Published: 28th July 2021
Did you know that there's only one man alive who plays an ancient Tamil instrument called the kinnaram? This student's docu is the perfect tribute
Manikandan AKA Sound Mani created a 16-minute-long documentary called Kinnaram, about Arunachalam, who is the last person to play the eponymous ancient instrument
It seldom happens that ancient art forms stand the test of time. It is especially so if the form in question happens to be a musical instrument. Such is the case with the kinnaram, which is an ancient instrument that finds mention in Sangam Literature. And in this day and age, it isn't hard to believe that there's just one person in the country who plays the instrument. At 63, Arunachalam ayya is the last kinnaram player of Tamil Nadu and his wonderful tale of dedication has been captured in a documentary called Kinnaram by 21-year-old sound engineering student Manikandan AKA Sound Mani.
In the 16-minute-long documentary film, Mani introduces the instrument and explains how Tamil Nadu is the only place where it is found. Narrating his experiences from shooting the film, Mani says, "I had to travel for long hours to reach his place. It was very hard to track him down as people aren't really aware where he goes and when." In the film, Mani showcases Arunachalam's small hut and how despite his difficult livelihood, he has continued to play the instrument and earn a meagre amount for his survival.
Armed with a camera borrowed from one Hari, a junior in college and a OnePlus phone that he used for sound, Mani made the documentary in just two hours. "Hari also handled the camera during the shoot," informs Mani. To shoot the film, Mani travelled from his hometown in Erode to Kunnathur in Tirupur district, where Arunachalam resides. The documentary is available on his YouTube channel. Besides this, he also shot another longer video of Arunachalam playing a song about Kovalan and Kannagi, characters from Silappathikaram, one of the earliest Tamil epics.
Arunachalam poses with the kinnaram in front of his small hut
But why is the MGR Government Film and Television Institute student so interested in the ancient instrument? "Music, especially the Parai, has been a companion since childhood. I have faced caste discrimination at multiple instances in life and music has acted as a healing and coping mechanism," says Mani, adding, "I thought that I could make a difference by saving an ancient art form like kinnaram." Mani has learned over 45 instruments and also knows over 25 traditional dance forms. He is currently trying to learn how to play the kinnaram so that he can continue the legacy of Arunachalam.
Mani accepts that he is a self-taught musician and his channel bears testament to that fact. "I don't have a background in filmmaking and making this documentary was a challenge. Initially, I just wanted to shoot a video about Arunachalam ayya for my channel but it turned out to be a documentary," says Mani. It is much like how he stumbled upon sound engineering. "I wanted to enroll in music at the institute but I got into the sound engineering course. I believe it was a happy accident as being a sound engineer really helped me while editing," concludes Mani.