Two kinds of death due to two kinds of meat.
Why? Because they were Dalits.
Seththumaan is based on a short story ‘Varugari’ (roasted/ fried meat) by Perumal Murugan. The film marks the directorial debut of Tamizh and is backed by Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions. Prior to its release, Seththumaan was premiered and received multiple accolades at various film festivals, including the International Film Festival of Kerala and Chennai International Film Festival.
The story revolves around an old man from the marginalised community Poochiyappa (Manickam), and his grandson Kumaresan (Ashwin Shiva). He becomes the sole guardian to the little boy after his son and daughter-in-law are killed for consuming beef. Having gone through gruesome caste based violence, the grandpa wants things to be better for his grandson. He raises him reiterating that education is the only way out of this hell.
Vellaiyan (Prasanna), the landlord whom Poochiyappa works for, desires to eat pork, which is frowned upon as filthy and is tagged as the food that belongs to the lower caste.
The film deals with complex political ideas - food politics based on caste, how Dalits are discriminated on a daily basis, the lack of access to basic education and exploitation of labour. It also delves into how, even when Dalits muster up the courage to break the shackles of poverty and inequality, they are still ill-treated for speaking up.
Seththumaan chooses a light-hearted approach to serious topics and that’s a smart move by Tamizh to cater to a larger audience.
The film reminds us as to how, when the world is celebrating the empowering victory of Ram Nath Kovind (who belongs to a marginalised community) as the President of India, there are millions of Poochiyappas and Kumararesans who are still struggling to live a simple, dignified life. Seththumaan also makes us realise that even when there is a conflict between two people from the dominant-caste, the marginalised are the ones who bear the brunt.
The best part of Seththumaan is the bittersweet visuals of Poochiyappa carrying Kumaresan on his shoulders. The scenes are not just visually appealing, but they also symbolise how much this elderly man yearns to make his grandson see the world (sitting on his shoulders) from a higher position with his head held high, unlike their previous generations who were not able to. It shows how he strives hard to provide a better life for his grandkid.
The writing is so rich and layered with nuance that even when the pace feels dragged, it doesn't let you completely disengage with the film. It only warms you up for an authentic experience.
Seththumaan is streaming now on Sony Liv.