Sethu (film)

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Sethu 1999 poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBala
Produced byA. Kandasamy
Written byBala
Music byIlaiyaraaja
CinematographyR. Rathnavelu
Edited byRaghu Baabu
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 action romantic-drama film, written and directed by Bala. The film starred Vikram and Abitha in the lead roles. The score and soundtrack was composed by Ilaiyaraaja.[1]

The film was initially released in a single suburban theater 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 opens 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 entourage of loyal friends. He comes across a timid girl, Abitha, who is the daughter of a poor temple priest, and attempts to win her over. When she initially rejects him, he kidnaps her and lures her into falling in love with him.

After Abitha falls for him, Sethu is attacked by brothel goons who take revenge on him for interfering in their business. Sethu suffers brain damage as a result and ends up in a temple ashram. He now suffers from amnesia and shows a marked change in his personality, but he slowly begins to recollect his past life. At one point, he is completely back to his normal self and tries to persuade the Swamiji he is fully recovered and can be released. However, Swamiji ignores him 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.

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. Determined to meet her, he makes another attempt to escape the institution, and this time is successful, but when he arrives at her house he finds Abhita has killed herself.

Sethu is delirious with grief and heartbreak. His friends and family try to help him regain his composure but Sethu pretends to be unconscious and is met by the mental institution's wardens who have come to take him back to the ashram. 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, which was then titled Akhilam, in the mid-1990s and offered the film's lead role to his housemate Vignesh, who did not accept. He then chose J. D. Chakravarthy as the lead in the film. He liked the script but was unable to sign the film as he was busy with another project. The film is based on a real-life incident of a friend of Bala's, who had fallen in love, lost his mind and ended up at a mental asylum.[3] Murali was then also considered for the lead role in the project, but did not sign up.[4][5] In 1997, debutant director Bala offered Vikram the role of Sethu. 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.[2][7] 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 a 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 temple priest in this film.[8] Rathnavelu, who worked as a cameraman, said he gave the asylum scenes a predominantly green tone for the intense psychological impact.[9] 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.[10] 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,[11] 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".[12] Similarly, a critic from the New Straits Times described the film as an "unforgettable experience" and described Vikram's performance as "praise-worthy".[13]

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.[14] 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 starring Salman Khan which became a success, and also in Kannada as Huchcha which gave a major breakthrough to actor Sudeep. Jeevitha then remade the film in Telugu as Seshu with her husband Rajasekhar playing the lead.


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).[15]

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.[16] The scene where Vikram kidnaps and threatens Abitha to accept his love was imitated by Vadivelu in Style (2002).[17] 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.[18]


The soundtrack album and background score were composed by Ilaiyaraaja. The lyrics were written by Arivumathi, Palani Bharathi, Mu Metha, 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, Arun Mozhi, S. N. Surendar05:04
5."Saranam Bhava" Sujatha01:59
6."Sethuvukku Sethuvukku"Mu MethaArun Mozhi, S. N. Surendar02:27
7."Sikaadha Sitrondru"Palani BharathiUnni Krishnan, Arun Mozhi05:12
8."Vaarthai Thavari Vittai"ArivumathiIlaiyaraaja03:01
9."Vidiya Vidiya"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. ^ "Talent bides its time". 13 November 2009 – via
  9. ^ Reddy, T. Krithika (29 November 2014). "Lingaa through Randy's lens" – via
  10. ^ Kamath, Sudhish (2 January 2003). "Making films for the real world". The Hindu. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  11. ^ "People expect me to do something spectacular: Vikram – Times of India".
  12. ^ Hariharan, Easwaran (December 1999). "Sethu". Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  13. ^ Vijayan, K. N. (12 February 2000). "Laughs and tears galore in 'Sethu'". New Straits Times. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  14. ^ Rajitha (21 July 2000). "Ajit backs off Nanda". Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  15. ^ "Formula is passé, freshness is in". 23 November 2007 – via
  16. ^ Allithandha Vaanam DVD
  17. ^ Style DVD
  18. ^ Ragasiyamai DVD

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