A peril of being a popular filmmaker making mainstream films is that your failure, just like your success, happens in front of the whole world. There’s no running from it and there are barely any means to delude the world. Despite attempts, the truth ultimately prevails. The only fitting answer to failure is a success, which turns the tables around and restores the lost glory of a filmmaker. One hit or flop changes everything.
The most recent example of one such extreme scenario is Nelson Dilipkumar. The filmmaker himself addressed at the audio launch of his next, Jailer, that when he was about to start filming the Rajinikanth-starrer, there was a lot of “negative effect” on him, indicating the vehement trolling he was subjected to post the release of his third directorial, Beast. Although the film wasn’t a commercial disappointment, as attested by Rajinikanth himself on the same stage, the audience and critical reception were extremely negative.
Now all eyes are on Nelson to make up for Beast, and many, like myself, are genuinely rooting for the filmmaker to return to form. As we remain cautiously optimistic about Nelson making a memorable comeback, let’s take a look at some filmmakers who followed up some of their ‘failures’ with successful films and answered their critics.
Shankar - Anniyan after Boys
Shankar is a name that has become synonymous with ‘grandeur’ over the years, and rightfully so. Up until 2003, the filmmaker had delivered only blockbusters in the form of Gentleman (1993), Kadhalan (1994), Indian (1996), Jeans (1998) and Mudhalavan (1999) in Tamil. But with Boys, when he decided to take a detour into a territory that we don’t generally associate the filmmaker with, the results were bitter.
Boys, primarily targeted at the youth, was a coming-of-age drama sugarcoated with AR Rahman’s lovely music. However, it was ultimately panned for being obscene, due to some of the themes explored, with the filmmaker receiving flak for portraying vulgar scenes featuring young adults. Two years later, Shankar returned to form with Anniyan, a zone that made him a celebrated filmmaker among the masses: a vigilante actioner with just the right dosage of social commentary. Anniyan, featuring a fabulous Vikram as an upright man with split personalities, brought critical and commercial accolades to Shankar and compensated him fittingly for the negative reactions to Boys.
Mani Ratnam - OK Kanmani after Raavanan and Kadal
Mani Ratnam tasted back-to-back failures with Ravanan (2010), his ambitious reinterpretation of Ramayana and Kadal (2012), a tale of Satan and God fighting for the soul of a young man. Although the films have their merits and demerits, both of them were rejected by the audience. Both the films did find a loyal following among select cinephiles eventually, but at the box office, they tanked without a trace, and Mani Ratnam’s relevance was questioned. The romantic drama OK Kanmani, a take on modern relationships, marked the resurgence of the master filmmaker in 2015. A companion piece to his celebrated Alaipayuthey (2000), the film, starring Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen, introduced the filmmaker’s touch to a newer generation of moviegoers.
Mysskin - Onayum Aatukuttiyum after Mugamoodi
Mysskin is one of the most interesting filmmakers to have emerged from Tamil cinema. He unabashedly embraces his indulgence and is adamant about making a particular kind of cinema that enriches the cinematic sensibilities of the audience. Despite such ambitions, his filmography is not devoid of misses though, with Mugamoodi, his version of a vigilante superhero film, being the biggest misfire. The blend of Western influence (read: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight) and Mysskin’s own style resulted in a bland mess of a film that ended up being disloyal to both of the sensibilities it’s supposed to capture. It was a dud at the box office, with critics panning it for its overindulgent treatment. So with his next film in 2013, Mysskin returned to the zone he revels in: dark dramas that get into the intricate human psyches. Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum was exactly that and it remains one of the filmmaker’s strongest works. At one point in the film, Mysskin’s character confesses his mistakes by looking at the camera. The filmmaker once revealed in an interview that the scene could also be interpreted as Mysskin, the director asking for his viewers’ forgiveness following Mugamoodi.
Siva - Viswasam after Vivegam
When Vivegam was released in 2017, the film was subjected to heavy trolling for its unrealistic action sequences and for the placement of the final song, Veriyera. The filmmaker admitted in an interview that he was taken aback by the negative reactions and it was actor Ajith Kumar who suggested that they join forces for a new film together instead of parting ways on a bitter note. The result was Viswasam, a simple, wholesome family entertainer that remains to be one of the very few family films in Ajith’s filmography, which is otherwise dominated by action films. And its box-office success needs no further corroboration.
Gautham Menon - Yennai Arindhal after Nadunisi Naigal and Neethaane En Ponvasantham
After Gautham Menon made the incredibly successful and appreciated Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, a breezy relationship drama featuring one of the greatest AR Rahman soundtracks, he decided to experiment. His next, the dark and violent Nadunisi Naigal, which, interestingly, did not feature a background score, was downright panned. When he returned to the romance genre with Neethaane En Ponvasantham (parallelly shot as Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu in Telugu), it couldn’t recreate the magic of VTV. After two back-to-back flops, the filmmaker returned to form with Yennai Arindhaal, the third entry in the GVM cop series, which includes Kaakha Kaakha and Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. Yennai Arindhal, with the GVM touch, remains one of Ajith’s best films in recent times and put the filmmaker back in the game after two flops.
Vishnuvardhan - Shershah after Yatchan
Vishnuvardhan is another interesting filmmaker, known for his ultra-glossy and stylish films. The terrible Yatchan, starring Arya and Krishna, went completely unnoticed during its release in 2015. While Vishnuvardhan’s Telugu film, Panjaa, continues to be discussed for some of its cool action sequences despite underperformance at the box office, Yatchan seems to be completely erased from the memory of the audience. What's more interesting about him is that he made his comeback not in Tamil, but in Hindi, with the intense and moving biopic, Shershah. The film, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video in July 2021, met with highly positive reactions and speculations now say that the filmmaker will be teaming up with Salman Khan for his next. Now, that’s a big step up!
Venkat Prabhu - Chennai 600028 2 after Biriyani and Masss
Venkat Prabhu is one of the most entertaining filmmakers in Tamil cinema. His films and characters have a fun vibe that makes them instantly likable. After delivering a blockbuster in the form of Mankatha, Venkat Prabhu went on to direct the crime comedy Biriyani, which, despite featuring an intriguing plot, didn’t realise its full potential. His next, Masss, too had a quirky (even if it feels inspired by The Sixth Sense), but couldn’t meet the expectations. After two consecutive disappointments, the filmmaker fell back on the sequel to his highly popular and beloved buddy cricket comedy, Chennai 600028. The sequel was an entertaining watch and came to the filmmaker’s rescue when he needed it the most. Following Chennai 600028 2, he directed Party (which, unfortunately, is yet to see the light of the day) but after that, he hit the ball out of the park with Maanaadu.
Karthik Subbaraj - Petta after Iraivi and Mercury
Karthik Subbaraj, who made a ground-breaking debut with Pizza in 2012, went through a lull phase when Iraivi (2016) and Mercury (2018) couldn’t match up to the critical and commercial success of his debut and the sophomore feature, Jigarthanda (2014). But when he got the coveted opportunity to direct his idol, Rajinikanth, in Petta, he leveraged it to the fullest capacity. Petta, which promised to bring back the ‘Vintage Rajini’, kickstarted the trend of ‘fanboy’ films, and was a massive commercial success during its release in 2019.