Sethum Aayiram Pon movie cast: Nivedithaa Sathish, Srilekha Rajendran, Ratha Krishnan, Avinash Raghudevan
Sethum Aayiram Pon movie director: Anand Ravichandran
Sethum Aayiram Pon movie rating: 3.5 stars
A very annoyed young woman gets off a bus, somewhere in a village in Tamil Nadu. That she’s upset has been evident from the opening frame, and she’s still clearly unhappy about being where she is, as she lugs her baggage across bumpy paths, to fetch up at a funeral. In that gathering, an old lady who goes by the name of Krishnaveni is singing a mourning song.
Up until then, Sethum Aayiram Pon could have been any other standard film about a girl, whom we are guessing, is on a journey to find herself. Which Meera (Sathish), the bearer of the sulky visage, is, of course. But the manner in which this happens in Ravichandran’s debut feature elevates the film, makes fine, delicate connections between the living and the dead, family ties, and growing up.
The mourning song is not exactly mournful. There’s a small group dancing right next to the mourners. It’s a traditional folk dance, and the song tells us about the departed, in a striking mix of lyrics that are funny, sarcastic, loving. This tradition of mourning is called Oppari, and the way it has been enmeshed in the film shows us just how deeply it has impacted the director, whose research took him, among other places, to Madurai where many of the old-style singers of Oppari abound. The singing in the film is ‘near authentic’, not the commercial kind that’s more common these days, says Ravichandran.
Ravichandran found out many fascinating facts while he was working on the film. That the tradition of mourning songs is common amongst rice-eating cultures – Mexico, Africa, South Asian countries. The Rudaali singers of North India is also an offshoot. But only in the Tamil Oppari will you find amazing versatility, with the singers and song encompassing all kinds of emotions, says the director.
Krishnaveni (Rajendran) turns out to be the estranged grandmother that the reluctant Meera has made the journey from Chennai, where she works as a make-up artist in the film industry. When the reason of the summons is revealed, things start to shift. Old hurts tumble out. Slowly, steadily, we see the cracks between the grandma and grand-daughter being cemented. One thing at a time, no over-dramatic flourishes.
And that’s the thing that the film captures so well. The up and down rhythms of life, spiked by death, in an unending cycle. Yes, grieving is inevitable. But it may not be forever. Life goes on, and gifts are transferred from one generation to another. Except for one or two places, where the film telegraphs its punches, it keeps surprising us, the result of intelligent, empathetic writing.
To keep a film which uses rituals, and ritualistic ways, grounded is for the performances to be natural. The ensemble does its job well, and even the familiar character of the leading lady’s ‘best friend’ comes off fresh. Both Sathish and Rajendran work well together, and as they head towards an unexpected finish, we see what the director wants us to: blood will tell, and life, with all its pain and problems, is a celebration.
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