Tayaa: Retelling Thathri's life

Athira M R

I did not want to create historical documentation as that would require one to recall the events of the past in the way they happened and why they happened, says Director G Prabha.

A scene from the movie 'Tayaa' | Photo: Special arrangement

Kuriyedath Thathri has been an enigma for many generations of Malayalis. The way she took on the dominant Malayali male has never ceased to kindle the imaginative landscape of the storytellers. Director G Prabha, whose second film 'Tayaa' depicts Thathri's life through a fresh perspective, talks about the relevance and meaning of such a film in the contemporary world.

Kuriyedath Thathri's life story has been portrayed through many movies and documentaries over the years. Her bravery has been written about profusely. To make a feature film, in the 21st century about Thathrikutty's life with a different perspective, that too in Sanskrit, which many people refer to as a 'dying' language, would you say that it was a bit of a challenge?

Firstly, I do not agree with terming Sanskrit as a 'dying' language or a language that is being forgotten. It is being revived. My first film 'Ishti' too revolved around the injustices and imbalances prevalent in the Namboodiri family system. I drew a major portion of my inspiration from V T Bhattathiripad. Although he fought to eradicate the wrong that existed in the society, looking at his effort from a woman's perspective, he had a huge canvas etched out. His works were not just for the Namboodiri women or women of upper caste, but for womanhood itself. Although his works were based on things set during the era in which he lived, he was able to weave contemporaneity into it.

I did not want to create historical documentation as that would require one to recall the events of the past in the way they happened and why they happened. Trailing far from the ordinary always invites much displeasure. So it was a challenge to bring out a movie in Sanskrit because I was concerned about how it would reach out to people or how genuine it would look. So, I selected the story of a Namboodiri family that spoke in Sanskrit. Usually, people associate Sanskrit movies with historical or mythological stories. My first film 'Ishti' takes pride in being the first Sanskrit film shedding light upon a social issue and the first Sanskrit film with an actual song. Usually, Sanskrit films have only slokas.

Director G Prabha on the sets of the movie 'Tayaa' | Photo: Special arrangement

I chose Thathri as the main character in 'Tayaa' because of what she represented and still represents for that matter. She chose to rebel, to question the 'wrong' by using her own body as a weapon. She silently challenged the patriarchal element that existed back then. She could not resort to any means of violence to unleash her vendetta. It was a mutiny against the wrongdoers and her way of exposing themselves in a way that was bare to their bones. She was a weaponised self. I have tried to portray her character in a new way that varies from Thathri's actual life story.

However, there were a few challenges along the way while making the movie. One was finding a producer who would invest in a non-commercial movie like 'Tayaa'. Fortunately, Gokulam Gopalan came forward to produce the movie under the banner of Sree Gokulam Movies. If not for him, this movie wouldn't have been a reality. Casting also proved to be a hassle because most of the actors would back out on hearing that the movie is in Sanskrit. Dubbing was also a challenging area.

What was it like working with one of the greatest thespians of the Malayalam film industry, Nedumudi Venu?

It was exceptional. It was because of him that we started shooting the movie last March and were persistent on completing the movie as soon as we could. He would always push me to speed things along. Nelliyode Vasudevan Naboodiri was also a remarkable presence in the movie. They agreed to do the movie because of their love for acting and the language of Sanskrit. 'Tayaa' also happens to be the last film acted and completed by Nedumudi Venu and Nelliyode Vasudevan Naboodiri.

Nedumudi Venu in the movie 'Tayaa' | Photo: Special arrangement

'Tayaa' was shortlisted for several international film festivals. What are your thoughts on that?

Truly elated. The movie is enriched by a strong team. Sunny Joseph is the cinematographer of the film and he's made sizable contributions to the film. He is an internationally acclaimed person for his contributions to cinematography. T Krishnanunni is the sound designer of the film. He is a recipient of multiple National and Kerala State Film Awards. The music was done Biju Paulose. The movie has Kerala State Film Award recipient Pattanam Rasheed as the makeup artist and B Lenin as the editor.

Film festivals are open grounds for honest criticisms and academic deliberations. Constructive criticism is much needed for further growth as a filmmaker. Sometimes, people notice things that the director might have not given much thought to. Exploring new dimensions of the story through the eyes of different people is always an experience as such.

Scene from the movie 'Tayaa' | Photo: Special arrangement

From V T Bhattathiripaad's revolutionary play 'Adukkalayil Ninnu Arangathekku' to Jeo Baby's movie 'The Great Indian Kitchen' entertainment industry has witnessed laudable changes in the way women are perceived and portrayed, are you satisfied with the way these portrayals have panned out?

Definitely, it is something highly appreciable. I see no reason why women should be discriminated against, be it real or on reels. Clearly, the only difference that exists between man and woman is biological. The gender roles that we've assigned to women are slowly being erased. That being said, radical feminism should not be advocated as the solution to end gender-based discrimination against women.

What changes would you foresee in the method of filmmaking in India?

I feel like it is not in my capacity to comment on something like that, as I'm relatively new to the arena of filmmaking. But the recent trends are quite promising and assure a new horizon for Indian filmmaking.

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