Navarasa, featuring some of the biggest stars and directors in Tamil cinema, releases on Netflix tomorrow. There's been a long, if not prolific, history of anthology films from the South. SS Vasan's Sirikkadhey (1939) was made up of five comedy shorts and is considered to be the first anthology. Malayalam film Chithramela (1967), produced and directed by TS Muthiah is the first anthology in that language. More recently, Kerala Cafe and Sillu Karupatti had theatrical releases, while anthologies like Putham Pudhu Kaalai and Paava Kadhaigal dropped straight on OTT. There have also been hyperlink films like Maanagaram, Super Deluxe and C/o Kancharapalem which aren't strictly anthologies but closely related in spirit. Here's a brief journey through anthologies from the South through 15 films:
This anthology has three segments that talk about a man-woman relationship: romance, longing, lust and betrayal. Each of the three shorts depicts three different relationships with similar fundamental problems from three eras — post-Independence India to the current day. By focusing on the essential dynamics of three relationships, Aanum Pennum leaves you with a macroscopic view of the world around them.
Directors: Sudha Kongara (Ilamai Idho Idho) , Gautham Vasudev Menon (Avarum Naanum – Avalum Naanum), Suhasini Maniratnam (Coffee, Anyone?), Rajiv Menon (Reunion), Karthik Subbaraj (Miracle)
Cas : Jayaram, Urvashi, Kalidas Jayaram, Kalyani Priyadarshan, M.S.Bhaskar, Ritu Varma, Shruti Hassan, Bobby Simha
Language : Tamil
Our Pick: Miracle
Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video
This anthology brings in a beautiful relatability characteristic to the audience, as all 5 segments talk about love and hope during the Covid Pandemic, starting from the first 21-day lockdown in early 2020. Ilamai Idho Idho is a beautiful love story of an elder couple, who try to sneak away from their kids to spend time together and ironically get stuck together due to the lockdown. And Miracle is the story of two thugs, one young film-maker, all who want to make money, through whichever mode possible. Their characters intervene in the climax which is the most hilarious twist to this segment!
Director: Chandrajith Belliappa (Rainbowland), Karan Ananth (Sathya Katha Prasanga), Shashi Kumar P (Girgitle), Kiranraj K (Sagara Sangama), Rahul PK (Utthara), Jamadagni Manoj (Padavarahalli), Jaishankar (Lacchavva)
Cast: Hariprriya, Rishab Shetty, Kishore, Yagna Shetty, Raj B. Shetty, Balaji Manohar, Pramod Shetty, Avinash, Hari Samasthi
Our Pick: Girgitle
Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video
Katha Sangama is a tribute to legendary Kannada director, Puttanna Kanagal who made an anthology of the same name in 1976. Incidentally, the Tamil film Kai Kodukkam Kai was based on a short with Rajinikanth, Munithayi from the anthology. Girgitle is an especially interesting take on Groundhog Day. The anthology stops you in your tracks and makes you look around at the little things that matter.
Director: Halitha Shameem
Cast: Sara Arjun, Rahul, Manikandan K, Nivedhithaa Sathish, Kravmaga Sreeram, Leela Samson, Samuthirakani, Sunainaa
Our Pick: Hey Ammu
Streaming On: Netflix
This anthology has 4 segments, all extremely unique and different from each other. All the 4 segments talk about the strangeness between the different relationships, especially the awkwardness of the beginning of relationships. Halitha Shameem rarely focuses on how the beginnings turn out, except in Hey Ammu which is about a disenchanted couple who learn to meet each other again, as if for the first time: the film finds new beginnings where you don't commonly see them. Baradwaj Rangan writes in the review, "Halitha's stories may be sweet and sentimental, but she seems to be a realist. Her mantra seems to be: It is what it is."
Directors: Sudha Kongara (Thangam), Vignesh Shivan (Love Panna Uttranum), Gautham Vasudev Menon (Vaanmagal), Vetrimaaran (Oor Iravu)
Cast: Kalidas Jayaram, Shanthanu Bhagyaraj, Anjali, Kalki Koechlin, Simran, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Sai Pallavi, Prakash Raj
Our Pick: Thangam
Streaming On: Netflix
The four dreadful sin stories, talk about an extremely sad but harsh reality where pride, honour and sin influence stories of love. All the segments depict the sacrifices made by the characters for falling in love in their own ways. While watching this, we automatically start rooting for a few characters, which makes the conveying of their stories even more interesting to the audience.
All 4 segments discuss the damaged relationships and social commentary of different kinds of women — victims of abuse, power hungry, and most of all the victims of society. Nandhini Reddy's Meera has a small twist to it, that gives an interesting take to the anthology. Baradwaj Rangan writes in his review about Tarun Bhasker's Ramula: it's Tharun's best work in his short career. Ramula takes big risks with form, and it's inevitably imperfect. But it shows a filmmaker who's more than what the cinemas and the Telugu mainstream allow him to be.
Directors: Shameer Sultan (Prelude of the anthology), Alphonse Putharen (Eli), Mohit Mehra(Shruthi Bedham), Lokesh Kanagaraj (Kalam), Guru Smaran (Kaneer Anjali)
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Bobby Simha, Amrutha Srinivasan, Rajeev Govinda Pillai
Our Pick: Eli
This anthology was released back in 2016, in the early days of all the 5 directors. It has some nail-biting stories, with different genres like a rom-com and an action-thriller, carrying the innocence of the directors' short film days. The anthology is a big improvement on Karthik Subbaraj's earlier Bench Talkies, with the filmmakers here declaring that they're not amateurs and they're making short films not because they can't make longer ones but because they want to use the short form.
Directors: Gopakumar (Agavizhi), Monesh (Nallathor Veenai), Charukesh Sekar (Puzhu), Rathna Kumar (Madhu), Karthik Subbaraj (Neer), Anil Krishnan (The Lost Paradise)
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Rishinanth Rajendran, Guru Somasundaram, Sananth Reddy, Vijaymuthu, Aravinnd Singh, Harish, Sharathkumar
Our Pick: Neer
One of the first mainstream anthologies to release, this anthology received a surreal reception and depicted several different emotions across segments – a silent film, rom-com, action-thriller and so on. While not as accomplished as Aviyal, the anthology is notable for being released on the big screen when shorts were typically released individually online. The short film was graduating from being just a form used to practice craft or show potential produces to a legitimate storytelling tool.
Director: Pannaga Bharana
Cast: BC Patil, Saikumar, Vijay Raghavendra, Shruthi Hariharan
The anthology features a huge star cast and features five stories. But, what's interesting is that the stories are interleaved instead of being shown one after the other. With great music by Raghu Dixit, and Saikumar's comedy, the feel-good anthology is about how a large number of characters converge together, on the lines of, say, Love Actually.
Directors: Gautham Vasudev Menon (Edhirpaara Muththam), Vijay (Avanum Naanum), Venkat Prabhu (Lokham), Nalan Kumarasamy (Aadal Paadal)
Cast: Gautham Menon, Amala Paul, Vinoth Kishan, Amitash Pradhan, Megha Akash, Sangeetha Krish, Varun, Sakshi Agarwal, Vijay Sethupathi, Aditi Balan
Our Pick: Aadal Paadal
All 4 segments in this anthology show us relationships that are in a questionable state. It has an interesting take on childhood love, destiny, true love and even infidelity. In the other shorts, directed by Nalan Kumarasamy and Gautham Vasudev Menon, we get films where the concept of love is placed at challenging and fascinating junctures.
Directors: M. Padmakumar (Nostalgia), Shankar Ramakrishnan (Island Express), Shaji Kailas (Lalitham Hiranmayam), Uday Ananthan (Mrityunjayam), Anjali Menon (Happy Journey), B.Unnikrishnan (Aviraamam), Shyamaprasad (Off-season), Anwar Rasheed (Bridge), Revathi (Makal), Lal Jose (Puram Kazchakal)
Cast: Mammootty, Suresh Gopi, Dileep, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Rahman, Fahadh Faasil, Jayasurya, Suraj Venjarammood, Navya Nair, Nithya Menon
Our Pick: Happy Journey
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
The anthology features 10 different stories, from 10 different directors who are all on a journey from different parts of Kerala and their intersection happens at a railway cafe, called 'Kerala Cafe'. The anthology is also notable for being Anjali Menon's early film as a director (her second) with the short Happy Journey.
Cast: Parvathy, Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli, Karunakaran, Nethra, G. Marimuthu
Based on the stories of writers Jayamohan, Ashokamitran and Aadhavan, director Vasanth sheds his mainstream sensibilities to create an anthology centered around women. In the film which was screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala in 2018, a very different director emerges, unshackled from commercial constraints.
Director: Bejoy Nambiar
Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Dhansika, Arthi Venkatesh, Sruthi Hariharan, Neha Sharma, Soubin Shahir
Language: Malayalam and Tamil
Our Pick: World of Siva
All 4 lead characters in the 4 segments are played by Dulquer Salmaan and they revolve around the 4 elements – Earth, Fire, Wind and Water with different aspects of Lord Shiva, in it. The well-used music in Solo definitely adds up to the slow-moving pace of this anthology.
Directors: Shyju Khalid, Sameer Thahir, Aashiq Abu, Amal Neerad and Anwar Rasheed
Our Pick: Kullante Bharya
This five-episode anthology, directed by some of the biggest names in the industry today, covered different aspects of the lives of five very different women. If Sethulakshmi was about a school girl, Aami was about a wife we meet through her voice and the riddles she makes up to keep her husband company. Like any anthology, not all films work equally well but the experiment was surely novel when it was released. With a stellar cast that involved several major stars, the film created a format where even commercial directors could make the film they wanted to. Case in point being the a newfound respect for Amal Neerad with his short in the anthology.
Director: Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Our Pick: The Prostitute
The art cinema behemoth made this anthology about four women in 2007 but he placed their stories between the 1940's and 1960's. According to director KG George, this was deliberate because the plight of women is the same across all time. Marathi filmmaker Sachin Kundalkar (who later made Ayya) is said to have made Gandha after watching this film. Some scenes remain unforgettable and you see the genius of a master filmmaker—like the comical shot of the indifferent husband who is more interested in the feast rather than his wife. With a common thread running through the stories, it is also that rare anthology benefitting from a single mind working on multiple short stories.
(With inputs from Harshita Meenaktshi R)