Sethu (film)


Official poster
Directed by Bala
Produced by A. Kandasamy
Written by Bala
Music by Ilaiyaraaja
Cinematography R. Rathnavelu
Edited by Raghu Baabu
Distributed by Sharmasha Productions
Release dates
  • 10 December 1999 (1999-12-10)
Running time
130 minutes
Country India
Language Tamil

Sethu... is a 1999 Indian Tamil romantic drama film written and directed by debutant Bala. The film stars Vikram and Abitha in the lead roles with Sivakumar and Sriman in other pivotal roles. The film's score and soundtrack were composed by Ilaiyaraaja.[1]

The film opened in December 1999 at a single suburban theatre but later became a popular commercial success. Sethu won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil and secured wins in the Best Film category at the Filmfare Awards and the Cinema Express Awards, while Bala and Vikram won several awards for their contributions to the film.[2]


Sethu aka Chiyaan (Vikram) is a rough and macho college rowdy and also The Students Union Chairman of the college, who uses violence as the only way to deal with people. He lives with his brother, a Magistrate (Sivakumar), and his sister-in-law, who is the only person who seems to understand him properly.

The movie opens with Sethu winning the elections to the office bearers of the college's Students Union followed by celebrations and in-campus fight between the rival candidates.

Sethu has a staple diet of yes-sir friends surrounding him. He comes across a timid girl, Abitha, who is the daughter of a poor temple priest, and starts to woo her. When she initially rejects him, he kidnaps her and forces her to fall in love with him.

When the girl falls in love with him, Sethu is attacked by brothel goons and ends up in a temple ashram with brain damage With no memory of his past and having developed an unusual behaviour, he starts to recollect memories. At one point, he is completely back to his normal self and tries to escape by climbing over the gates. Unfortunately, he fails and ends up with serious injuries.

Whilst sleeping with his injury, Abitha makes a surprise visit. However Sethu is asleep and she leaves with this woeful memory of him. As she is about to leave the institution, he wakes up and realises that she had come to see him. As he calls out, she leaves unable to hear him.

Persistent to meet her he makes another attempt to leave the institution and this time he is successful. When he arrives at her house he is presented with his love unfortunately dead. He realises that she had committed suicide.

Distraught after what he saw, he just walks out and at that point he is met with the mental institution wardens who came chasing after him. The film ends with Sethu leaving with them as he has nothing to live for after his true love's death.



Bala, an erstwhile assistant of Balu Mahendra wrote the script of the film, then titled Akhil, in the mid 1990s and offered the film's lead role to his housemate Vignesh who refused the film. The film was 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 the rogue, Sethu (Chiyaan), in the film of the same name. 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 nails for the role.[2][7] Furthermore, Bala did not want Vikram to accept any other offers during this period in order to maintain the continuity of his looks, and asked him to cease working as dubbing artiste. 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 had to go and plead the producer to return, with filming resuming in January 1998. After further slow progress, the film was finally ready 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 revealed that he gave the asylum scenes a predominantly green tone for the intense psychological impact.[9]

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 the tragic climax.[10] During the period, Bala and Vikram used Vikram's wife Shailaja's money to organise press previews and despite garnering good reviews, no one was interested in purchasing the film and it remained finished but unreleased. Vikram has since 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 released was released on 10 December 1999,[11] and initially began running at a single noon show at a suburban theatre but gradually built up audiences through word-of-mouth publicity and ran over a 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 reviewer Easwaran Haricharan of Indolink stating that "Vikram is a revelation" and that "he is very natural and his acting in last few scenes are just too good and could even be compared with the best we have seen".[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 described the film would have been close to him regardless of the commercial success and that it put him on the "right path", with Vikram choosing to adapt 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 who was struggling for breakthrough and the success of the film made Bala as one of the most sought directors in the industry. The film continued the trend of films with different themes that focused on realism and nativity. K. Jeshi of The Hindu placed the film in the category of films that propagate social issues along with other films 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 acts as a Tamil teacher would lie in the same position similar to Vikram and the song "Enge Sellum Indha Paadhai" would play 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 to a person (who asked for hairstyle of Kuruthipunal Kamal) that one of his customers is lying in a position similar to Vikram's from Sethu.[18]


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

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, SN. Surendar05:04
5."Saranam Bhava"   Sujatha01:59
6."Sethuvukku Sethuvukku"  Mu MethaArun Mozhi, SN. Surendar02:27
7."Sikaadha Sitrondru"  Palani BharathiUnni Krishnan, Arun Mozhi05:12
8."Vaarthai Thavari Vittai"  IlaiyaraajaIlaiyaraaja03:01
9."Vidiya Vidiya"  Mu MethaUnni Krishnan00:47
Total length:34:03


  1. 1 2 Krishna, Sandhya (1997). "Kodambakkam Babies". Indolink. Retrieved 1997-12-12. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. 1 2 3 Warrier, Shobha (17 August 2004). "Vikram's obsession gets its reward". Rediff. Retrieved 2011-07-31.
  3. 1 2 Rangan, Baradwaj (1 December 2013). "Man of Steel". The Caravan Magazine. Retrieved 2014-04-08.
  4. "Intl. Water Day � Thaneer Thaneer". Retrieved 2011-08-26. replacement character in |title= at position 17 (help)
  7. 1 2 3 "`I am a director's actor'". Frontline (The Hindu). 19 September 2004. Retrieved 2011-07-31.
  10. Kamath, Sudhish (2 January 2003). "Making films for the real world". The Hindu. Retrieved 2011-07-31.
  12. Hariharan, Easwaran (December 1999). "Sethu". Retrieved 2011-07-31.
  13. Vijayan, K. N. (12 February 2000). "Laughs and tears galore in 'Sethu'". New Straits Times. Retrieved 2011-07-31.
  14. Rajitha (21 July 2000). "Ajit backs off Nanda". Retrieved 2011-07-31.
  16. Allithandha Vaanam DVD
  17. Style DVD
  18. Ragasiyamai DVD
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