Sethu (film)

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Sethu film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBala
Written byBala
Produced byA. Kandasamy
CinematographyR. Rathnavelu
Edited byRaghu Baabu
Music byIlaiyaraaja
Distributed bySharmasha Productions
Release date
  • 10 December 1999 (1999-12-10)
Running time
130 minutes
Box office6 crore

Sethu is a 1999 Indian Tamil-language romantic drama film, written and directed by Bala. The film stars Vikram and Abitha in lead roles. The score and soundtrack was composed by Ilaiyaraaja.[1]

The film was initially released in a single suburban theatre in October 1999, but was released later on 10 December 1999 in theatres across Tamil Nadu. It became Vikram's first major breakthrough film. Sethu won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil, and the Best Film category at the Filmfare Awards and the Cinema Express Awards. Bala and Vikram also won several awards for their contributions to the film. The film was remade in Hindi as Tere Naam, in Kannada as Huchcha, in Telugu as Seshu,[2] in Bangladesh as Tor Karone Beche Achi, and Odia as Rakate Lekhichi Na.


Sethu, aka Chiyaan, is a rough and macho college student, and the Chairman of the college's Student Union. He deals with people violently and has a bad temper. He lives with his older brother, a magistrate, and his sister-in-law, who is the only person who seems to understand him.

The movie begins with Sethu winning the Chair of the Students' Union election, followed by celebrations and an on-campus fight between the rival candidates. Sethu is shown to have an aggressive and temperamental nature. He also has an entourage of loyal friends and a strange vagabond lunatic girl who follows around their group. While at college, he encounters a timid brahmin girl, Abitha, making her way into the college. He calls her out and mercilessly rags her for fun by asking trivial questions. However, Abitha's innocent nature and soft-spoken responses win his tough exterior and he grows a liking towards her. Unknowingly after the ragging, Abitha drops a peacock feather from her book, which Sethu keeps. He also bumps into her at the temple during his birthday prayers which leads to some lighthearted interaction between the two. Slowly but gradually, Sethu finds himself falling in love with Abitha. His sister-in-law and his friends also note some subtle good changes in him as well. He also begins to fondly admire the peacock feather to remember Abitha. Sethu also helps her by using his college chairman powers to let her sit for an exam entrance which she got denied earlier.

Concurrently, Abitha's sister returns back home in a pitiful state citing dowry-related torture from her husband. She is determined to annul her marriage and stay at home with her kid. She unsuccessfully asks a few people for loan to repay her dowry. Meanwhile, Sethu shyly expresses his love to Abitha in a rather awkward manner. However, Abitha is completely in utter shock at the proposal as she had never had any feelings for him. In a fit of disbelief, she is unable to react properly when Sethu asks if she loves him and Sethu assumes that she reciprocates his love. He also threatens Abitha's would-be fiance who is a passive mannered priest, to back off from Abitha. Frightful, the priest complies.

Subsequently, Abitha openly rejects and dismisses Sethu when he attempts to present her a gift while catching up with her in college science lab. She also explains to him that she never had any romantic interest in him. Unable to digest the truth, Sethu aggressively and angrily questions her causing Abitha to scold him off. Feeling dejected, Sethu spends the night drinking with his friends who advice him to shed his rowdy image and instead be more timid in front of her to earn his chances back. A series of events lead to Sethu busting an illegal brothel racket and also rescuing Abitha's Sister though he is unaware of her identity. Breaking down, she thanks him for the merciful help and informs Sethu who then goes off into the night. Meanwhile, Abitha's fiance has witnessed the entire incident realizing the grave help Sethu has done.

The next day, Sethu travels to the Sub-registrar office and thrashes Abitha's sis's husband. He threatens him to accept his wife back. Learning his lesson, the husband reunites with Abitha's sis. The family feels blissful over the dispute resolution and a joyous Abitha prays at the temple for the good turn of events. However, her would-be fiance explains to her on Sethu's role on that night her sister got rescued. He also explains that Sethu, though rough is but a truly selfless man who stands to do the right thing. He also reminds Abitha that his own profession as a priest would not sustain her married life with him. Acknowledging that he has a heart of gold, Abitha realizes Sethu's feelings.

However, Sethu acts rashfully and kidnaps Abitha to an abandoned building. In there, he painfully expresses his love and feelings while also berating her for not understanding him. Its a marked change from the usual Sethu that Abitha has seen. Fully realizing his extend of his love, Abitha finally succumbs to his love. His love finally succeeded, Sethu relishes and daydreams on his motorbike until suddenly..he is punched on his face.

Just when things seem to have worked well him, Sethu is viciously attacked by the brothel goons who had come to take revenge on him for busting their prostitute racket. They beat him up and brutalize him in a bloody manner. Several goons join in to take turns to brutalize him. While he is knocked out to the ground, they carry his body and drag him until they smash his head into a rock with severe force. The impact causes him critical brain damage where his brain insides get torn, resulting in him losing his sanity. They then throw his body on a cliff leaving him in a gory and macabre condition. Sethu is admitted in a hospital where his case is considered hopeless for recovery. He is then sent to a mental asylum in a temple at Yerwadiashram where the ayurvedic therapeutic treatment might prove a chance to cure him.

Sethu's life is flipped upside down as his condition has made him a mental patient unable to comprehend anything. He becomes thin and is shaved bald, wearing tattered shirt and shorts in the ashram. He is also chained to the walls like other mentally ill patients. He undergoes intense treatment at the temple. Meanwhile, Abitha is worried for him as she had yet to hear from him since his injury. Slowly over time, Sethu recovers back to normal. He tries to persuade the ashram authorities and Swamiji that he is fully recovered and can be released. However, his cries fall on deaf ears and the wardens beat him up. A desperate Sethu attempts to escape from the ashram by climbing over the gates, but he fails and obtains serious injuries.

At the same time, Abitha is being pressured to marry her fiance. She is also unable to sacrifice her love for Sethu.

Whilst Sethu is sleeping, Abitha pays him a surprise visit and is distraught to see him in such a condition. As she is about to leave the institution, he wakes up and realizes she had come to see him. He calls out, but she leaves unable to hear him as his shouts are drowned by the noises. Determined to meet her, he makes another attempt to escape the institution, and this time is successful. His legs still chained, his shirts dirty and tattered, he limps his way to Abi's house. When he arrives at her house he finds marriage decorations at her place. Confused, he limps inside to the house and notices a crowd gathered at the center. Glancing over, he finally gets a view of Abitha lying still on the ground with garlands on her neck with people mourning her. She has committed suicide.

Shocked with grief and heartbreak, Sethu realises his efforts have amounted to nothing in the end. Sorrowfully, he steps outs of the house in distraught and walks away limping. His friends and family run over to see him full of tears. But Sethu doesn't respond nor sees them and keeps limping until the ashram wardens come with their van. He has one final last look and walks in to the van. The film ends with Sethu leaving with them as he has nothing left to live for after his true love's death.



Bala, an assistant of Balu Mahendra, wrote the script of the film in the mid-1990s, which was then titled Akhilam. He based the film on a real-life incident of one of his friends who had fallen in love, lost his mind and ended up at a mental asylum.[3] He first offered the film's lead role to his housemate Vignesh, who did not accept. He then offered the lead role to J. D. Chakravarthy who liked the script but was unable to sign the film as he was busy with another project. Murali was then also considered for the lead role in the project, but did not sign up.[4][5] Finally in 1997, Bala gave the role of Sethu to his friend, then struggling actor Vikram. Keerthi Reddy was initially signed on to play the lead female role, but was later replaced by Rajshri and then subsequently Abitha.[1][6]

To prepare for the character, Vikram shaved his head, thinned down to half his size by losing 21 kilograms and grew out his nails and even exposed himself under the sun for hours for skin darkening as the script demanded it.[2][7][8] Bala did not want Vikram to accept any other offers during this period to maintain the continuity of his looks and asked him to cease working as a dubbing artist. The film's launch was held in April 1997, and production lasted close to two years as the film languished in development hell. The FEFSI strike of 1997 halted filming across the Tamil film industry from June to December 1997, and as a small budget film, Sethu was unable to progress during the period.[3] When the strike was called off, the producer left the project and Vikram and Bala's assistant, Ameer, pled with the producer to return, with filming resuming in January 1998.

After further slow progression, the film was finally completed in June 1999. M. S. Bhaskar lent his voice for S. S. Raman who appeared as a temple priest in this film.[9] Rathnavelu, who worked as a cameraman, said he gave the asylum scenes a predominantly green tone for the intense psychological impact.[10] Vikram has described the period of production as "the worst phase of his career", as he was weak economically, and "his fire was in danger of dying down".[7]


The film struggled to find a distributor and only after sixty-seven screenings did the film manage to find a buyer, with most refusing the film due to its tragic climax.[11] At that time, Bala and Vikram used money from Vikram's wife, Shailaja, to organize press previews. Despite garnering good reviews, no one was interested in purchasing the film and it remained finished but unreleased.[7] Made on a shoestring budget, Sethu was a sleeper hit grossing almost 4 crore ($560,000) at the box office. The film was released on December 10, 1999,[12] and initially began running at a single noon show in a suburban theatre, but gradually built up audiences through word-of-mouth publicity. The film ran over 100 days at several cinema halls across Chennai, with Vikram being mobbed by people on the streets as a result of the film's success.[2] Critics lapped up Vikram's performance with the reviewer Easwaran Haricharan of Indolink stating, "Vikram is a revelation".[13] Similarly, a critic from the New Straits Times described the film as an "unforgettable experience" and described Vikram's performance as "praise-worthy".[14]

The following year, Sethu won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil, while also securing wins in the Best Film category at the Filmfare Awards and the Cinema Express Awards. Bala won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Director and the Filmfare Award for Best Director – Tamil for his directorial debut. The performance also drew accolades for Vikram who won the Filmfare Special Award – South and the Tamil Nadu State Film Award Special Prize for his portrayal of the title character, he was nominated for the National Film Award for Best Actor but lost to Mohanlal.[15][16] Post-success, Vikram has said the film would have been close to him regardless of the commercial success, and it put him on the "right path", with Vikram choosing to adopt the prefix of Chiyaan to his screen name.[7] Owing to its success, the film was remade in Hindi as Tere Naam, in Kannada as Huchcha and in Telugu as Seshu.


The film was a milestone in the career of Vikram. The success of the film made Bala one of the most sought after directors in the industry. The film continued the trend of films with themes that focused on realism and nativity. K. Jeshi, a journalist for The Hindu, placed it in the category of films which propagates social issues, like Kaadhal (2004), Veyil (2006), Mozhi (2007) and Paruthiveeran (2007).[17]

Sethu was parodied in various films. In a comedy scene from Alli Thandha Vaanam (2001), Vivek, who acted as a Tamil teacher, would lie in a similar way as Vikram while the song "Enge Sellum Indha Paadhai" played in the background.[18] The scene where Vikram kidnaps and threatens Abitha to accept his love was imitated by Vadivelu in Style (2002).[19] In Ragasiyamai (2003), Karunas who appears as a barber, shows a customer (who asked for the same hairstyle of Kuruthipunal Kamal) another of his customers is lying in a position similar to Vikram from Sethu. In the late 2003 released Thirumalai, Vijay sings the song "Enge Sellum Indha Paadhai" while visiting Jyothika at a yoga ashram.


The soundtrack album and background score were composed by Ilaiyaraaja. The lyrics were written by Mu. Metha, Ponnadiyan, Arivumathi, Palani Bharathi, and Ilaiyaraaja.

Soundtrack album by
LabelLucky Audio
Track list
1."Enge Sellum Intha"ArivumathiIlaiyaraaja05:07
2."Gaana Karunkuyile"PonnadiyanKovai Kamala05:13
3."Kadhalenna Kadhalenna"Palani BharathiSwarnalatha05:13
4."Maalai En Vethanai"ArivumathiUnni Krishnan, Arunmozhi, S. N. Surendar05:04
5."Saranam Bhava" Sujatha01:59
6."Sethuvukku Sethuvukku"Mu. MethaArunmozhi02:27
7."Sikaadha Sitrondru"Palani BharathiUnni Krishnan, Arunmozhi, S. N. Surendar05:12
8."Vaarthai Thavari Vittai"ArivumathiIlaiyaraaja03:01
9."Nenachu Nenachu"Mu. MethaUnni Krishnan00:47
Total length:34:03


  1. ^ a b Krishna, Sandhya (12 December 1997). "Kodambakkam Babies". Indolink.
  2. ^ a b c Warrier, Shobha (17 August 2004). "Vikram's obsession gets its reward". Rediff. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b Rangan, Baradwaj (1 December 2013). "Man of Steel". The Caravan Magazine. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  4. ^ "Intl. Water Day – Thaneer Thaneer". Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  5. ^ "Tamil Cinema News – Tamil Movie Reviews – Tamil Movie Trailers – IndiaGlitz Tamil".
  6. ^ "Tamil Movie News: March Edition". Indolink Tamil. Archived from the original on 30 April 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d "'I am a director's actor'". Frontline (The Hindu). 19 September 2004. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  8. ^ "NTFO- News September 1999". Archived from the original on 6 March 2001.
  9. ^ "Talent bides its time". The Hindu. 13 November 2009 – via
  10. ^ Reddy, T. Krithika (29 November 2014). "Lingaa through Randy's lens". The Hindu – via
  11. ^ Kamath, Sudhish (2 January 2003). "Making films for the real world". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 7 June 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  12. ^ "People expect me to do something spectacular: Vikram – Times of India". The Times of India.
  13. ^ Hariharan, Easwaran (December 1999). "Sethu". Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  14. ^ Vijayan, K. N. (12 February 2000). "Laughs and tears galore in 'Sethu'". New Straits Times. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  15. ^ Rajitha (21 July 2000). "Ajit backs off Nanda". Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  16. ^ "Star-spangled show on cards". The Hindu (in en-IN). 15 April 2000. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 20 July 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  17. ^ "Formula is passé, freshness is in". The Hindu. 23 November 2007 – via
  18. ^ Allithandha Vaanam DVD
  19. ^ Style DVD

External links[edit]