There are three main categories of people when it comes to watching films. People belonging to the first category are those who are very much engrossed with the characters and the storyline that they completely forget the backdrop. There is the next category of people who have an artistic inclination and a design mind which makes them look for those design elements while paying attention to the story and the characters. Architects and designers usually fall in this category due to the nature of their training. And there is another category too who are a blend of the first two categories. They are so engrossed with the background that the characters and the plot become secondary to them. This account belongs to the third category.

Read on to know more…

An Indian Tamil family drama film named Pirivom Santhippom (We’ll separate, we’ll reunite) was released in 2008. It is about how the life of a newly married couple changes when they shift from a joint family set up near Karaikudi, a south Indian city in Tamilnadu, to a property in a lonely hill station. But why this film?

Because it truly gives us an insight into Chettinad culture and architecture. Let us look into some snapshots from the film to study the background.

An architectural review of Movie Pirivom Santhippom - Sheet1
Scene from the movie Pirivom Santhippom_©www.youtube.comwatchv=9xvEbIOIfBA

What we see here in this shot is the large joint family depicted in the film. The introduction of the male lead’s joint family happens interestingly. According to the scene, the male lead is supposed to call and inform every member of the family to get ready to visit the temple. The camera follows him as he starts from the most external part of the household to the most interior part of the household along an axis. We see frantic activity happening everywhere which is beautifully portrayed. It truly gives us an insight into the various spaces and the characters of the film.

Shot 1:

An architectural review of Movie Pirivom Santhippom - Sheet2
The mansions are on a raised plinth_©www.youtube.comwatchv=9xvEbIOIfBA

The first thing that captures our eyes is about the high camera angle. It not only shows the magnificence but also captures the otherwise impossible way of capturing the entirety of the family. We are introduced to every member of the family without getting blocked out. The mansions are on a raised platform, as seen in the picture. The change from a village house into a grand mansion was something that happened from 1850- to 1900. 

Shot 2:

An architectural review of Movie Pirivom Santhippom - Sheet3
The first courtyard_©www.behindwoods.com/image-gallery-stills/photos-2/pirivom-sathippom/pirivom-santhipom-16

 What happens in this scene is, one of the male lead’s aunts, the lady in a pink saree, visits his family before his engagement. She asks her daughters to keep their luggage in irandaam kattu. It is one of the zones in the Chettinad mansion exclusively reserved for the women and the children of the family. It comprises several components and is a private portion of the house. 

This entire scene happens in the first courtyard of the house. She looks formidable initially, being extremely critical of the new alliance for the male lead. Anybody watching the movie for the first time would get the impression that this scene would be a serious one. But within a couple of moments, when we anticipate the scene to reach a crescendo, the entire atmosphere becomes light as we come to know that she was just pulling his legs. Not just this one, there are a variety of scenes that shed light on the plethora of emotions of the characters and the buzzing activity of the household. All of this takes place in the courtyard. What we infer from it is that the courtyard is not just a zone or a space in the household, it is the witness of everything from love, sentiment, and warmth.

Shot 3:

An architectural review of Movie Pirivom Santhippom - Sheet4
The moonram kattu is the innermost zone where only women and servants have access to_© www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xvEbIOIfBA&t=637s

A light-hearted background tune takes us through this courtyard of light and shadow. The shot above tells us a significant message about the configuration of spaces. Did you notice that there are no male members of the family here? The moonram kattu is the innermost zone of the Chettinad mansion, where only women and servants have access. This is beautifully displayed by the conversation the ladies have in this zone. All three have varied opinions on a specific subject. As we move into the spaces, the subject topic becomes specific and is no longer a generic one. This space is used for making food, storing rice, utensils, and other grains for the entire year in large ceramic jars and barrels of clay or wood. 

Shot 4:

An architectural review of Movie Pirivom Santhippom - Sheet5
Black and white marble square tiles imported from Carara_©www.youtube.comwatchv=0IPMfMBW9dI

There is a particular song in the film where the couple is lost in thoughts about their marriage. There is an interesting concept followed in this particular number, though there are portions that deviate from it also, that can be explained only through an example. In one of the scenes, the female lead is seen sitting on the front porch of her house, which is not a traditional Chettinad construction, ruminating about her new life after the marriage. The next immediate scene follows the same concept where we see the male lead sitting in the inner thinnai, a place not for first-time visitors but the family members, and deeply contemplating their marriage. (Notice the image) This concept continues till the end of the song. 

Let me make an uncanny link between the visuals, music, and the aforementioned concept. The song is based on the raga Vasanta, a raga that is preferred for singing in the evenings. This is a Vakra raga, a term familiar with Carnatic musicians, which means the scale assumes a zig-zag form. Now, notice the flooring of the house in this shot. Black and white marble square tiles were imported from Carara in Italy. They were laid in a diagonal configuration and were mostly preferred for flooring in the front halls and the most luxurious thinnais.   Get the connection? The playful switching of the scenes and the zigzag twist, both artistically and musically are veritably a treat for the aesthete!     

Shot 5:

Terracotta tiles are used for roofing_©www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IPMfMBW9dI

This scene also belongs to the song previously mentioned. Notice the usage of Terracotta tiles for the roofing. It is interesting to note that, from an aesthete’s point of view, the background accentuates the feel or the emotions of the characters. The natural and intrinsic warmth of the material veritably augments the spirit of the couple. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the predominance of the use of terracotta roofing in the background of this shot grants the characters in the foreground the spotlight. The sloping roofs of these dwellings may always not be visible from the street level. Initially, semicircular interlocking country tiles were used in early houses. Later, they were replaced by flat Mangalore tiles with ridges.

Conclusion

The specialty of the movie truly lies in its traditional nature. The first half of the movie completely revolves around the magnificent Chettinad mansions and the culture. Anybody who watches this movie would be drawn to learning about the unique aspects of the culture. The warmth, the colors, and the plethora of textures in the movie make our experience delightful and satisfying. Last but not the least, the Carnatic style of music accentuates the traditional hues of the film thus creating an infallible composition.     

References:

  1. Wikipedia. (2022). Pirivom Santhippom. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirivom_Santhippom [Accessed 24 Mar. 2022].
  2. ‌www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Pirivom santhippom HD… [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSa-UxNc1ZY&t=4366s [Accessed 24 Mar. 2022].
  3. Bharath Ramamrutham, Michell, G., Korner, A. and Auzoux, E. (2015). Mansions of Chettinad = Manoirs du Chettinad. Karaikudi: Meenakshi Meyyappan And Graf Media.
  4. www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Pirivom Santhipom. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xvEbIOIfBA [Accessed 25 Mar. 2022].
  5. www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Kandaen Kandaen – HD Video Song | கண்டேன் கண்டேன் | Pirivom Santhippom | Cheran | Sneha | Vidyasagar. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IPMfMBW9dI [Accessed 25 Mar. 2022].
  6. www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Raga Signature Revisited – Vasantha. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XS6VBGOL17M [Accessed 2 Apr. 2022].
  7. ‌ Mani, C. (2016). A Raga’s Journey — Hopeful, festive, vibrant Vasantha. The Hindu. [online] 13 Jul. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music//article59823562.ece [Accessed 2 Apr. 2022].
Author

Meera Venkatesh, an architectural writer, finds it intriguing to recreate the same experience of space through words. Her love for architectural history has led her to pursue a Master's in History. Someone utters "Indian Heritage"; you may find Meera there! Now, what's her new interest? Writing for RTF!

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