

After working on this film, Priya has a message for her audience and viewers, she says: “Let’s just be humans. It is all going to end one day. We aren’t going to take anything back with us. You come alone, you go alone. What is the most elegant and graceful way to live today? Is to not do damage to people and just accept and adjust.”

She feels that if the act of kindness and acceptance are practiced on a regular basis things can change for the better.

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