Director: Mari Selvaraj
Cast: Kathir, Anandhi, Yogi Babu, G. Marimuthu
Pariyerum Perumal is director Mari Selvaraj's first film and it's a powerful and realistic drama about an oppressed youth and how he seeks to fashion his own space in society. Pariyan (Kathir) is a law student in Tirunelveli who falls in love with an upper-class classmate Jo (Anandhi). This typical setup is treated with nuance and depth and the film helps us feel Pariyan's humiliation and helplessness. Pariyerum Perumal constantly urges the oppressed to fight and has a climax that is as dignified as it is shattering.
Cast: Dhanush, Ameer, Andrea Jeremiah, Aishwarya Rajesh, Samuthirakani
Vetrimaaran's gangster saga with superb performances (especially by a Dhanush spanning different ages) is set in North Chennai and has an epic setup like the Mahabharata where no character is the hero and each one plays a very special role in the narrative. Vetrimaaran's intricate screenplay has events and characters collide and ricochet in fascinating ways. Vada Chennai is a must-watch for Dhanush and Vetrimaaran fans.
Director: Lenin Bharathi
Cast: Antony, Gayathri Krishnaa, Abu Valayankulam
If you loved Theni Eswar's naturalistic cinematography in Karnan, you should check out Merku Thodarchi Malai, a gem of a film that beautifully captures life in the Western Ghats. This is a film that makes no pretense to mainstream sensibility; in fact, with Theni Eswar's cinematography the mountains and the landscape are the focus. He vividly records the people and their mundane activities. Time crawls in this film and it's as much a work of fiction as it is a documentary-like anthropological record.
Director: Pa. Ranjith
Cast: Karthi, Catherine Tresa, Kalaiyarasan
In one sense, Madras is similar to Karnan because they were their first mainstream films of the films' directors, coming after smaller, impressive debut films. Though there are mainstream considerations like a force-fitted romantic track, the film also effectively uses a coming-of-age trope and sets it in the midst of a caste-based political conflict. Madras is significant for bringing urban Dalit politics to the forefront and is, in a way, a precursor to Pa. Ranjith's Kabaali and Kaala which went further in mainstreaming the politics of the oppressed classes.
Director: Vijay Kumar
Cast: Vijay Kumar, Mime Gopi
Set in the early 1990s, Uriyadi is a small, refreshing film about four youngsters in an engineering college. These aren't your typical college wastrels nor are they model students. They're somewhere in the middle like the most of us. Uriyadi is a film that traces the seeds of their social awareness but the narrative about caste is relatively muted in this film with the focus more on mature and gritty storytelling. Uriyadi is a small, interesting counterpoint to 'bigger' films that deal with the topic.