Dhanush’s Suruli in Jagame Thandhiram starts off as a mercenary gangster from Madurai and ends up as someone who realizes the plight of refugees and immigrants in the UK. Getting out of his own little world gives him the perspective he needs. DCP Raghavan from Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu single-handedly finds clues to a murder in New York. Setting that sequence in New York where he is far away from the support of the police department shows that the Raghavan instinct is all he needs.
Irrespective of whether it gives the protagonist a new perspective or throws challenges, being forced to go abroad on a mission is a common Tamil cinema trope. Here are a few films, from Kamal Haasan-starrer Vikram to Jagame Thandhiram where the hero’s journey goes forces them to go through places that are far away from home, from East to West:
Japan — Japanil Kalyanaraman
In Japanil Kalyanaraman, Kamal Haasan’s Raman travels to Japan to buy printing equipment so he can start his own journal, accompanied by his now-dead brother in the form of a ghost, Kalyanam. The film shows Japan’s urban areas that look like steel jungles from science fiction when compared to the architecture seen in Tamil films of the time.
Malaysia — M. Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi
Kumaran (Jayam Ravi), a kickboxer, is raised by a single mother to whom he is attached. Her dying wish is for him to meet his estranged father, now a famous coach in Malaysia. Kumaran is forced to confront his father in Malaysia and get him to acknowledge his mother and his own talent as a kickboxer.
Singapore — Priya
Rajinikanth plays Ganesh in Priya, one half of the much-beloved duo Ganesh–Vasanth by writer Sujatha (the original story was based in London). Like in most Ganesh–Vasanth stories, Ganesh is engaged, out of the blue, by a famous client, a movie star called Priya (Sridevi) to help her with a problem with a producer. But things escalate soon, and Ganesh ends up in Singapore to protect Priya and also ends up falling in love there.
East Asia — Ulagam Sutrum Valiban
MGR plays Murugan, a scientist tasked unanimously by the major scientists of the world to work out a way of storing lightning energy. There’s also an evil scientist Bairavan who is keen on exploiting Murugan’s research for use in destructive weapons. The film is a romp through several parts of East Asia, from Hong Kong to Thailand and Japan, all undertaken for the sake of protecting important scientific research.
Salamia, Central Asia — Vikram
Kamal Haasan-starrer Vikram, plays out like Tintin for grownups with the jaded Vikram charged with the task of preventing the launch of a deadly missile in the obscure — and made-up — nation of Salamia where the royal entourage eats only after the food is spat on by the Vizer.
Russia — Dhaam Dhoom
Gautham Subramaniam’s (Jayam Ravi) visit to a medical conference turns into a harrowing adventure involving the murder of a drug trafficker and Russian cops who speak only Russian. His travails start off in Moscow and go through St. Petersburg before ending back home in Chennai.
London — Jagame Thandhiram
Suruli is a mercenary and xenophobic gangster from Madurai ‘outsourced’ to London by Peter (James Cosmo). He leaves Madurai because he’s facing the heat locally and London seems like a good idea until he gets embroiled in a gang war with deep ideological underpinnings that define the way the entire world works. Of all our heroes forced to venture abroad, no one has probably been as successful as Suruli who now owns an entire street in London.
Switzerland — Sivandha Mann
Sivaji Ganesan’s Bharat is from the fictitious state of Vasanthapuri which is under Portuguese occupation. He’s also a graduate from the University of Bern in Switzerland. In a reversal of the direction of journey, Bharat starts off abroad but comes back to Vasanthapuri to fight for it’s liberation from the Portuguese.
Paris and Venice — Manmadhan Ambu
Major Raja Mannar (Kamal Haasan) is a retired army man and widower, now employed by Madhan, a millionaire, to spy on his movie star girlfriend Ambu, who is on a trip through Europe. While Mannar’s mission is to strictly spy on Ambu, they bump into each other in Paris and get to know each other. After going through cities like Barcelona and Rome, the film winds down in a Crazy Mohan-like climax that’s set in Venice.
Melbourne — Nala Damayanthi
Ramji (Madhavan) is an orthodox Iyer from Palakkad forced to find work in Australia for economic reasons. But his employer dies upon his arrival in Melbourne and he’s stranded. He gets into a fake marriage with Damayanthi (Geetu Mohandas), a Sri Lankan, for which he even becomes a Christian. Eventually, Ramji is sent back to India by the authorities, and with Damayanthi coming along.
Sydney — Singam 3
Suriya’s Duraisingam might have begun his career as a cop in Thoothukudi but he takes on a power mafia that’s responsible for dumping toxic waste from abroad into India. Singam even makes a brief trip to Sydney where he gets things done with help from a sidekick called Pushparaj who appears to accompany Singam only to keep him from feeling homesick.
South Africa — Singam 2
Before he fought the kingpins of crime in Australia, Singam made a visit to South Africa (with a marriage impending in three days) to collaborate with Major Carl Abrose of the Durban Police Department. Danny, the dreaded drug lord, might have escaped Interpol by keeping to international waters on his personal ship. But, Singam finds him and jails him in the same Thoothukudi cell from which he escaped.
Sudan — Maryan
Maryan (Dhanush) is a fisherman from a tiny hamlet on the Arabian Sea. His love for Panimalar is both tested and becomes a source of his strength when he takes up a job in Sudan (so he can help Panimalar financially) when he ends up being captured by Sudanese terrorists and loses his friends before making the journey back home.
New York — Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu
DCP Raghavan takes up the case of Rani’s murder only because she’s the daughter of his friend Arokiya Raj (Prakash Raj). But quickly, the scent of the hunt takes him to New York where he works together with the now legendary pop culture cop, Anderson who, sadly, gets shot in the film. He finds a trail of clues which lead him to the weird, psychopathic duo who clinically rape and murder their victims.
Seattle — Vellai Pookal
Rudhran (Vivek) visits his son Ajay in the US to resolve issues with him as the latter married without his consent. What should play out as a family drama turns into a mystery when Rudhran suspects something sinister behind the disappearance of one of his neighbours and begins his own investigations, and encounters secrets about his own daughter-in-law.