Sruthi Ganapathy Raman
Animals are everywhere in a Mari Selvaraj universe, something that the director has alluded to years of growing up and seeking comfort amidst their company in his village in Puliyankulam. Mari is at home with these animals and so are they in his vision.
Mari is drawn to depicting discriminated humans, just as much as he is drawn to their animal equivalent. He is drawn not to a tiger or a lion — animals associated with pride — but to a lone piglet in the middle of a pigsty or an inconspicuous donkey.
In Pariyerum Perumal, his breakthrough debut starring Kathir as a young man coming to terms with what it means to be a Dalit student, it is Karuppi, his gentle dog that shows him the way forward.
A donkey brings out its claws to find its way to the top in a world of exalted horses in Karnan, and it’s the pig’s time to finally shine in Maamannan. Much of Karnan revolves around two-hoofed mammals. At first glance, a horse and a donkey might look similar, but one is mounted with honour while the other is kicked around with disdain.
Athiveeran’s love for pigs in Maamannan goes beyond mere ornamental metaphors such as a tattoo on his wrist. In a brilliant flashback, we see how he’s joined at the hip with the pig right from his teens.
In Rathinavel’s world, dogs are mere pawns in his game to beat the pigs of the world. His spirit animal, however, is the horse that he mounts in a powerful shot. But the most meaningful use of this metaphor comes when we hear the horses neigh when Maamanna takes a seat across from Rathinavel in the film’s chilling intermission sequence.