Dilani Rabindran




Expectations for Tamil films are usually built on account of chart-topping soundtracks and mass stars; but in Gouravam’s case, hopes for the film were built around its controversial topic of honor killings and its duo of director Radha Mohan and producer Prakash Raj, who previously brought us gems like Mozhi. After the team’s prior success tackling sensitive issues without sacrificing commercial entertainment value there was a certain level of hope for Gouravam. Unfortunately the film has failed to impress critics and audiences, which is a shame because commercial films that confront pressing societal issues are valuable. It is generally agreed that the topic of the film was not its downfall, so hopefully what fellow filmmakers will take away from Radha Mohan’s latest is his courage to address the sensitive issue of honor killings altogether.

Gouravam is a reminder of 2012’s Hindi blockbuster Ishaaqzaade, a gripping and fast-paced flick on the same subject. Noted screenwriter Habib Faisal’s film, a Yash Raj Film production, seemed to be a simple Romeo and Juliet shoot em’ up but actually delved into the persistence of honor killings throughout the world and the prevalence of the South Asian caste system even in the age of iPads.  As part of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival’s selection it was well received by both South Asian and non- audiences alike. Although Gouravam has failed to create the same level of impact Ishaaqzaade did, kudos must be given to both companies for taking a chance on films that push the envelope and use modern age love stories to vocalize thoughts about such primitive practices.

When directors and companies use commercial films to tell powerful stories like these, international audiences become increasingly aware of such ongoing problems and are often inspired to help. Statistics on the annual rate of honor killings worldwide are naturally difficult to pinpoint (estimates as of 2010 range up to 20,000), but despite its prevalence many remain unaware that such outdated corruption still takes place. During the Q and A following a screening of Ishaaqzaade at TIFF a young woman timidly asked Faisal, with an air of palpable confusion in her voice, “So do people get charged for honor killings or not?” As Faisal clearly explained that these acts are no different than coldblooded murder it became apparent that many people around the world are still unaware of the amount of innocent lives lost to heinous disputes over caste and religion every day.

Perhaps what issues like this need when being translated into film are larger production houses and more bankable stars to carry the message to a wider audience. Ishaaqzaade was a well-told narrative with formidable acting and a bestselling soundtrack, but it also had the immense support of the prestigious Yash Raj name. Tamil cinema’s biggest stars certainly have it in their power to inspire millions on similarly contentious topics if they so chose to.

Films like Ishaaqzaade and Gouravam are rare, and we need more versions of them that can successfully grab the attention of unaware audiences and inspire them to bring about positive change in their generation in some manner. Ishaaqzaade is a shining gem in a new stream of mass-appealing Indian cinema that also holds a valuable societal message, and although Gouravam has missed the mark it should be lauded for its similar attempt. Hopefully South Indian cinema will imitate the examples set by powerhouses like Yash Raj Films and take bigger risks with topics of sensitive issues in order to reap both box office and societal rewards.

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