Azhagam Perumal chanced upon Anand Ravichandran's Sethum Aayiram Pon when scrolling the Amazon Prime Video playlist, and decided to watch it for a while. He was so impressed he sought an interview so that he could speak about the film and get more people to watch it. Excerpts from a conversation between Baradwaj Rangan, Azhagam Perumal and Anand Ravichandran.
Azhagam Perumal sir knows why I'm conducting this interview…
Azhagam Perumal: About four or five days ago while I was looking for films on Amazon Prime Video, I saw Soorarai Pottru on the rack. Next to it I saw Sethum Aayiram Pon, and I thought: 'Let me watch this for a while and see how it is.' After five minutes, the film began to draw me in and I was wondering why no one is talking about this film. I finished watching the movie, it was fantastic, and I started Googling the film — who made it, when was it released.
The film was released on Netflix on April 1 when everyone was worried about the lockdown. Some watched it, some like you had reviewed it. I read your review — you reflected on it the same way I did, the last line of your review said you are excited about what the team would do next. That made me think.
The storytelling and narrative style bore resemblance to Baaram and KD, so I thought the director would be a woman, because the female angle was done beautifully. Then, I realised it was directed by Anand Ravichandran, and that the producers were North Indian. I went on LinkedIn, but could not find him and then looked him up in IMDb. I felt no one should miss out on the film. I sought an interview with you so that people can watch it again.
What about the film impacted you?
A filmmaker faces a lot of issues for a first film, from getting artistes to budgeting. Despite this, Anand has made a seamless film. He has not worked with any famous director. If he had, I could have easily said, 'Oh, he was with that director, so he made this film'.
When I spoke to him, I asked, 'Where were you all these days'? Looking beyond this film, there are many talents waiting to be identified, be it music directors or cinematographers.
This film has a village setting, and you cannot avoid sound. Something is always happening, and you can hear an MGR song in the background. In the beginning of the film, there is death and there are three teams of folk artistes who have their own roles in the scenes and they have done this brilliantly with sync sound. Rajesh is the guy who handled this and it's his first film.
With a budget of Rs 85 lakh and 17 days, no one can achieve this output. We talk about perfection after shooting for 300 days. We hype films that have Rs 150-crore budget, and you look at this film that is made on such a budget and time. These are the things that attracted me.
There's a scene with Amudha and a girl. That girl is amazing, even better than the heroine. She got the dialect, every tinge of it effortlessly.
For me, the golden period of Tamil films was in the 80s and 90s, with Balanchander sir, Mani sir, Mahendran sir, Bhagyaraj and Parthiban sir… there was a huge revolution going on at that time. It's there even today, in places. Even after eight months, if one among thousand watch this film, through suggestions and reviews, it's a big deal.
Anand, was Sethum Aayiram Pon going to be a theatrical release?
Honestly, we didn't have any plans, we know the trade and it required a lot of push. Even without stars, independent films usually have some face, some backing. We didn't have anyone, we knew it's not a theatrical film. When we were starting out, OTT was a different market. It took us two years and they shifted the theatrical model. We luckily got into OTT.
On OTT, the listing is of blockbusters and arranged in that way. Like Perumal said, he watched it after eight months, by luck. Do you think there is a way to make people watch?
Anand Ravichandran: There can be a forum to talk about it, or people have to search. We don't have PR budgets, we can't bombard the market with ads and even OTTs do it only for big budget films. Honestly, we don't need to bombard a Rajnikanth film, everyone knows. People will cut the TVC and ads for TV and phone. Maybe, somewhere they should feel that these films too need a place to market them, it's possible. It should start from OTT.
Azhagam Perumal: These days, even in a blockbuster film, I feel some actors and supporting actors could have been cast better. But, in this film, all actors, actresses and even people in the infinity shot have done very well.
Do you think if a senior and established director partners with a first-time filmmaker, it would help?
Anand Ravichandran: Sure, that's what happened with Andhaghaaram. The film was shot many years ago, and when Atlee came in, it got recognised and got a Netflix platform. More than that, it got a big opening. At least you need to keep a press meet, as simple as that… you need some name. Because people don't know me, at least for an entry, I need a big name. After that the film should also be good, for the snowball effect it should have the content. People should at least click it. For some reason he [Azhagam Perumal] clicked, saying he'll watch for 10 minutes. You need that pass.
Do you think a film like this would have been made during your time?
Azhagam Perumal: I can't say no, it can be done. It's enough if they are genuine. When Ram shot Kattradhu Thamizh with Jiiva and made a half-hour cut and showed it to us on DVD, I watched it and felt it's not usual stuff and that I have to be there. I immediately called Santosh Sivan and told him about this film. Once the vibe began to build, Ram became more and more confident. I also saw him differently. It's not like I'm a big person, but these people shouldn't remain unknown to the public. By doing whatever I can, like this interview, people can go and watch the film. These people may not be that bothered by the revenue, but people should watch.
Udhaya [directed by Azhagam Perumal] took five years to release and very few people watched it. They all said it's good. I don't want this to happen to anyone else. This film is on OTT. Any art form should reach people. If someone says they have composed thousands of songs better than Ilaiyaraaja, how will people know unless it reaches them?