Netflix film Sethum Aayiram Pon, by debutant director Anand Ravichandran, shows how death can reunite families
Sethum Aayiram Pon is a poignant tale that talks about the importance of being surrounded by kith and kin.
If you miss a marriage function in Tamil Nadu villages, no problem, you would be forgiven but everyone in the family should be present during the last rituals. People have buried the hatchet when they meet after several years at mourning events. Almost, all the villages in Tamil Nadu have interesting stories set in the backdrop of death.
Sethum Aayiram Pon is one such poignant tale that talks about the importance of being surrounded by kith and kin. Sethum Aayiram Pon is the one half of the Tamil proverb, the full version is "yaanai urunthalum aayiram pon", Sethalum Aayiram Pon —An elephant, dead or alive, it will always be a valuable asset worth thousand gold coins. Here, the relationship is the elephant, a valuable asset!
Debutant director Anand Ravichandran has authentically represented the rituals that exist in the Ramanathapuram and surrounding locales. Not all the villages have the makeup ritual in the last journey so the backdrop of Sethum Aayiram Pon looks fresh on-screen. The Aapanur village folks send off a dead body with full-on makeup so that they appear beautiful in their last journey and the man who applies makeup considers it as the God-sent job. Anand has nicely woven a feel-good relationship drama between Meera aka Kunjamma (Nivedhithaa Sathish) and her grandmother Krishnaveni (Srilekha Rajendran) in this unexplored backdrop.
The film begins with Meera who comes to the village to meet her grandmother Krishnaveni although both are not in talking terms. Meera is a bold and daring city-bred independent woman. The only difference between Meera and Krishnaveni is their outfit. While many of us relate smoking the new found habit for the current generation girls, Krishnaveni used to smoke the bigger ones, they call it suruttu in Tamil, a tightly-rolled bundle of tobacco. Krishnaveni often challenges men and win the battle, Meera is no different. But why they are not in talking terms? Krishnaveni proposed the idea of conducting marriage between Meera and her cousin when she was just five. Meera's mom was against the decision which resulted in a heated argument and eventually, they left the village.
Though Krishnaveni and Meera share a lot of things in common, they don't get along well through the bitter incident that happened in the past. The brief stay of Meera in her ancestral place not only helps her in understanding the unconditional love of her grandma but also the freedom and support she gains in her place surrounded by kith and kin. After burying the hatchet with Krishnaveni and spends her sweet little time in the village, Meera returns back to Chennai where she had to bear the badmouthing director, self-centric colleagues in the film unit whereas she dictated everyone in the hometown.
Initially, Meera considered the local makeup man (who decorates the dead body in the hometown) as someone who makes a living out of a cheap job but slowly situations pushes her to embrace the profession. Two lengthy emotional shots are enough to describe the acting prowesses of both Nivedhithaa and Srilekha, the latter breaks down in an emotional scene confessing the mistake she was about to make in the life of her granddaughter and the former's effortless emotional performance in the climax where she also embraced her grandmother's profession (Oppari - a folk song to lament).
In her brief stay in the village, Meera gets to see two important deaths — A man who dies in his mistress' house and a little girl's unexpected death. In the first death, Meera made her grandmother proud by winning her challenge by covering the bite mark of the mistress in the neck of the man (the episode is hilarious and moving) and in the second death, she speaks high about the local makeup man (who is also her cousin) and the magnanimity of the profession.
Though Sethum Aayiram Pon is a noble film highlighting the importance of relationships, we wish the director could've placed more scenes to establish the mutual love and admiration between Krishnaveni and Meera instead of narrating it with montage shots in a song. Yes, we understood that there were a few differences between them and they sorted it out now but with more scenes, the film would've created a better impact in the climax.
On the whole, Sethum Aayiram Pon is a sweet little feel-good drama that would be an eye-opener for people who are not aware of the importance of attending funerals in the South of Tamil Nadu and how a death can unite families. The film also subtly conveys the importance of getting back to the roots for our own good.
Sethum Aayiram Pon is currently streaming on Netflix.
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