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G Prabha’s second film in Sanskrit, ‘Taya’, focusses on the landmark trial of Thatri

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Kuriyedathu Savitri, aka. Thatri, a young Namboodiri woman who lived in the early part of the 20th century, is a name that resonates with modern Kerala. The life of Thatri, wife of the elderly Raman Namboodiri of Kuriyedath Mana in Thrissur, who questioned the judiciary and patriarchy of her time, had far-reaching consequences that are relevant even today. That is why G Prabha decided to make his second feature film, Taya (By Her), in Sanskrit on Thatri, and the series of events that have immortalised her name.

Nedumudi Venu, Margi Revathi and Anumol in ‘Taya’, a film in Sanskrit, directed by G Prabha  
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Special arrangement

Taya, shot over 22 days in Kerala during February-March 2021, focusses on the Smarthavicharam, a kind of inquisition that examined the moral conduct of women from the Namboodiri community. The last trial of its kind ordered by the king of erstwhile Kochi, the Smarthavicharam of Thatri in 1905 looked into allegations of adultery against her.

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Questioning regressive traditions

Novels, short stories, award-winning films and dramas have been made on the trial that shook the Namboodiri community out of its sense of complacency and forced thinkers in the community to re-examine some regressive traditions in their midst.

Prabha, former Head of the Department of Oriental Languages, Loyola College, Chennai, says that Thatri has been portrayed in many different ways in creative works inspired by the trial: as a prostitute who refuses to bow down to patriarchy; as a woman seeking revenge for the death of her young friend Arya, who was molested and killed by the very men who had abused her; as a young widow forced to seek solace elsewhere after the death of her aged husband and so on.

“I wanted to focus on Thatri’s courageous fight against the establishment. Taya portrays her as a bold woman who seeks to avenge her friend Arya’s murder. Arya is the victim and not Thatri. But by naming each of the men, Thatri shook the system out of its false sense of righteousness. The story goes that the king was so shocked when she named 65 men that he had the trial stopped; he feared that his name too might feature on the list.” However, in the film, Prabha has chosen to portray the judge as the one who stops the trial as he fears for his reputation.

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Film director G Prabha (standing) and cinematographer Sunny Joseph on the location of ‘Taya’, a film in Sanskrit

Film director G Prabha (standing) and cinematographer Sunny Joseph on the location of ‘Taya’, a film in Sanskrit  
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

“I wanted to point out how cases involving abuse of women are handled by people in the judiciary. Often, it looks like it is the abused woman who goes on trial. Imagine Thatri’s courage in battling the hypocrisy of the men and the system that was trying her as a wayward woman. Slut shaming of women who dare take on the system is prevalent even now; it is one of the ways to silence women,” explains Prabha.

During the trial, the woman in question is referred to as a sadhanam (an object). The director points out the objectification of women that continues to exist in many forms. “The trial lasted for six months and on July 13, 1905, Thatri and the men were found guilty. Eventually, she was ostracised and excommunicated, known as brusht in Malayalam. No one knows what exactly happened to her after the trial. Nevertheless, this story deserves to be retold and remembered for the way Thatri fought relentlessly against injustice,” he believes.

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Promoting Sanskrit

He decided to make it in Sanskrit as he felt that the language should be promoted along with other regional languages in India. “Namboodiris of Kerala were proficient in Sanskrit and I felt that the story had to be narrated in Sanskrit to do justice to it,” he says. Prabha’s first film Ishti, opening film of the International Film Festival of India in Goa, was also in Sanskrit.

Nedumudi Venu and Anumol play the lead in Taya. Prabha says that finding the right cast for the film was not easy as many actors find it difficult to speak Sanskrit. “Venu came to cinema through playwright Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s plays in Sanskrit and Malayalam. Hence, he was perfect for the film. Mohini and Sopanam Girish, also in the cast, were trained in the same school as Nedumudi’s. Then I chose veterans such as Nelliyode Vasudevan Namboodiri from the Kathakali stage as many of them are comfortable with Sanskrit. I had to dub the dialogues for some because they found it difficult to speak in Sanskrit and enact their character at the same time,” says the filmmaker.

Nedumudi Venu (left) plays the lead in ‘Taya’, a film in Sanskrit, directed by G Prabha

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Nedumudi Venu (left) plays the lead in ‘Taya’, a film in Sanskrit, directed by G Prabha  
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Margi Revathi, Uttara, Kathakali artiste Pallipuram Sunil, Babu Namboodiri and Dinesh Panicker are among the actors in the cast.

Prabha adds that the Bharatapuzha, the second longest river in Kerala, is an important character in the film. “During the trial, the accused woman is not allowed to stay in the mana (traditional, ancestral homes of Namboodiris). She is lodged in a hut, located away from the main house. After she is expelled from the community, Thatri burns her hut, crosses the river and moves away from her old world,” explains Prabha.

Filmed by ace cinematographer Sunny Joseph, the movie was shot in Kodanadu Mana in Kunnamkulam, Brahmaswom Madom in Thrissur and Vadakumpattu Mana in Guruvayur. It is said that Thatri had stayed in Kodanadu Mana for some time.

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Produced by Sree Gokulam Movies, the film is likely to be released on OTT in August.

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