One look at the upcoming projects of Kollywood’s reigning superstars — Vijay's Leo, Kamal Hassan's Indian 2, Rajnikanth's Jailer, and Ajith's next — and it’s clear that the commercial landscape of Tamil cinema is all set to be dominated by action. The genre satisfies the mass audience's collective need for catharsis while enabling them to witness their favourite actors transition into larger-than-life superheroes on screen. This genre has given Tamil cinema some of its most successful blockbusters over the years. As we eagerly await the release of Kollywood’s upcoming tentpole films, here are 15 action films that are currently available for streaming on Disney Plus Hotstar.
While the labyrinth hyperlink film Maanagram put Lokesh Kanagaraj on the map as a talent to watch out for, it was the director's sophomore effort Kaithi that cemented his position as one of the brightest minds in Tamil cinema. Kaithi is lightning in a bottle: a case study in careful, deliberate plot construction that explodes into a full-blown action bonanza. Set during one night, the thriller follows the story of Dilli (Karthi in his career-best), an ex-convict who plans to meet his daughter for the first time after leaving prison. However, fate has other plans for him, as he is forced to aid Inspector Bejoy (Narain) to save the lives of several police officers who are left poisoned and unconscious by a major gang whose contraband has been seized by the police department. Kaithi’s premise and its treatment make it the most suspenseful entry on this list. Watch it for its raw, hardcore stunt work and a sort of pulsating tension that continually builds to a crescendo.
Watching Vikram is like witnessing an exhilarating poker match. Lokesh Kanagaraj keeps his cards close to his chest, as the film appears to be an investigation procedural about an obsessive agent’s (Faahad Faasil) search for three masked murderers. The film patiently unfurls one detail after the other, transitioning into an innovatively staged action vehicle with several whistle-worthy and edge-of-the-seat moments. The big reveal: the elaborate interval fight sequence filmed with a mocobot camera where we finally get to see the identity of the masked man, acts as the perfect payoff for all the setup. Kamal, at the age of 67, performs like a man possessed — excelling at hand to hand combat, all the while packing a punch with powerful monologues. The film is a perfect showcase of Lokesh’s grand vision and successfully keeps the spirit of Kamal’s performance intact throughout its narrative.
While not quite fully reaching the heights of other acclaimed serial killer thrillers like Raatsasan (2018) and Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (2008), Kolaigaran is still an entertaining watch due to the presence of its two stellar leads: Arjun and Vijay Antony. The premise of a brilliant cop on a dogged investigation in pursuit of a man on a killing spree may seem generic; however, the acting elevates this surface-level material. The face-off scenes between Arjun and Vijay have a consistent undercurrent of tension and are undoubtedly the highlights of the film.
Trust Kamal Haasan to take what appears to be material for a generic spy action film and transform it into a philosophical exploration of terrorism, humanity, guilt and duty. Set in New York, the film follows Nirupama (Pooja Kumar), a nuclear oncologist who is suspicious of her husband Vishwanath’s (an effeminate Kathak dancer played by Kamal Haasan). She eventually learns of his past and true identity. The rest of the film follows their efforts to thwart a dangerous, apocalyptic plan set in motion by dreaded al-Qaeda terrorists (Rahul Bose and Jaideep Ahlawat). The film is supremely entertaining, and the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes do not impede the film's complex narrative. The transformation sequence where we witness Kamal transition from a helpless Kathak dancer to a brutal Terminator-like killer is a scene for the ages.
While the inconsistent execution and shoddy screenplay do a disservice to the ambition of Vivegam, the film partly redeems itself the due to the presence of a few wildly entertaining action sequences. In these action sequences, we witness glimpses of brilliance that make us wonder, how, with better writing, Vivegam could have been an Indian emulation of the Mission Impossible and Bond films. Consider the standout train fight tunnel sequence where we witness Ajith fighting against two skilled fighters armed with nunchucks amidst the constant flurry of high-speed trains. The stretch evokes the feel of a stylized Hong Kong martial arts picture, but it’s still peppered with enough “mass moments” to remind us that we are watching a commercial Tamil film.
Make no mistake, Pa Ranjith’s Kabali is a big commercial entertainer with all the ingredients in place: an elaborate hero introduction scene, Rajnikanth spouting whistle-worthy dialogues in his inimitable fashion, and a wild Santosh Narayan score that add to the movie’s core. However, for the most part, we witness a very subdued Rajnikanth as he essays Kabali, a gangster who stands up for the rights of Tamilians in Malaysia. Watching the actor in this avatar is interesting, even if the result isn’t entirely satisfactory. The film comes into its own whenever Rajni lets loose and goes berserk — an all-guns blazing climax on a rooftop of a skyscraper being the highlight.
Payanam marked a departure for director Radha Mohan as he transitioned from the romantic, coming-of-age dramas to a more serious territory. The result is a taut aeroplane hijack film with genuine stakes and solid drama. Even while the treatment feels dated, credit must be given to the film's team for attempting what remains to date, the only plane hijack film in Tamil cinema.
Yet another Kamal Haasan entry on the list, Thoongavanam is an adaptation of the French film Sleepless Nights. It follows the story of NCB Officer Diwakar (Kamal Haasan), whose son Vasu is held ransom by drug lord Vittal Rao (Prakash Raj). Set mostly over one night and in a nightclub, the film benefits from inventive stunt choreography, its highlight being the action sequence set in the club's kitchen.
Director AR Murugadoss's first collaboration with Vijay is an action thriller for the ages. Thuppaki is something of a rarity in the canon of big stars-led commercial cinema: a film that embraces all the tropes of the masala genre while respecting the intelligence of its audience. The tale of an army captain out on a mission to thwart a terrorist gang's plan and deactivate the sleeper cells under its command could have easily been reduced to a showcase of the physical strength of its hero, pitting him against several bad guys. Instead, we observe Vijay rely more on brain over brawn to outsmart his adversaries. The film is a perfect marriage of the director and actor's sensibilities and cemented Vijay's position as one of the biggest stars in Kollywood.
Remakes of films run the risk of being tonally similar to the original source material, often lacking originality. Vishnu Vardhan's Billa released three decades after the iconic Rajnikanth starrer of the same title (which was in turn a remake of Amitabh Bachchan’s Don (1978)) does not fit into this category. Everything about this film — from its costumes to its sound technical aspects — scream style. Ajith is a treat to watch as he embraces the titular character of Billa, a suave, devilish gangster with the attitude of an emperor, and Velu, the good-natured look-alike, out to prove his innocence.
Vada Chennai (2018)
In what is quite possibly Vetri Maaran’s most ambitious film to date, Vada Chennai chronicles the story of Anbu (Dhanush), a carrom player who gets sucked into the world of crime amidst an ongoing war between two rival gangsters. The film is the equivalent of an epic novel compressed into a series of brilliantly stitched-together episodic moments. Arguably the best one worth revisiting has to be the pre-interval portion, where the action takes place entirely under a tent: a murder attempt on a major character that takes place against the backdrop of a carrom tournament in prison. The scene works not just because it’s a symphony of brilliant stunt work and chilling music but because it effectively acts as a metaphor for the game of carrom: where a single strike by one person leads to several unanticipated collisions.
A movie that ushered in a crop of new filmmakers in Tamil cinema, Karthik Subaraj’s Jigarthanda is a refreshingly original gangster action comedy that succeeds due to a knockout cast and novel treatment by the director. A movie about an aspiring filmmaker (Siddharth) obsessed over making a feature on the life of a Madurai gangster (Bobby Simhaa) is just the kind of meta-film that satisfies audiences craving original content.
A couple of friends getting sucked into a long-standing, bloody political feud between two warring factions sounds like material for a hardline, gritty drama. While Pa. Ranjith's Madras definitely falls in that bracket, it's also a raw action film that features several dynamic stretches of filmmaking capturing the chaos. The standout sequence, similar to other entries on the list, has to be the pre-interval one, where a lighthearted conversation between two friends descends into a haunting chase sequence in the dark alleyways of North Madras.
Yet another Rajinikanth - Pa Ranjith collaboration on the list, Kaala, witnesses the star completely let go of all trademark mannerisms and become a vehicle for the director's lofty ambitions. As Kaala, the godfather of the Tamils living in Dharavi, Rajini is a symbol of Ranjith's political messaging. This is a serious drama; however, it's punctuated with moments of electrifying action that remind us of the unmatched gravitas of Rajinikanth. The pre-interval sequence, which sees the actor fighting off a group of goons in the rain, is action choreography at its best.
Adanga Maru (2018)
A sincere cop is suspended from duty for questioning powerful, influential people. The powerful destroy his family, leaving the hero in despair. And the hero decides to take revenge against all those who wronged him. Sounds familiar, right? While Adanga Maru falls into a templated zone, the racy screenplay and Jayam Ravi’s intense turn as SI Subah make the film watchable. He is brilliant to watch in the action sequences, selling the raw physicality and the intensity of the character effortlessly.