Teenage pregnancies in India can be a very touchy issue depending on the community. People frown upon having sexual relationships in high school, and when this is combined with a lackluster sex education in general, lower to middle class families who have daughters can be confronted with a frightening situation: how do they tackle the crippling social and economic pressures in the case of a pregnancy?
In a black and white world, abortion is a no-brainer option, but that isn’t usually the first line of thought due to various fears and taboos. Instead, the girl is left behind with the terrifying prospect of mounting medical expenses, missing valuable school time, and an iffy situation at home depending on which parent would be more forthcoming and supportive. It could definitely cause divisions in the household.
With such a gloomy future, director Sarjun KM has come out with a short film ‘Maa’ and has addressed all these issues and more in a touching manner. It clocks at around 28 minutes, and has garnered more than 3 million views on YouTube in less than a week.
Maa depicts the relationship between a mother and a daughter who gets pregnant while still in high school. The dad is a strict, old fashioned conservative type who would have gone ballistic if he had found out the reality of the situation.
The mom, meanwhile, is in a state of conflict herself. Her reactions quickly move from rage, to despair, and to level-headedness within a span of 24 hours. Eventually, she recommends abortion and even gives her child the space needed to think about this.
Instead of taking the route of an autocratic parent, Kani Kasruti (the mom), who gets the most screen time, gives her daughter compelling arguments to decide against having the child. Bringing a child into this world that would be shunned by her relatives would make for a miserable existence for another human being. Fortifying this is the moment where a young housekeeper comes in to sweep the floors while holding a child on her other hand. Recognising how much luck plays in the quality of life of a human, Anikha (the pregnant teen) decides against having the baby.
Might sound a bit too much of a happy ending for a film, but Maa works thanks to the slow and silent treatment the director has given to many scenes. There’s a lot for the audience to absorb. But he could have gone a step further and eliminated certain dialogues, letting the pictures finish the scene. Also, the limelight definitely falls more on the mother rather than her child.
There’s always a debate not just in Tamil cinema, but elsewhere, as to whether movies with an angle and a cause to promote would work with an audience that is hungry for thrill and entertainment. Maa works largely due to its narrative flow that gets the viewer involved from the beginning.
What would have been a more interesting experiment though is if the movie had been simply an observation and a capture of a slightly darker timeline with a harsher reality. That would have riled the audience and made them more vocal. Nonetheless, the fact that it had made so much noise on social media and in day to day discussions is a testament to the director’s willingness to tackle contentious issues.
Talking to DC, ace filmmaker Gautham Menon who had produced this short, concurs “I had helped release the director’s previous short film Lakshmi and it received a lot of flak, which is fine. But I felt that the subject of Maa needed to be addressed, and hence I decided to make the film. Though there are mixed reactions, it has struck the right chord with the audience.” Just go online and watch it on YouTube if you have 20 minutes to spare.