Tamil OTT Film ‘Seththumaan’ Tells a Touching Story About Pork Politics in Kongu Region

The film, produced by Pa Ranjith and directed by Thamizh, is based on a short story by Perumal Murugan

‘Seththumaan’ director Tamizh brought in Perumal Murugan as a dialogue writer to retain the regional dialects found in the short story. The film is streaming on SonyLiv

Right-wing opposition to beef consumption is no longer a phenomenon in North India. This “right to eat” policy has spread to southern states like Tamil Nadu.

Recently, the Tirupattur District Collector’s order not to allow beef biryani during the first-ever district-level “Biryani Festival”, originally scheduled for May 13-15, has created a massive outcry. The festival has since been postponed indefinitely. Much of society also raised outcry when Tamil Nadu ordered meat shops to close on occasions like Mahaveer Jayanti.

It is in this context that a new Tamil film titled Seththumaan (“Swamp Deer”), released on Sony LIV on May 27, depicts a dominant caste man’s craving for pork and the havoc it wreaks on a Dalit man’s life. It deals with caste-based food policy, how Dalits are discriminated against and exploited on a daily basis, and their lack of access to basic education. And, if they try to rise above their inequality, they are ruthlessly reduced to their size.

Based on two short stories

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Produced by filmmaker Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions and directed by debutant Thamizh, Seththumaan is based on two short stories, Maappu Kodukkanum Saamy (“You must forgive me, My Lord”) and Varukari (‘Roasted Meat’), written by one of the best writers in Tamil literature today, Perumal Murugan. While the first story forms the basis of a flashback as the title credits roll, the second forms the basis of the film. The director made no major changes to the story and was faithful to the original.

Murugan, a native of the Kongu region, is known for masterfully documenting the cultural nuances of the region. He excelled in Madhorubhagan (translated as “One Part Woman” in English) and caused a lot of controversy.

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An honest adaptation of a short story

Published in 2012 in the literary journal Kalachuvadu, Varukari revolves around a pork-eating party that goes awry and turns violent. The story details how caste plays an important role in pig breeding and cultural reactions to pork consumption.

Poochi (played by Manikkam), a 70-year-old Dalit, lives outside the village with his eight-year-old grandson, Kumaresan (Ashwin Siva), who is his only parent. Despite Poochi’s basket-weaving skills that he earns a living through, he is forced to do menial jobs like skinning dead cows because of his caste. His only goal is to give a good education to his grandson, so that the child can lead a better life.

One day, Vellaiyan (Prasanna Balachandran), a landlady in the Gounder community, develops a craving for pork, which has many health benefits. But his wife wouldn’t let him cook or eat pork at home. His solution is to form a group with like-minded friends, pool some money, buy a pig, and throw a feast.

Poochi, who has the requisite cooking skills, becomes Vellayan’s man on Friday by throwing the party. On the day of the party, however, a verbal war breaks out between Vellaiyan and his relative and this leads to a confrontation. How the fight affects Poochi shapes the rest of the plot.

Besides, it’seththumaan’ is used as a euphemism for pig in the Kongu region.

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“Caste resides where the food is cooked”

Talk to The Federal, Perumal Murugan, the film’s dialogue writer, who is very familiar with the cultural nuances of eating pork, said that people in the Kongu region place a lot of importance on where the pork is cooked, although many mainstream communities eat pork. While Dalit communities cook pork in their homes, mainstream communities consume it outside their homes, he explained.

“In the past, each household had a separate container for cooking pork. They used the ship to cook pork outside their house. After eating, they would clean the utensils and keep them outside,” Murugan said.

Furthermore, Murugan shared that a Dalit community in the Kongu region, the Arunthathiyars, who revere Annanmar Saami, their traditional deity, used to sacrifice pigs. But over the years, due to an increase in caste differences, eating pork began to be considered unclean. It became the basis of caste discrimination, and the ritual of sacrificing large numbers of pigs disappeared, Murugan pointed out.

He also explained the legend of Annanmaar Saami and how the sacrifice of pigs is part of the ritual, since pigs are considered enemies of agriculture.

“The ritual is called panni kuthal, where pigs are killed using a sharp spear-like instrument, instead of cutting them into pieces as seen by sacrificing goats. It should be noted that the ritual of sacrificing pigs is also observed among the dominant castes. There is a ritual called muppoosai, where chickens, goats and pigs are sacrificed. Since these rituals have been practiced for many years, it is possible that the dominant castes also consumed pork,” he added.

“OTT provides a platform for realistic films”

Meanwhile, director Tamizh, speaking to The Federal, felt that OTT is the best way to tell these kinds of stories.

“After COVID, people only come to theaters for movies that have stars and greatness. For realistic films like this, OTT is the best. Now my film is being dubbed into many languages ​​and watched across the country, an opportunity I wouldn’t have had if it was a theatrical release,” said Tamizh, who previously helped the filmmaker Venkat Prabhu.

Inspired by the Malayalam film Ozhivudivasathe Kali (“Off Day Game”)Tamizh hired Perumal Murugan as a dialogue writer to retain the regional dialects found in the short story.

“Unlike Malayalam, the Tamil film industry has not adapted many stories from literature. The film Ozhivudivasathe Kali is also based on a short story. So I chose this story as my first screenplay. Additionally, the screenwriters fail to get proper credits in the movies for their work. I wanted to change that. Although I edited and modified some of the dialogue, I wanted to give full credit to Murugan as the dialogue writer. I’m proud to introduce Murugan to the film industry,” he said.

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