Of dignity, old age, and a licence to kill

In most parts of rural Tamil Nadu, Thalaikoothal is no ugly secret. It is an age-old ritual through which the elderly are put to eternal sleep, the local euthanasia. The age-ravaged bodies are given a prolonged oil bath in the morning, followed by a diet that involves an endless supply of tender coconut water. Caught in the throes of fitful fever and renal failure, the person dies in a couple of days.

Santhosh Mandoor says he scoured all the infamous hinterlands for
Pani
, his debut film that zooms into the scandalous custom. “Earlier it was practised to end the suffering of mortally ill patients or complete invalids. In every village, there will be a person who carries out the procedure with the permission of the family. But today, it has become more of a crime with many children thinking they have a licence to kill their parents even if it’s for money,” he says.

Pani
revolves around Raghavan and his family who relocated to rural Madurai from Palakkad. “They have been living there for more than 50 years. Raghavan’s daily routine involves planting trees and the man has managed to convert the dry topography of his village over the years. The film is all about how the custom of Thalaikoothal rips apart his life,” explains the director.

Different methods

He adds that it took him two years to complete the research as it was not easy getting first-hand information as often the stories came from survivors who managed to flee from their deathbeds. “There are different methods that target different internal organs. They force-feed everything, from mud and milk to chicken curry, to cause fever and organ failure. My film is an illustration of the evil custom, driving home the cruelty and criminality involved,” he says.

M.R. Gopakumar plays the lead in
Pani
while Roslin and Nishant Sagar appear in other key roles. The film has Madhu Ambat cranking the camera. “Cinematography is a very organic element of this film and he has treated the subject in a unique way,” the director says. Isaac Thomas Kottukapally scores the music while B. Lenin is the editor of the film being produced by Touchwood Creations. Apart from a handful of Malayali actors, all others were auditioned from various parts of Tamil Nadu, including its locations in Madurai, Theni, and Courtallam.

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