"Before Jigarthanda (2014), there was a notion that films about filmmaking don't do well in Tamil cinema," said SJ Suryah in our recent interview, while promoting the film's sequel, Jigarthanda DoubleX, which is set to hit the screens on November 10. Backing SJ Suryah's words, filmmaker Karthik Subbaraj corroborated, "Yes, many producers rejected the script of Jigarthanda stating the same reason." In retrospect, what they said might be right because there aren't many films about filmmaking that come to mind instantly. But Jigarthanda seems to have proven this notion wrong — for its sequel being made on a much bigger scale compared to the original is a positive sign. Different industries in the South have explored filmmaking in some of their films through different genres, ranging from crime (Jigarthanda) to comedy (Malayalam's Udayananu Tharam). Ahead of the release of Jigarthanda DoubleX, let's take a look at such films.
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
In 2014, Jigarthanda came across as a complete surprise. It was promoted as a 'musical gangster' film, but past the halfway mark, it totally transformed into a comedy centered on the making of a film. It was a sweet surprise for the audience, although it wasn't one for Assault Sethu (Bobby Simha), who saw himself being reduced to a laughing stock on the big screen at the end of the film. In this deliciously meta film, Karthik (Siddarth) visits Madurai to make a bloody violent action film based on the life of a real gangster and starts following the deadly Assault Sethu. In a turn of events, Karthik is held at gunpoint to make Assault Sethu's biopic. What follows is a mad adventure that sees the world of crime and filmmaking come together and culminate in a beautiful ending that speaks about the power of art and its impact on lives.
Streaming on: ZEE5
Hands down, this Kamal Haasan-starrer is the most poignant homage any actor can ever ask for. In this Ramesh Aravind directorial, Kamal Haasan essays a mass Tamil star who learns that he doesn't have much time left after being diagnosed with a terminal disease. Uttama Villain feels oddly personal for Kamal Haasan and in some scenes, the thin line between the real and reel gets blurred, and all we see is an artist making peace with his life, trying to redeem himself by giving one final performance that'll immortalise him through the medium. The ending of Uttama Villain, which says that the art will outlive the artist, while also ensuring that it'll preserve the legacy of the artist, is a dream for any actor, and Kamal Haasan made it possible for himself in this incredible meta-film.
Streaming on: YouTube
When it comes to meta films, no one does it better in Kannada than Upendra. Irreverent, unfiltered, and completely transparent, A saw Upendra's debut as a leading man. He played the role of Surya, an irreverent director who stops at nothing for his transparent films. Sounds familiar?
The opening stretch of A begins with a film within a film that sees an anti-establishment "madman" who wields a gun and questions God if he is selfish and if that's why he provides problems to the general public. What follows is an exploration of the making of a film, the dark side of the industry, and the impossible distinction between art and life for an artist.
Streaming on: YouTube
The new Millenium brought in a host of fresh filmmakers who were tired of the usual tropes but had to use them to position their films in the mainstream. Guruprasad used his trademark dialogues and double entendres to make a meta film that has a dense screenplay and started Jaggesh at his peak.
Mata follows the story of a monastery whose management is trying to find a new leader. It starts off as a documentary on the monastery. But the narrative shifts to that of a taxi driver who narrates the stories of the monastery to a traveling nun. Taking inspiration from the Mahabharata, the narrative is also infused with sub-stories that are unrelated to the main plot but have a moral to say. The film also has many fourth wall breaks, including in the opening credits when director Guruprasad makes a cameo as a director who is filming the scene that the audience is currently watching.
Streaming on: ManoramaMAX
A Malayalam film made much before the advent of the word ‘meta’ in our social media feeds, this story dealt with the quirky conceit of an aspiring filmmaker forced to make his debut film with his long estranged ex roommate, who stole his first screenplay. The film is loaded with slight nods to the shady and banal fissures of the industry, packed with the punch of writer and actor Sreenivasan’s well considered mastery to elicit sarcasm and self reflexive humour from dramatically challenging material.
Udayananu Tharam starring Mohanlal in the lead role, also took potshots at the failed branding exercises and business ventures of its leading man in real life, a rarity considering the superstar wasn't too bothered by this. Such was the film’s commitment to its meta-ness!
The film made by the then debutant director Rosshan Andrrews, addressed many of the front facing issues plaguing the industry at the time like the lackluster writing for female actors, superstar ego, sub-par releases, and the downside of craving artistic greatness in a mainstream framework. The character ‘ Superstar Saroj Kumar’, who is the film’s surrogate for the vainglorious superstar figure was a call to arms, cinematically speaking, against a culture that holds its stars over and above the final product, which is cinema itself.
Streaming on: SunNXT
Venturing more into the spoof category, this meta meditation on the genre defying cliches of commercial Malayalam cinema is a treat for anyone who has been indoctrinated to the beats of this sub culture of films. The film starring Kunchacko Boban and Rima Kallingal, also has Sreenivasan, taking care of the meta textual commentary on Malayalam cinema in general and deconstructing the myth of certain stereotypes and tropes that are beyond regurgitation at this point. The film, like Anderson films, is framed from a story from another media: in this case a scene in the film Azhagiya Ravanan (1996), with the same character from the film used as the narrator here.
This framing device allows the makers to merge the two storylines. There has never been a more eclectic and pointed callback to the many cliches and cinematic tropes that come back to haunt our enjoyment of films, over the years. The film neatly unpacks the over-reliance on certain aspects of storytelling that has rendered some of our films stale and devoid of life. But all this is rendered with a glee and childlike irreverence.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video, YouTube
Puri Jagannadh's Neninthe is a scathing look at the film industry told through the lens of a focused and confident assistant director Ravi (Ravi Teja) who wants to step up and get his first film made. Neninthe portrays a comprehensive picture of the operation of the film industry, covering numerous aspects like the desperation of aspiring filmmakers (the Venu Madhav track is hilarious), the stagnancy of established filmmakers (Brahmandam's Idly Viswanath is an iconic character), and the precarious position of film producers. It also makes strong comments on the taste of the audience, the impact of reviews, and the voyeuristic coverage of actors in media. It's the story of Ravi fighting against all odds to make his first one; this also involves a conventional villain, a gangster-turned-producer who tries to steal Ravi's directorial credit. The beauty of Neninthe is that the film doesn't chronicle the success of Ravi's first film. It ends with Ravi saying that he'll stay in the film industry and continue making more films, regardless of his first film's fate, because all he knows is, "Cinema, cinema, and cinema."
Streaming on: YouTube
This film by Ram Gopal Varma, a filmmaker who has possibly experienced every nook and corner of the industry, is an incredible satire on the film industry. It starts with Appalraju (Sunil) coming to Hyderabad to make a unique film named Nayaki and as he inches closer to realising his dream, his vision starts to get tainted gradually with the involvement of numerous people — from the producers to actors to even the music director. Although the film operates on a hyper-cartoonish level, simplifying the challenges, it is still brilliant satire that gets most things right about the functioning of the film industry
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
R Parthiban's Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Iyakkam was promoted as 'A film with no story'. The film, however, does have a story. It's just that it doesn't try to fit it into a conventional narrative structure. It follows a group of people trying to get their first feature film off the ground. Parallely, we keep seeing the filmmaker Parthiban, who doubles up as the film's narrator, often breaking the fourth wall, reminding us that we are seeing a film, and even changing the course of events through his actions in the story. The film has a very strange vibe, due to its structure, but it still manages to capture the struggle of filmmaking aspirants, while also serving as a commentary on the state of cinema, the trends, and the audiences' behavioral patterns.
Streaming on: SunNXT
Celluloid is like an academic exercise as well as a meta document addressing today’s concerns. Starring Prithviraj Sukumaran in the lead and directed by veteran filmmaker Kamal, it dealt with a dark chapter forgotten in the archives of Indian film history — about the making of the very first silent Malayalam feature film. This period piece retraced the events that preceded and bookended the making of the first film ever made in Kerala by the now reclaimed ‘ Father of Malayalam Cinema ; J C Daniel’.
The drama tightly reconstructs the crew's day-to-day problems, as they embark on a challenging journey to shoot the very first film made in the region. No one knows anything, and everyone’s learning on the go, adapting themselves to the best of their abilities. The film dealt with the insensitive, casteist treatment meted out on the heroine of the film (who hailed from a lowered caste), P K Rosy, still referred to as ‘Malayalam cinema’s very First Female lead’. Celluloid used the canvas of a lesser known tragedy in cultural history to reflect on the metaness of the events being portrayed in the way caste, color and other social factors have come to create barriers in our consumption of art in the present day.
With inputs from Nishanth A and Arjun Menon.