AVFF Day 3

In the villages of northern Tamil Nadu, kids secretly sneak out of home – but it is not for smoking or mischief. They go to watch and perform in Therukkoothu, a traditional performance art of south India involving theatre, song and dance, and centring on the land’s ancient gods and mythology.

In the documentary film Thirai Virutham, Sugumar shares his lifelong interest in this art form, first sparked by his performer grandfather. From childhood, he is fascinated with Therukkoothu’s instruments and stock characters such as the Buffoon, Kattiakkaran and the Mahabharata’s emperor Duryodhana. Always having wanted to learn the art, he finally gets his chance at the age of 20 upon encountering a street theatre troupe. They teach him how to play the instruments, sing background vocals and finally to act. But family insist on a sensible trade, limiting his practice time to evenings as he finishes a Bachelor of Commerce.

Even so, it is fate that Sugumar’s heart is not in his new profession. Fortunately, nearby Pondicherry University offers a program in drama, and he takes the chance to pursue this passion, opening up a whole new world of costume design, new musical instruments and literature, highly trained teachers from different parts of Tamil Nadu and much more. His journey leads him to Auroville, where he contacts and gets involved in the Auroville theatre group – which soon feels like a new family.

But his extensive study of acting methods from around the world always leads our protagonist back to his childhood passion, helping him to contextualize and understand his own cultural background and acting gifts.

The Auroville Film Festival is unique in presenting stories from Auroville’s bioregion, the extensive coastal and rural area surrounding the township. Sugumar’s film will stay with me as an introduction to a world wholly unfamiliar yet very close, fostering cultural exchange and understanding.