Debutant director Anand Ravichandran’s film, while exploring the bond of a grandmother and grand-daughter, reminds us of oppari — a fading art form of mourning the dead.
Celebrating death was an important ritual in South India when folk artists engaged in oppari songs tailor-made for the deceased that while lamenting also sang their praises.
Debutant Anand Ravichandran explores this fading art-form through his feature film, ‘Sethum Aayiram Pon’, out on Netflix now. This story follows Meera — a 23-year-old make-up artist from the city — who visits her grandmother, Krishnaveni, in a village that is still rooted in the past.
“While doing research for another film, I stumbled upon oppari,” said Ravichandran, a former software professional. “My research took me to learn about Ethiopia and other rice eating cultures including Mexico where death is celebrated. I was fascinated and got into writing a story.”
For the city bred Ravichandran, the tough moments came with the Madurai dialect.
Veteran actress Srilekha now popular on television plays Krishnaveni, an oppari artiste. Nivedhithaa Sathish of ‘Sillukarupatti’ fame is Meera.
“They are meeting after fifteen years. The idea was to draw a parallel between the two women whose ideologies are similar despite belonging to different backgrounds. We shot in Aapanur, (a village twenty kms from Paramakudi) where life is slow. People don’t even raise their voices. The pin drop silence all around is unbelievable. I knew I wouldn’t be able to create the ambience while dubbing so decided to shoot in sync sound. That was another challenge. Not to forget the hot summer months then.”
Real oppari artists were hired for the film.
Ravichandran said that oppari is unique, “a story telling tool about the deceased person’s life and a part of Tamil literature. It can be sung emotionally and in jest too about the deceased. There is a versatility about oppari and how death can be perceived.”
“I liked Anand’s narration and was keen on working with him,” added Nivedhithaa Sathish whose Madhu from ‘Sillukarupatti’ (now streaming on Netflix) is not easily forgotten.
“Madhu and Meera are completely different people. The way Madhu looks at life is different from that of Meera.”
Nivedhithaa revealed that Madhu was written after director Halitha met her.
“In fact I am called Madhu at home. She is more like me unlike Meera. It took a lot of time to get into both characters despite being able to relate to Madhu. Playing it subtle was a learning from Halitha’s film. Meera is angry and struggling to figure out her life. I am happy that directors are able to see me in different shades.”
Working on live sound was a first for her and a learning experience.
“We went for retakes when a sound in the background interfered. Anand was open to suggestions from us. We became a family,” said Nivedhithaa.
Shamnath Nag is the music composer. Manikantan Krishnamachary has handled the camera. The supporting cast includes Avinash Raghudevan, Gabrella Sellus, Mosakutty, and Rathaakrishnan.
‘Sethum Aayiram Pon’, produced by Wishberry Films, is now streaming on Netflix.