Yenru Thaniyum: Exposing Tamil Nadu’s underbelly of honour killings

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Chennai
  • Updated: Mar 15, 2016 15:48 IST
Yenru Thaniyum by Bharathi Krishnakumar narrates a story about honour killing. (Nikkilcinema)

Often cinema is an educator, an eye-opener. But at times, films do little than fly over the human head. Their messages slide away as effortlessly as water on a duck’s back. Despite innumerable movies on honour killing, this atrocity heaped on young lovers or married couples from different social castes continues in utter disregard for law and against all norms of paternal affection.

The other day, we saw the cold-blooded hacking of a 22-year-old Dalit youth, Shankar, and his upper caste wife, Kausalya (just 19), in broad daylight and in a busy road junction at Udumalpet near Coimbatore. While Shankar died on the spot, Kausalya is in hospital in a critical condition.

Bharathi Krishnakumar says his film was not a true story, but was ‘a story of truths’. (Nikkilcinema)

A video recording of the ghastly murder shows the killers as they go about their bloody assignment in a brazenly gutsy manner, in defiance of the law of the land. A day later, the unrepentant father of the girl surrendered himself to the police. No sorrow, no remorse at having almost butchered his own daughter.

Read: Dalit youth hacked to death in suspected honour killing in Tamil Nadu

A new Tamil film, Yenru Thaniyum by Bharathi Krishnakumar -- to hit the cinemas on March 18-- graphically narrates a story about honour killing.

The female protagonist of the movie, Amudha (played by Chanthana) , feels that caste prejudices have become “omnipotent”. A victim of honour killing, she is shocked by caste arrogance and humanity devoid of humanism. Her lover, Thangadurai (Yuvan Mayalsamy), is murdered. Later, Amudha’s brother becomes vengeful.

The plot of Yenru Thaniyum unfolds against the backdrop of caste divide in Tamil Nadu, where the lowly Dalits and their women are subjugated in an unimaginably variety of ways, and where a strong form of “khap” panchayat flourishes.

Read: Caste and violence in Tamil Nadu, how honour killings haunt the state

Krishnakumar told this writer over the phone this morning that there were two kinds of caste violence. The first was that which was perpetrated by the upper castes. The second was one committed by the Dalits and other lower castes. “While the first cannot be justified at all, the second perpetrated in retaliation or revenge can be be justified at least to an extent...But violence only breeds violence, and the cycle continues unabated. So, films like mine -- I hope -- will help people realise the futility of fighting over caste and shedding innocent blood”.

Yenru Thaniyum is Krishnakumar’s first feature film. (Nikkilcinema)

He added that his work was not a true story, but was “a story of truths”. What are these truths? “In the past two years, Tamil Nadu alone had seen 81 honour killings. The Udumalpet incident was the 81st...” He asked in a pained voice, “will this ever stop?”

Krishnakumar’s movie has a natural feel and look about it. The actors have not used elaborate make-up, if at all. “I have not romanticised the narrative, because I did not want the gravity of the plot to get lost in a song and dance kind of story telling”.

NH10 review: Welcome to the jungle

Yenru Thaniyum will be Krishnakumar’s first feature. He has made a few documentaries earlier that have spoken about societal injustices, including one on police atrocity in Tamil Nadu.

While we saw Vetrimaaran’s brilliant expose, albeit in a feature form, of such police cruelty in his recent Visaaranai, there have been several films on honour killing from the Bollywood basket.

A 2011 movie by Avantika Hari, Land, Gold Women, takes a hard look at a small British Asian family in modern Birmingham, where the daughter commits the unpardonable crime of falling in love with a white boy. Her uncle, who arrives from India, pressures the parents of the girl to view this affair as a blot on the family’s honour and to get rid of her!

Krishnakumar’s movie has a natural feel and look about it. The actors use minimal to no make-up and film stirs clear of the song and dance kind of story telling. (Nikkilcinema)

A recent Bollywood work, NH 10, narrates the horrific tale of a young woman and her lover being butchered by her brother, while her mother calmly prays for the resurrection of the family honour that had been sullied by the elopement of the couple. The lover, a young man, a low-caste Hindu, had “sinned” by desiring the woman from an upper caste.

Chauranga review: A strong voice against caste barriers

A few months ago, debutant director, Bikas Ranjan Mishra’s Chauranga, came as a powerful indictment of honour killing. A low-caste Dalit teenager, a pig-rearer, makes the fatal mistake of taking a fancy for a schoolgirl, whose land-owning father is an upper caste Hindu. The boy writes a love letter to the girl, and the father happens to read it, and it is Hell after that.

The boy and his slightly older brother are beaten, and one of them is bludgeoned to death. Mishra, while elaborating the bestiality of it all in his fiction feature inspired by an actual incident in central India, exposes the hypocrisy of the father, who has no qualms, whatsoever, about sleeping with the mother of the boys!

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