2018, undoubtedly, has been an eventful year for content-oriented films in Kollywood. From the breezy Trisha-Vijay Sethupathi starrer 96 to the hard-hitting Vada Chennai, it’s quite evident that content took priority over star power.
While commercial directors, in general, refuse to budge from the formula, it’s newcomers like Mari Selvaraj who give us some hope. I believe the primary objective of any art is to hold a mirror up to society. That way, Pariyerum Perumal, which begins with a card that reads ‘caste and religion are against humanity’, was unapologetic. What sets this Pa Ranjith production apart from other caste-based stories is the narrative. Kathir was a terrific choice to play the lead. The film, which sheds light on caste hegemony, education system and gender minorities, equally excels in the technical departments from cinematography to the background score.
It’s not easy to make a convincing biopic — especially — when it revolves around the life of a female actor. Recreating a bygone era which has the top star of the times definitely needs meticulous research. Credit goes to director Nag Ashwin and team for the same. Some of the best moments of the film include the romance between Gemini Ganesan (Dulquer Salmaan) and Savitri (Keerthy). The makers couldn’t have found better artistes to play the legendary actors on the screen. The frames that involve Keerthy with exquisite designer saris, hand-crafted and vintage jewellery are a visual treat to watch.
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (CCV)
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say only Mani Ratnam can make an action-based gangster film, and draw the family audience to theaters. The story deals with a man’s quest for power, money and the way it affects even close relationships. Despite having four male lead actors — Vijay Sethupathi, Simbu, Arvind Swami and Arun Vijay on board, there is a seamless balance in the screen time allotted to each actor. Mani Ratnam has been making movies for the past 35 years and is still exploring new ways to tell stories within the boundaries of mainstream cinema. It’s amazing how Tamil cinema has changed, and he is keeping up with the pace.
If you are a hopeless romantic, this film will leave you in tears. 96 isn’t an earth-shattering love story, but there is something special about it. Director Prem Kumar captures ‘love’, ‘helplessness’, ‘memories’ and ‘life’ in the right ways possible. A school reunion is planned. How two people who were pulled apart by circumstances meet eventually forms the story. Trisha, again, revives the performer we saw in Vinaithaandi Varuvaaya. As for Vijay Sethupathi, he aces the reticent Ram. This is unlike any other Vijay Sethupathi movie. You have to give it to Govind Vasantha for the amazing tunes that come like an answer to fill up the blanks.
Though Kanaa reminds one of Dangal and/or Chak De India, it’s one of the interesting sports dramas made in Tamil after Irudhi Suttru. The story revolves around the life of Kousalya, a small-town girl who hopes to play for the Indian women’s cricket team. Kausalya isn’t forced into the sport. India loses the World Cup to Sri Lanka in 2007. Her dad, Murugesan, a humble farmer weeps. Kausalya was a kid when she witnesses this. She wants to become a cricketer only to bring back that smile on her dad’s face by playing for team India. There’s an authenticity in the story and the way Aishwarya Rajesh plays Kausalya. Kanaa also chronicles the struggles of a farmer whose life takes a turn after a drought hits their village.
This gritty tale, directed by Vetrimaaran, is all about love, betrayal, revenge and violence. The filmmaker reasonably spends time in the locales his films are set in to get more understanding of his subjects, and no wonder his characters are well-defined. Despite largely being a gangster film, this one has beautiful scenes written around a carom player Anbu (Dhanush) and Padma (Aishwarya Rajesh). You can’t help but be a part of their love story. This multi-layered script is brought to life by breathtaking visuals of Velraj accompanied by Santhosh Narayanan’s background score. Though a non-linear screenplay makes it difficult to get the story arc in the beginning, Vada Chennai, as a whole, is an epic gangster saga.
Ram Kumar’s psychological thriller Raatchasan is rated as IMDB’s second-best Indian film this year, and is ranked first in the South Indian films category. The story revolves around an aspiring filmmaker-turned-cop who tracks down a psychopath serial killer. Though the film is well-made in parts, it fails to keep us entertained till the end. But the cleverly made second half does send chills down your spine. Barring a long-drawn climax portion, it makes for an interesting watch. Ghibran’s background score and PV Sankar’s cinematography help Ram Kumar set the right tone overall. What works in favour of the film, apart from the able technical crew, is the ensemble cast of Saravanan, Ramdoss, Abhirami, Amala Paul and others doing just what is required of them.
As the title suggests, this Samantha-starrer has many ‘U-turns’. If you have not watched the original (An acclaimed Kannada film by the same name), the Tamil one will certainly keep you hooked. Rachna works at a newspaper office. A spate of murders takes place in the city. How does she get involved in it while she is on an assignment forms the rest of the plot. When Rachna breaks down, you empathise with her. Pawan Kumar manages to keep the audience guessing with sudden twists and developments throughout. Samantha owns the film as the story progresses.
Merku Thodarchi Malai
No big actors, no big director, but Merku Thodarchi Malai hit the big screen like a breath of fresh air. Debutant filmmaker Lenin Bharathi managed to portray the lives of people on the Western Ghats with an effortless tinge of realism. In order to keep the film real, the director made his actors work as daily wage labourers for some time, so they absorbed the milieu of their characters. Merku Thodarchi Malai is as much a story of the place as the people. Lenin hasn’t criticised anything but presented various issues concerning people of the Western Ghats in an emotional way. This film had minimum dialogues, which is a rare feature in Tamil cinema. It’s not your swiftly-cut film. But slowly takes you into the lives of cardamom labourers who stay atop the hills. As the audience, you feel you are there with the characters.
Kokila (Nayanthara) is forced to take up drug smuggling because of her mother’s cancer treatment. What happens when she is put in the toughest of times has been handled with dark humour. The film is an out-and-out star vehicle that offers you truckloads of whistle-worthy moments. Debutant filmmaker Nelson Dilipkumar subtly conveys a message that women empowerment is the key to take on the male-dominated society. This film also has an iconic scene where Sekhar (Yogi Babu) proposes to Kokila (Nayanthara). As Anirudh Ravichander’s sensational hit “Kalyana Vayasudhan” plays in the background, we are shown how Sekhar falls for Kokila. It is not just Nayanthara who scores high with this film, but the supporting cast including Saranya Ponvannan, RS Sivaji, Saravanan and Motta Rajendran.
Even if you have watched Tumhari Sulu featuring Vidya Balan, this Jyotika-starrer does fairly work. Thanks to Radha Mohan, who has strived to do more to Kaatrin Mozhi, besides trying to recreate scenes from the Suresh Triveni directorial. The story revolves around Vijayalakshmi, who lands the job of a night radio jockey. What happens when she struggles to balance her work and responsibilities at home has been told in an engaging manner. One can relate to the characters so easily, and that makes Kaatrin Mozhi a breezy entertainer to watch. Jyotika pulls off Vijayalakshmi with ease and balances the laughs with the tears.
In this ‘silent’ film, nobody ‘talks’. But the silence, however, is filled by background music — the sound that goes well with the ambience. Five friends go on a midnight drive in a car and accidentally kill a man (Prabhudheva) in the dark. When they try to dispose of the dead body, it reappears alive in a factory. The entire episode has an interesting backstory that is narrated in a typical Karthik Subbaraj style, which, by now, is a genre in itself. However, the problem lies in the second half, when it becomes more about the execution than the actual premise. Besides minor glitches, Mercury is easily one of the best thrillers released this year.
Though Savarakathi marks the directorial debut of Mysskin’s brother GR Adithya, it constantly reminds you that you are watching a Mysskin film, literally. The story revolves around Manga (Mysskin), a thug and a barber, Pichai (Ram). What happens when both accidentally cross paths hold a lot of surprises to the audience in the form of the cat and mouse game. But the tone entirely changes in the second half. It makes you think and feel. Savarakathi, in fact, raises some important questions about life and death. Thankfully, even towards the end, it doesn’t get preachy at all.
Sometimes, you feel glad that a story is more suited for a short film than a full-length feature. KM Sarjun’s 28-minute-venture, Maa, available on Ondraga Entertainment’s YouTube channel, is one such. Maa explores a sensitive topic — teenage pregnancy and its repercussions on an average middle-class home. Fifteen-year-old Ammu (Anikha) tells her mother Sathya (Kani Kusruti) that she is pregnant after a sexual encounter with her friend. At one point, Sathya even suggests that the girl kill herself. But then, she runs to her, and says, “I’m here for you!” With an intense performance, Kani Kusruti steals the show and make us empathise with her situation as a young parent. There’s something cathartic about listening to a story narrated in all honesty.