The movie you should watch this week: Thaen

Thaen puts several issues in perspective. Especially India's staggering digital divide and how it keeps a massive population of the country from accessing vital and urgent resources of the government.

Director Ganesh Vinayakan’s latest movie Thaen, which is Tamil for honey, released on SonyLiv on Friday. Before the film hit theatres in March this year, it had a rather rewarding tour of the festival circuit.

Thaen revolves around the struggles of people of a tribal community who are sort of the last defenders of the forests. Their refusal to give up their native village on a hilltop in favour of a more comfortable settlement in urban areas is what keeps the jungles from completely falling into the hands of greedy corporates and criminal government officials. However, the determination of the handful of tribal people to protect the natural ecosystem that has fed and nurtured them for generations comes at a cost.

The tribe is safe and independent when it is away from the materialistic society. The people in the village are blessed with pure air and clean water. They are not worried about water contamination, so they don’t need to buy bottled water. They don’t need a gym membership to stay healthy, for their lifestyle and work keeps them on their toes all day. So much so that those in their 70s have strong limbs that allow them to climb up the hill without breaking into a sweat. They don’t need bank loans, so they are not burdened by monthly EMIs. Should they fall sick, it only takes a few drops of fresh honey mixed with smashed black pepper to cure their illness in a matter of days. These people are living outside the pervasive tentacles of the highly commercialised and inequitable society, which treats every person as a commodity.

But, what happens when a man-made illness is introduced in their pristine ecosystem? Tragedy. Of course, eventually, the heart-wrenching personal tragedy is commodified by the urban dwellers for a few likes on social media, TRPs for channels, airtime for self-promotion, and to fill up newspaper columns to express one’s moral condemnation of active degradation of human lives. The next day, we move on to debating another instance where a human was denied all fundamental rights and dignity. And the circus repeats all over again until the next day, we find a new topic to express outrage.

At the centre of this film is a tragic story of a beautiful family, who pay a heavy price for no mistake of their own. Velu (Tharun) and Poongodi (Abarnathi) fall in love and get married despite being advised against it by the village elders based on the reading of an omen. But, their love for each other is so strong, that they trust mother nature will be kind to them and let them live a happy life. And it does. Until men pollute the nature they worship as god.

Director Ganesh Vinayakan and writer Rasi Thangadurai tackle several pressing social and political issues of our time. The on-the-nose messaging and melodramatic dialogues at times interfere with the cinematic language, which Ganesh promises at the beginning of the movie. One expects Ganesh to show more than tell. But, the director instead goes for an in-your-face reality-check that leaves nothing to the audience’s imagination.

Nonetheless, Ganesh’s approach to making the film easy for the public to understand without any space for ambiguity doesn’t undermine the significance of what this film wants to tell. Thaen puts several issues in perspective. Especially India’s staggering digital divide and how it keeps a massive population of the country from accessing vital and urgent resources of the government.

Thaen also debates a philosophical question about what action/thought distinguishes a good person from a bad one? Take, for example, the opening scene of the movie. In the dead of night, we see a fancy car cruising on the well-paved road that cuts through a forest. And we see the car come to a sudden halt to avoid running over a rabbit, which is in the middle of the road searching for food. The driver beams the headlight on the rabbit repeatedly so it moves aside, clearing the way for the vehicle.

Now, the intention of the driver could be considered good as he valued the life of another creature. But, the bigger question is, what was that person doing in the forest at that time? He was clearly invading the rabbit’s natural habitat. The rabbit didn’t need saving from coming under his wheels if he had not gone there uninvited. So, the person has no moral ground to draw satisfaction from for saving an animal’s life. What the person should do is ponder over how he’s disturbing the peace of animals in the forest.

The definition of a good person and a bad person is a recurring theme in Thaen. A doctor, who is considered the kindest and just among all other doctors at a government hospital, refuses to provide life-saving treatment to a patient because his so-called good intentions were not met with the welcome of a hero. The beneficiary of the doctor’s alleged kindness did not surrender his soul to his will. Do you blame the doctor or the person who made the mistake of asking a few honest questions? An ambulance driver who quotes his service charge 50 per cent less than his colleagues to a penniless person. Is the ambulance driver a good person? An activist who raises his voice for the voiceless on TV and distributes free food packets to the poor at hospitals. But, he conducts dealings under the table with unscrupulous corporate bosses. Is he a good person?

Thaen is streaming on SonyLiv.

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