Dhamayanthi on adapting her short story Thadayam for the big screen: 'Wanted to explore women's choices'
With six short story collections and a novel to her credit, Dhamayanthi is a well-known name in Tamil literature. Now, she forays into cinema with an adaptation of her short story Thadayam.
When it appeared in Ananda Vikatan as a short story two years ago, Thadayam (Evidence) also carried within itself a film. Beautiful and evocative, it prompted acclaimed directors like Balaji Sakthivel to approach the writer of the story, Dhamayanthi, to turn it into a film. But the writer was determined. “I am very certain that Balaji Sakthivel would have done a better job of this. But to me, this is about seeing myself in the mirror. I do not want to miss the opportunity,” she says.
With six short story collections and a novel to her credit, Dhamayanthi is a well-known name in Tamil literature. What makes her a unique voice in the Tamil literary space is the way she seeks to address and explore the unspoken emotions of women. In her short stories, she shears the sanctity of familial relationships and portrays the suffering of women because of its centrality to those relationships. In short story after short story, she seeks to lay bare the innermost complexities of a woman’s mind and body.
Jeny in Thadayam is no exception. Struck by cancer and confined to her bed during her last days, Jeny is visited by her long-lost lover, Deva — a meeting that occurs after 35 years. What follows is an hour that swings between intense reflections of their past and the hard truths about their present. Between reminiscing about their moments of love and togetherness, Jeny — not as confidently as she had used to be — seeks Deva’s help to remove the urine bag and seat her on the bed. “I wanted Thadayam to reconsider and explore this charade called the institution of marriage. I also wanted to have a dialogue about the not-so-important, not-so-hopeful reactions of the society to a woman’s choice.”
To Dhamayanthi, Jeny is no different from her. “She is as real as I am, as vulnerable and strong as I am. I have somehow always found myself travelling in my short stories too. They carry my silence in words.”
But despite garnering attention, Thadayam was difficult to translate into the language of cinema. “Of course, there is some truth about an inner quest. But a woman’s quest into her own being is often portrayed through a man or through a mask. We need liberation from false values like 'culture' and 'chastity'. I believe it is possible in cinema to transcend these false values and show life as it is. But to do that, one has to break the already established norms. That is where the problem starts. Without economic independence, it is difficult.”
Dhamayanthi says Thadayam is bound to have its own flaws. “It is an independent attempt and saddled by financial issues. It carries the pain of being independent. But I don’t want the success of my film to be judged by its theatrical release or run. I believe a story will create its own film language. If mine touches the soul of at least one person, I would consider Thadayam a hit.”
Dhamayathi is no newcomer to cinema. “I have done some documentaries. And I write songs. I worked with director Meera Kathiravan in his film Vizhithiru and he had allowed me to write a song on the lust of a woman. I have written a few songs after that. I had also done a screenplay for Bharath Bala. So it is not that I am entirely new to cinema.”
But with the kind of sensitivity she carries in her work, Dhamayanthi might bring about the right kind of change — small yet perhaps markedly significant. At a time when Tamil cinema is debating over the controversial remarks of actor Karthi about having the female lead in his latest film Kadaikutty Singam apply dark make up for her role of a village girl, Thadayam’s Jeny is a refreshing arrival. With her dusky looks and impeccable body language, Kani Kusruthi adds a whole new dimension to Dhamayanthi’s short story. “Both Kani and the lead actor Ganapathy Murugesan have added huge value to this movie. It is as much theirs as mine.”
Does Dhamayanthi hope to survive and live through the male-dominated industry? “I come from a background where cinema is a sin. Yet I choose to do this. I will continue swimming against the tide. See, my first short story was not perfect, but I continued to write. I think that will work in cinema too.”
The writer is still unsure about the theatrical release of Thadayam, given its financial issues, but hopes it will 'happen soon'. “It has been getting good reviews. As far as I am concerned, I will continue to do what I have always wanted to do. I will continue flying like a bird that disperses seeds on this land. Hopefully, there will be a rain soon.”
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