10 Kollywood Heist Films to Rewatch Before Thunivu

From Thiruda Thiruda’s comic caper to Aaranya Kaandam’s neo-noir, the heist film has seen many interesting forms in Tamil cinema
10 Kollywood Heist Films to Rewatch Before Thunivu

If its trailer is anything to go by, Thunivu is going to be a bank heist film featuring Ajith in a negative avatar after a long time. As we gear up for its release, here are 10 of the most intriguing heist films from Tamil cinema that you can watch as a filmic warm-up exercise.

Mankatha (2011)

Streaming on: Sun NXT

The trailer of Thunivu reminded audiences about this iconic Venkat Prabhu directorial. Mankatha is one of the most celebrated films in the star's career, and is considered to be one of the best heist thrillers in Tamil cinema. The film is about a corrupt suspended police inspector Vinayak Mahadevan (Ajith), who promises to help a group of youngsters loot Rs 500 crores that belongs to a gangster.

The film was a trendsetter in Tamil cinema, as it subverted the idea of a mainstream film protagonist who is usually bereft of any moral ambiguity. The film has a racy screenplay that keeps the plot coherent, while constantly throwing twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. Ajith completely embodies Mahadevan, leaving no stone unturned to embrace his darker side. Audiences lapped up the negative avatar of the actor, making the film one of the biggest commercial successes of Tamil cinema upon its release. 

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Sathuranga Vettai (2014)

Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar

Sathuranga Vettai, the directorial debut of H Vinoth, is a unique heist movie that delves into the intrinsic human nature of the conmen and the conned. The film details the escapades of conman Gandhi Babu (Natarajan Subramaniam), who pulls off several high-profile scams. What happens after he gets arrested by the police, and ambushed by his victims forms the movie's plot. The film is a perfect example of how to weave societal concerns in an entertaining format without getting preachy. It is a testament to director Vinoth's skills that we do not root for Gandhi Babu's character but also do not feel sorry for the conned. The film effortlessly balances elements of tension and comedy, using satire as a tool to provoke the audience's minds. 

Thiruda Thiruda (1993)

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video and Voot 

Sandwiched between Roja and Bombay, Thiruda Thiruda, released in 1993, was an outlier in his filmography, giving us a comedic take on the Tamil caper film. The film revolves around two thirudas, Kathir (Anand) and Azhagu (Prashanth), who engage in small-time thievery. Their lives soon cross paths with a money trail left by an internationally motivated con job executed in India. They save Rasathi (Heera), a young woman from suicide, and soon the trio is constantly on the move for one reason or another. The trio is then joined by Chandrelekha (Annu Agarwal), a pop star who has a rich connection to the stolen money trail. 

The comedy caper is known for its irreverent style of filmmaking and composer AR Rahman's soundtrack. The movie also had brilliantly choreographed action set pieces, with its introductory train heist sequence considered to be one of the best action sequences shot in Tamil cinema at the time. Thiruda Thiruda is Mani Ratnam at his unfettered best, with the director's only objective being to serve no-holds-barred entertainment.

Pizza (2012)

Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar 

Debutante Karthik Subbaraj’s Pizza is a classic case study of expert misdirection, a heist film masquerading as a supernatural horror thriller. The film is a delicious balancing act that combines the tropes of the heist and horror film seamlessly. The film follows the story of Michael (Vijay Sethupathi in his breakthrough role), a pizza delivery boy who lives with Anu (Ramya Nambeeshan), an aspiring horror novelist. One day, while delivering pizzas, he goes to a haunted bungalow and encounters horrific supernatural activities that change his life completely.

The movie is lightning in a bottle: a display of Vijay Sethupathi’s effortless acting skills coupled with Karthik Subaraj’s direction that constantly keeps the viewer guessing. The film is one of the few instances in Tamil cinema where a filmmaker executes the perfect ‘con’ on the audience that is left shocked by its final twist. 

Nanayam (2010)

Streaming on: Sun NXT

Shakthi Soundarajan’s heist thriller deserves a place on this list purely for its attempt at being a true-blue heist genre film. The film follows the story of Ravi (Prasanna), a bank employee who is blackmailed by criminal Fareed (Sibiraj) to rob his employer Vishwanath’s (SP Balasubrahmanyam’s) bank. While the premise is interesting, the film never reaches its true potential. It is bogged down by the ludicrous nature of some of its twists, and the lack of originality in the film's content. 

Aaranya Kaandam (2012)

Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar

If there was ever an award for the best debut made by a director in Tamil cinema, Thiagarajan Kumararaja's neo-noir Aaranya Kaandam would be a frontrunner to win. Largely unnoticed upon its release, the film has gained a cult status by many who consider it one of the greatest Tamil films ever made. 

The film follows the story of Singaperumal (Jackie Shroff), an aging don who is slowly fading away to insignificance. He tries to outwit his arch nemesis Gajendran with an ingenious plan while scheming to do away with his underling Pasupathy (Sampath). His mistress Subbu (Yasmin Ponappa), tired of the abuse dealt by Singuperamal, decides to run away with his right-hand man Sappai (Ravi Krishna). The series of unpredictable, wild events that follow over the course of the next 24 hours form the film's narrative. 

Much like the director's later venture Super Deluxe, the film showcases Kumararaja's careful and deliberate plotting, interconnected storylines, and a no-holds-barred approach with regard to the film's dark nature. 

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Rajathandiram (2015)

Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar

Much like Sathuranga Vettai, released a year before it, Rajathandiram is a true-blue heist film. The film follows the story of three small-time conmen, Arjun (Veera), Austin (Darbuka Siva), and Deva (Ajai Prasanth), who take up the offer to rob one of the biggest jewellery stores in the city.  

Much of the film's primary tension comes from the subversion of the genre's tropes. The suspense comes from not knowing whether the trio can execute their plans, as the police and the jewellery shop owner Kanchi Azghappan (Pattiyal K. Shekhar), become aware of the group's plan. The cinematography by Kathir, the sleek editing of the film by Praveen, and the music by Sandeep Chowda complement each other and lend authenticity to the film, ensuring it evokes the look and feel of a heist thriller. 

Gentleman (1993)

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video 

Veteran director Shankar's first outing is arguably one of the best heist films made in Tamil cinema. Adapting a Robin Hood-esque sensibility in the Indian context, Shankar establishes the motif of having a social message weaved into a big, commercial film format. Like a few other films on the list, Gentleman suffers from having an angle of moral justification to validate the questionable actions of its protagonist. 

However, as far as entertainment value goes, this is one of the director's best works. Unlike his later films, where spectacle often comes in the way of the film's content, Gentleman is a perfect marriage of social issues and larger-than-life entertainment. 

Soodhu Kavvum (2013)

Streaming on: Zee 5, Hungama Play and MX Player 

Debutante Nalan Kumaraswamy's film Soodhu Kavvum is perhaps the quirkiest and funniest entry on the list. The film follows the escapades of a group of friends, Kesavan (Ashok Selvan), Pagalavan (Bobby Simha), and Sekhar (Ramesh Thilak), led by Das (Vijay Sethupathi), a middle-aged kidnapper. The gang kidnaps a politician's son Arumai (Karunakaran), who has been planning his own kidnapping to extort money from his father. The series of chaotic events that follow when Inspector Bhramma (Yog Japee) is brought to handle the case form the film's crux. 

Vijay Sethupathi stands out with his portrayal of a middle-aged kidnapper in this film, a role that arguably cemented his position as a versatile actor in Kollywood. Unlike other films on the list, the fun in watching Soodha Kavvum is not in its tackling of social concerns, but the way it mines situational comedy in the most unexpected ways.

Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal (2020)

Streaming on: Netflix

Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaalinspired by Thiruda Thiruda's song, is the breeziest entry on the list. The romantic thriller follows two fraudsters, Siddharth (Dulquer Salmaan) and Kallis (Rakshan), who decide to give up their fraudulent business for the women they love, Meera (Ritu Varma), and Thenmozhi (Niranjani Ahathian). However, when the true intentions of their romantic interests are revealed, chaos ensues forming the rest of the plot.

While the film can get predictable at times, the way its details are fleshed out constantly keeps you guessing, making the film enjoyable. It also helps that the lead pair’s romance brims with sincerity.

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