It seems like this year raced past us, but there were a few people, events and moments in Tamil Cinema that made us stop, stare, admire and remember. It’s these moments that have made 2016 an extremely memorable year. Between Oscar entries, success streaks, onstage tears and offstage fears, I try to summarize the Good, the Bad and the Lovely of 2016.
Two big stars, ‘Ilayathalapathy’ Vijay and ‘Superstar’ Rajinikanth, surprisingly ditched established filmmakers to team up with relative newcomers. While Vijay and Atlee (of Raja Rani fame) repackaged the star’s image in a glossy, highly stylized commercial potboiler, director Pa. Ranjith (Attakathi, Madras) dismantled everything a Rajini fan would associate with the star by portraying him as an ageing don in Kabali. The film opened to mixed reviews owing to its unconventional treatment, but that didn’t stop the audience from enjoying multiple viewings over time.
Both Udhayanidhi Stalin and Dhanush turned the tide around within a few months of their failures Gethu and Thodari, respectively. Udhayanidhi’s decision to do Manithan, the Tamil remake of sleeper hit Jolly LLB, reaffirmed his place in the industry. While Thodari was a trainwreck (no pun intended), R.S.Durai Senthilkumar’s political drama Kodi saw Dhanush rise like a phoenix and how!
He plays a double role in this story about twin brothers embroiled in Dravidian politics. Up next he has exciting collaborations with filmmakers like Gautham Menon and Vetri Maaran, and of course, his own debut directorial feature, Power Paandi.
Strokes of Feminism, Shades of Hope
We had not one, not two, but THREE films that made important statements about the place of women in our society, and to their credit, none of them were preachy in tone. The first two films, Nelson’s Oru Naal Koothu and Karthik Subbaraj’s Iraivi are like sister pieces – both talk about the hypocrisy that exists in the misogynistic Indian society.
The third little gem is one that not many got to experience owing to its limited release: Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s Ammani. It’s a small film about a single mother and her family in the slums of North Madras. It’s one of those films which make you feel guilty for not forcing enough of your friends to go and watch it.
It seems there’s been a collective epiphany of sorts within the industry. Jayam Ravi fought a city of zombies in Shakti Soundar Rajan’s Miruthan, Karthi exorcised fake spirits in Gokul’s black magic comedy thriller Kashmora and his elder brother Suriya took it a step further with a triple role in a time-traveling escapist adventure drama, Vikram Kumar’s 24. The audience was more than happy to samples these experiments, and all three emerged winners at the box office.
Five years ago, he was a nobody. Today he’s well on his way to superstardom. Sivakarthikeyan has been an anchor on Tamil television, a sidekick comedian to an extremely bankable leading man, and this year he was the star of two successful films – Rajini Murugan and Remo. In Remo, we saw Sivakarthikeyan transform into a female nurse. A few called out the film for being too sexist and promoting stalking, but that didn’t stop kids and families from thronging the theaters.
Change Isn’t Always a Good Thing
Okay, so Vikram’s dedication to his work is now legendary. With every role, he physically transforms himself to the point of being unrecognizable and that’s awesome. Be it the schizophrenic lawyer in Anniyan or the antisocial undertaker in Pithamagan, he’s aced every role until he decided to choose films on the basis of the character’s physical appearance.
This year, Vikram played two characters in Anand Shankar’s Iru Mugan – an intelligence officer and a cross-dressing criminal kingpin which came off as a sad imitation of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. Hopefully, we’ll soon get to see him as a regular, guy-next-door for a change.
The Horror of Horror-Comedies
The industry tends to live by the belief that when something works, it always will. And so after Yaamirukka Bayamey (2014) and Darling (2015), the idea of mixing horror with comedy spilled onto this year as well. Darling 2, Hello Naan Pei Pesuren, Aranmanai 2, Jithan 2, Dhillukku Dhuddu and Jackson Durai only added to the list of banal products in this genre that are neither scary nor funny.
All About the Mani
It’s hard to believe that the man who made Kaaka Muttai was once a wedding photographer with no connections to the industry. But each of the three films Manikandan has made in the last two years, speak volumes about the mind of this man.
His second film Kuttrame Thandanai was about a man with tunnel vision who gets entangled in a murder mystery. With a Hitchcockian undertone devoid of humour or songs, it redefined the meaning of the word ‘entertainment’, at least for me. Releasing just three weeks later was Aandavan Kattalai – a simple, hilarious account of a youngster who dreams of leaving the country for a better life. This was easily Vijay Sethupathi’s best film this year, and my favourite.
A new fighter enters the ring
If you ever see a North Indian in a Tamil film, it’s either the rich, cruel villain who gets killed at the end, or the blonde bombshell who makes a fleeting appearance in a dream sequence with the leading man. But Ritika Singh’s debut was different. She rolled around in dirt, did single-arm push-ups, and beat up men. She was unbelievable as ‘Madhi’ in Sudha Kongara’s Irudhi Suttru (Saala Khadoos in Hindi), a story about an ex-boxer (Madhavan’s career-best role) who mentors an unruly fisherwoman into becoming an international-level boxer. Singh redefined what a Tamil film heroine can do, and she didn’t stop there.
Next we saw her as a tough journalist called ‘Kaarmeghakuzhali’ in Manikandan’s Aandavan Kattalai. Watch her shine in the scene where she sits on her scooter and the camera closes up on her face, revealing the million emotions she’s going through, without actually saying a word.
On May 27, 2016, with limited screens and further limited hype, a nobody called Vijaykumar brought Uriyadi to the world. Because of its violent content and political undertone, this story about a group of youngsters embroiled in caste-driven politics didn’t find investors. This was until Vijaykumar decided to produce, direct and act in it himself.
Within the first weekend of its release, the brilliance of this small film sparked a fire on social media, driving youngsters to the half-empty theatres. On Day 4, the number of shows for Uriyadi tripled. Though the film still doesn’t qualify as a commercial success, it’s safe to say that Vijaykumar is no longer just a ‘nobody’.
A New Hope
He’s made only three films in nine years, and he’s already being touted as Tamil Cinema’s next legend. Vetri Maaran, a former assistant of the late Balu Mahendra, received critical and commercial success in his first two films (Polladhavan, Aadukalam) starring long-time friend and collaborator Dhanush. When his third and most ambitious film with Dhanush kept getting delayed, Vetri Maaran stumbled upon an obscure Tamil novel called ‘Lock Up’ by an auto rickshaw driver called Chandran.
Visaaranai is a piercing social commentary on police brutality, and the failure of the system. Armed with a powerful screenplay and realistic performances, Visaaranai won acclaim at several film festivals and became India’s official entry to the Academy Awards.