Leena Manimekalai’s ‘Maadathy’, on Neestream, is a powerful social-horror story about a Dalit girl

Posted on June 24, 2021


Spoilers ahead…


The story of Leena Manimekalai’s Maadathy is almost folkloric in its simplicity, but if the final scenes remind you of The Shining, it may be no accident. The film, billed “an unfairy tale”, is really a horror story — about a subsection of Dalits in southern Tamil Nadu, called Puthirai Vannaar. As the name suggests, they are washerpeople, but they wash “unclean” things — say, the shroud on a just-buried corpse, or the pieces of cloth used by menstruating women. Even worse than this occupation thrust on them is the condition that they should remain out of sight of the others in the village, because even seeing them could be polluting. The irony writes itself. They are cleaners, yet they are considered unclean. They are humans, yet they are like gods: they “purify” things while being practically invisible. Hence the tagline: Nobodies do not have gods; they are gods.

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