When looking at the filmography of the great directors, it’s often the least successful film that can get one the most curious. Why would a director like Spielberg, that too after making blockbusters like Jaws and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, make a mega-budget war comedy like 1941? In Bollywood, Sanjay Leela Bhansali was considered invincible after Devdas and Black, until he made Saawariya.
There may be several reasons for this: it can be overconfidence, it can be the result of a budget that’s too good to be true or it could even be the director’s mindframe when he’s making the film. Trying to find out the reason why a Bombay Velvet did what it did is probably more fun that unearthing the success of Kashyap’s Raman Raghav, just as Mugamoodi is more amusing than Thupparivaalan.
Here’s a list featuring the names of 15 active directors in Tamil cinema who’ve made more than five films, with at least one release in the 2010s. And we didn’t consider remakes or films made in other languages. Let the debates begin!
Gautham Vasudev Menon — Nadunisi Naaygal
This psycho thriller is still GVM’s weakest, even if you’ve bitten a bullet called Ennai Noki Paayum Thotta. ENPT has great songs and one damn good fight scene. It also has a beautiful love story that’s custom made for GVM fanbois. But Nadunisi Naaygal had none of that.
It ends with a tacky PSA on the importance of mental illness but it’s very hard to stay with the film until then. Without his much-loved style and signature, it’s the one film that’s most distant from GVM’s only superpower…his instincts. The only cool thing in the film is how KS Ravikumar is seen editing an early version of ‘Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya’.
Mysskin — Mugamoodi
For the fanboy, the eccentric director’s first superhero film was going to be Kurosawa-meets-Nolan-meets-Bruce-Lee dressed in a yellow saree. A lot of the film is still exciting and beautiful with a kickass fight scene set in a hospital. But there’s clearly something wrong with the rest of the film. It had, for one, the hammiest villain since Joker (Nicholson, not Ledger) and the silliest climax since Sholay (RGV’s, not the classic). Uneven and inconsistent—this is the least Mysskinesque Mysskin film till date.
Mani Ratnam — Thiruda Thiruda
It’s not Kadal. It’s not Kaatru Veliyidai. Mani Ratnam’s weakest Tamil film is one that’s also the toughest to rewatch today. Remove the incredible songs and the tonnes of nostalgia, and you will be able to see how broken the film actually is. The performances are off and the romance sticks out in an otherwise flippant film. The tonal shifts too are jarring, just like the hot-and-cold mood swings of the film. The director may have made weaker films in other languages but inThiruda Thiruda the director is not in his zone.
Lingusamy — Anjaan
Writing anything about this film feels like a cheap shot because that’s how embarrassing it was to its makers when it released. This unreasonably-hyped action film was a blockbuster, right up until it was released in August 2014. It had Yuvan’s music, Santosh Sivan’s camerawork and the handsomest Suriya. But a toothpick was more author-backed than Rajubhai AKA Andheri Puli. We’ve had worse movies since then but nothing that was hyped up like Anjaan was. We’re still waiting for the guy who made Run and Sandakozhi to make a comeback.
KS Ravikumar — Mudinja Ivana Pudi
If you scrolled down expecting to see Linga, chances are, you haven’t yet watched Mudinja Ivana Pudi. It’s a film where the only excitement is waiting to see KS Ravikumar make his signature cameo somewhere. But the problems don’t end there. It is a bi-lingual and the film wants to be a star vehicle even in Tamil (it stars Sudeep). Why would a star like that need the typical KS Ravikumar star elevation in a Tamil film? It wants to be both Robin Hood and Anniyan. It wants to be both Tamil and Kannada. It could finally only become both outdated and messy.
Selvaraghavan — NGK
More than two years have passed and a lot of effort has gone in to understand the greatness of NGK but time hasn’t yet caught up with this epic misfire. However idiosyncratic, there’s only so far a filmmaker can push his ideas before they become alien to everyone else. It surely has some moments and a great scene or two but it’s not half of the film we thought it would be. Maybe we should wait another decade to reconsider?
Shankar — I
I was Shankar’s first straight film after Enthiran and written without a collaboration with the late writer Sujatha. A visually ambitious film, it’s biggest strength is also what Shankar is unrivaled for in Tamil films: opulence. But the writing is problematic, at times, and consistently predictable, as if the grandeur of how the story is told could overcome the fundamental hollowness of what is shown. Also, the film is based on Shankar’s tired vigilante justice trope. Unlike what’s usual in Shankar’s films, social evils don’t directly transform the hero into a one-man army. Vikram’s Lingesan is driven primarily by personal vengeance with slight repercussions for the rest of the society. The cracking Shankar template, when tweaked slightly, feels limp.
AR Murugadoss — Darbar
Director AR Murugadoss is known for interesting ideas at the center of his films: a vigilante professor in Ramana, short-term memory loss in Ghajini, swapping DNA with Bodhidharma in 7am Arivu, sleeper cells in Thuppakki. Even with a huge mainstream star like Vijaykanth, Ramana remained a Murugadoss film. But, Darbar is all glitz and no soul. The typically intelligent high concept is missing and the writing lacks the detailing of the director’s previous films. No film of Murugadoss has put itself at the service of the hero as much as Darbar does.
Rajesh — Mr. Local
Rajesh’s entire filmography is basically the same film made with a similar set of actors repeated half a dozen times. But Mr.Local was a bad movie, even for his filmography. It’s another unnecessary repeat of the Taming of The Shrew trope with a generous dose of mansplaining. The worst part is that the film couldn’t even offend us in new ways. Sivakarthikeyan’s image is such that this film didn’t even have a TASMAC scene. What was it then?
AL Vijay — Idhu Enna Maayam
Even AL Vijay’s flops had a certain heart. Despite its box office performance, Tandavam was a film that tried; it had a concept that may work even today. His most recent films like Lakshmi and Diya were forgettable too but you can make the case that they could have been interesting.
What if someone tells you that Vijay has made a film that’s worse than Vanamagan? Had Idhu Enna Maayam released today it would have been ‘cancelled’ a hundred times over. Why? It’s about a theatre group that manufactures reality for clients so they can get married. High-tech stalking is what this really is. It’s an idea that should have been aborted during inception.
Venkat Prabhu — Biryani
After Mankatha, Venkat Prabhu had legit become one of our biggest directors. He could have made any film with anyone…an opportunity very few people get. Yet he made a film so messy that it had the power to put people off biriyani for a year or two. Even Christopher Nolan hasn’t quite understood what this film is about. It had some fun lines and the signature irreverence, but it just didn’t come together like a biriyani should. It should have been called khuska, instead.
Bala — Avan Ivan
Bala’s films are often dark and brooding with an undercurrent of wry humour. If the beginning and climax of Pithamagan are chilling and shocking respectively, there’s also a comic counterpoint in the film with Suriya’s character as a low-level travelling salesman.
Avan Ivan too has its share of funny and rude humour. The first half of the film feels like a comedy in Bala’s style. But the film gets lost in the antics of the characters played by Arya and Vishal; and the serious plot is relegated to the last twenty minutes of the film. While it’s still an interesting study of characters in typical Bala style, Avan Ivan gets lost between two competing visions for the story — comic and tragic — that don’t come together.
KV Anand — Kaappaan
When the late KV Anand debuted as director in Kanaa Kandaen he established himself swiftly as the thinking person’s mainstream filmmaker. His films are often backed by meticulous research: Kana Kandaen was about water desalination, Ko was based on media and politics, Maattrraan was about conjoined twins and Anegan talks about past life regression. Kaappaan, though, felt generic and uninspired, even though it had a solid cast with Mohanlal as the Prime Minister, Suriya as his bodyguard and Arya as the Prime Minister’s son. Perhaps because of such a star cast, Kaappaan is not as opinionated or likeable as KV Anand’s earlier films, playing out as a tame, patriotic and just about serviceable action thriller. It’s the only movie in his filmography that could be termed “weak”.
Sundar C — Action
Sundar C’s Kalakalappu, one of the most loved comedies in the last decade, opens in Kumbakonam. Did we really want an action film from the director opening at the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul? There’s little that’s interesting in the introductory action scene featuring Vishal, either in the build up or how the action sequence is executed. The only novelty is: Turkey.
But Sundar C doesn’t let go of his own sensibility optimized for family entertainers either. Instead of a slick action thriller, we get a film that feels like something that P. Vasu could have put together in the 1990s with its genre-busting mixture of family sentiment, revenge, action and comedy. As the title suggests, you could try to simply enjoy the action set pieces in the film and sit out the drab bits.
Radha Mohan — Malaysia To Amnesia
Director Radha Mohan’s Gouravam is arguably his weakest film — until Malaysia To Amnesia. Gouravam, at least, was out of his usual light-comedy zone but Malaysia To Amnesia is entirely in his zone (with an adultery angle that’s ‘bold’ for the director’s films). Even before SMS forwards became a thing, Radha Mohan’s films, say Azhagiya Theeye, had jokes that didn’t really have much to do with the plot and sounded like forwards.
For instance, when Prasanna’s character in Azhagiya Theeye works as mascot in an amusement park we get jokes about how everyone has a mobile phone because Reliance was giving them away at 2 for Rupees 500. This had nothing to do with the film’s plot. But such witticisms throughout the film gave it an casual tone. It made the dialogues feel a bit unscripted. But Malaysia To Amnesia feels unscripted to the point of making no sense. It relies entirely on kadi jokes and rhyming one-liners. Without a substantial emotional core, this brand of rambling comedy feels more like an extended standup routine than a film.