Sethum Aayiram Pon Movie Review: A fairly charming drama that had the potential to be more
With a lot of lazy charm that is distinctive of rural life, Sethum Aayiram Pon is a film that takes its time to get going, like pastoral life
Sethum Aayiram Pon, Netflix's latest Tamil indie import, has a Super Deluxe moment. A man ‘grooms’ himself to sleep with his mistress, and you know... In this impressive scene, we see the man moving around in the house, getting ready, as he closes all the windows. And in the background, we hear a hilarious oppari song that describes the man and his demise. Crying and singing at funerals isn’t particularly a novel concept, but the free-flowing colourful language of the women here is hilarious. Anand Ravichandran sets this up right from the beginning of the film. This stretch is probably my most favourite in the film. I wish the rest of the film had been this consistent.
Cast: Nivedithaa Sathish, Srilekha, Avinash Raghudevan, Gabriella
Director: Anand Ravichandran
Streaming on: Netflix
Meera aka Kunjamma (Nivedithaa Sathish) comes home to her estranged grandmother Krishnaveni (Srilekha), on her request. She is quite the modern girl, with a cigarette in her mouth, and swear words on her tongue. Krishnaveni, on the other hand, is popularly called ‘oppari kizhavi’. She goes around to funerals to sing and cry. The irony is fascinating, and in a good way, Sethum Aayiram Pon reminded me of Nadhiya-Padmini’s Poove Poochudava a lot. This bond, or the lack of it, forms the central conceit of Sethum Aayiram Pon. I wish the film had dwelled on it more effectively. The major bone of conflict between them is that Krishnaveni tried to get Meera married off while the latter was just five years old. Meera’s mother fought against this, leading to the family falling apart. This is a serious issue, but in Sethum Aayiram Pon, it comes off as an everyday squabble, that is let off too easily. Is one tearful apology enough to quell years of unspoken, unaddressed anger?
It is tough to say whether this is due to the actors or the writing. While Nivedithaa Sathish is an apt choice for her role, there’s a rehearsed air that clouds her performance. On the other hand, Srilekha feels a bit too soft to play the suruttu-smoking, unbridled oppari kezhavi. One can sense that these are performances; contrast this with Gabriella and Avinash who slip into their roles with far more ease.
It is also tough to figure out who Meera really is, behind the cigarette and those coolers. Why did she decide to visit a grandmother who she has only hate for? Is it because of her lonely life on the sets? She immediately strikes a chord with the children, but rarely has a respectful word for anyone else. Who is she angry with, and what does she long for? One could fill these blanks with the passing information that’s said in conversation. But these remain as interpretations that are loose in the air. This, combined with the reiteration of information that is already made obvious in the film, reduces the impact of the story's emotional gravitas.
However, Sethum Aayiram Pon does have a lot of lazy charm that is distinctive of rural life, which the film captures well. It is a film that takes its time to get going, like pastoral life. A lot of the sweet aura of this film comes from the discovery of a lifestyle, a culture we seem to have lost. Certain emotions, certain feelings are quite rooted in the landscape and the language they flourish in (It is a happy struggle to describe this film in English, and a reminder of the vibrancy of Tamil.)
Sethum Aayiram Pon’s biggest strength is getting us to fall in love with the village, and its simple, honest people. Shamnath’s non-intrusive, cheerful music adds a lot of colour to the sun-bleached canvas of the film (A special request to release Hey Oppari Kezhavi as a solo song). Also, all the irony around the film adds to the charm. At a time when the world is in isolation, this is a story about rekindling magic in estranged relationships. On a streaming site like Netflix, this is a story of a village without mobile phone signal. It is like a dash of sugar in molagapodi.
This is probably why Sethum Aayiram Pon left me feeling that it could have been better. It is a mixed bag, where for everything you love, there is something that breaks that spell, even if fleetingly. This film, with the potential to be great, settles for being just good. It is disheartening, but then again, for a cinephile like me, it is a good problem to have.