PAAI THE MAT- by SREELAJA MUKUNDAKUMARAN

Directed by  Sreelaja Mukundakumaran/ Reviewed by Adva Reichman

When the film began I had no idea where it was going to take me and the strong emotions it  will stir in me. This powerful film and the human story it portrays will keep you on your toes.

The serene beginning in India was beautifully shot and I thought I was about to watch a magical dreamy film. But then reality hit, and paradise turned into hell. I was swept away by the mighty twists and turns I never dreamt were coming. Those kept me glued to the screen as I was following Medini’s journey. The character of Medini was played by the very talented Sreelaja Mukundakumaran, who also wrote, directed and produced Paai The Mat.As the film begins, Medini leaves India with a promise of a better life in London, but her hopes come crashing down as she becomes a victim of human trafficking and is repeatedly raped.

She is eventually saved, but when nothing awaits you and you are all alone in this world, what are your choices?
Sreelaja wasn’t afraid to go deep while exploring that subject and revealed captivating filmmaking abilities. I was with her every step of the way and when she lost faith, so did I.

Alone in a foreign country, unable to speak the language and with no money or shelter, she found herself doing the thing she ran away from – prostituting. The look in her eyes, as she understands what has become of her life and the choice she is about to make, is devastating.

Years goes by and we meet Medini again. This time she is broken and numb, doing what she has to, to survive. This is where her real journey begins. This is where, with the help of people who show her kindness and generosity, she discovers her options. Her path is difficult and complicated, and her self-worth does not exist. She stumbles and falls, but life finds a way, and Medini bravely pushes through it.

I command Sreelaja for writing such a powerful script and bearing her soul while acting in it. As a director, she took her time and allowed us to see a woman being ripped to shreds, turned and used. But then we get to see the magic of a human being piecing their life back together. It was real, it was raw, and it was moving.

The cinematography, done by Vipin Puthiyankam and Yue Wang, was striking. The locations in which the film was shot really let understand Medini’s world and options. The score and beautiful singing that accompanied it all, enhanced the powerful story and added a whole new layer of feelings. The editor, Ananthu S Vijay, shined as he allowed us to take it all in. In a story as rich as this one, the editor knew when and how to pace it up and when to slow down and let
us absorb what we just saw.

The supporting characters were strong and as the film progressed some of them were like coming out for air. They taught Medini and us that some people are genuinely good and will help, even if you lost faith and refuse to believe in them. Dan, played by Jack Silver, fought hard to restore our faith in men. I was happy Sreelaja wrote such a character, who showed Medini that despite her terrible experiences, not all men will take advantage of her. That, accompanied
with the nun and social worker, supplied careful optimism for a new day.

The film ends with the words “Sometimes, the simplest gestures can make so much of a difference in someone’s life” and I think this powerful message should resound with the viewers. Each person has the power to help or break someone else. Medini felt that throughout the film. But the strongest message was that you have the power to help yourself. It is far from easy and at times, impossible, but even though it was against all odds, Medini did it. and showed us, we can do it too.

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