Frameland Recommends: Baaram
Priya Krishnaswamy’s Baaram (2018) has been doing the festival rounds for a good year and half, and just got released in India late in February. It’s Tamil title translates to ‘the burden,’ referring to the burden of care. Specifically the care for elderly or otherwise infirm loved ones, that need a lot of care and attention. That burden falls upon the family of Karupssamy, a widowed night watchman living with his sister and her three sons, after he breaks his hip in an accident. His son takes him to his ancestral village to be healed by a traditional healer, against the wishes of his nephews, who place more faith in modern medicine in their city. He dies under the care of the healer. One of his nephews gets suspicious, and starts to investigate what happened in the village. In the process, he uncovers the phenomenon called Thalaikoothal.
Thalaikoothal is the practice of involuntary euthanasia, or ‘mercy killing’ of the (mostly sick) elderly by their own family members. It is illegal, but socially accepted in large parts of rural Tamil Nadu as a solution to costly care. For which the responsibility falls solely on the shoulders of the family, through tradition and because, despite the ageing population of India, there’s little in the way of social and medical infrastructure for elderly care.
Baaram is structured like an investigative thriller, to expose and examine Thalaikoothal, from the possible practical procedures to the ethical and existential pros and cons. At times, Baaram feels almost like a documentary. Nevertheless Krishnaswamy, who wrote, produced, edited and directed Baaram, carefully weaves her subject into an exciting story. She makes sure the moral dilemmas considered are driven by the characters decisions and desires, not the other way around. This makes Baaram engrossing besides its interesting subject matter, and the moral stance ultimately taken entirely natural.