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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Jai Bhim, Sarpatta Parambarai and Master: Best and worst of Tamil cinema in 2021

Many Tamil movies in 2021 premiered directly on OTT platforms and only a handful of films were released in theatres. Some were just brilliant, some felt like a breath of fresh air, and some were outright stale.

Written by Manoj Kumar R | Bengaluru |
Updated: December 23, 2021 8:32:17 am
Best Tamil films of 2021.

What became as a trickle in 2020, became a deluge in 2021 as films and shows found their way to streaming platforms came of age. OTT emerged as a significant alternative to traditional film distribution even as many held on to their belief that home screens could never replace the theatre-going experience and that it is just a fad that will blow over soon. But, the stakeholders in the exhibition chain were in for a rude shock when the makers of Tamil superstar Vijay’s Master made it available for streaming just two weeks after its initial theatrical release.

The producers of Master blindsided the distributors and exhibitors on the film’s OTT release. And people in the box office business learned a valuable lesson from that incident: never take technology for granted. Since then, discussing the OTT release strategy of a film before signing the terms with the producers has become a new practice among distributors and exhibitors.

The film distribution was also threatened when producers of several big-budget movies opted for the OTT route as there seemed no respite during the second wave of Covid infections. The onset of the OTT and the competitive push of the leading streaming platforms to invest in original series, shows and films in Tamil have overhauled the dynamics of the entertainment system.

As the distinction between what’s worthy of big-screen experience and what’s not continues to grow stronger, the Tamil filmmakers are forced to reinvent the idea of mainstream commercial cinema in every conceivable way. Makers are now realising that it would be tough to bring people to theatres if they still pandered to the Formula.

master release Fans celebrate Vijay’s Master release in theatres. (Photo: Janardhan Koushik/Indian Express)

If anything the onslaught of OTT platforms is a boon for the audience. Many Tamil movies in 2021 premiered directly on OTT platforms and only a handful of films were released in theatres. Some were just brilliant, others brought in novelty, and some were outright stale. But, nonetheless they all, in a way, helped us get through another terrible year marked by tragedies on a scale never seen before.

The bad

This section will, unfortunately, encompass most of the Tamil movies that were released in 2021. But, I would like to highlight only the top movies in this category starting with Eeswaran. It is unclear what value did Simbu and director Suseenthiran think it would bring to people’s lives when they made this exasperating film. They released it in theatres when the country was just recovering from the shock of the first wave of Covid-19. It is almost cruel that people, just a few thankfully, had to risk a viral infection to watch this unoriginal rural drama in cinemas. Even though actor Jayaram Ravi’s Bhoomi was equally bad and nonsensical as Eeswaran, at least the makers of this film had the courtesy to release it directly on OTT. And that allowed us to feel disappointed in the safety of our homes.

When it comes to cringe-inducing films of 2021, nothing can beat Dikkiloona. For a film that carries the tag of science-fiction, this film is plain regressive. The idea, the storytelling techniques and the beliefs of the hero in the film all belong to the stone age. Nothing about this film reflects the thinking, aspiration and ideals of today’s generation. Even by Santhanam’s standards, this film is highly appalling.

Aranmanai 3 poster.

Talking of lousy films, we can’t forget director Sundar C’s Aranmanai 3. The latest follow up to the horror-comedy series is an exhausting watch as Sundar scraps the proverbial bottom of the barrel. Aranmanai being one of the most successful franchises in Tamil cinema is a testament to the unhealthy cinematic taste of a significant size of our general population, whose patronage continues to encourage such loud and unoriginal films.

The good (in no particular order)

Master

Helmed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, Master is a sort of departure from the usual overdose of heroism we get from a typical Vijay film. The film gets only better on repeat watch, which is a rare merit that one could assign to recent Vijay movies. In the film, Lokesh sort of breaks the practice of undermining the villain. Unlike other big hero movies, we know everything about the villain, played by an in-form Vijay Sethupathi, and very little about the hero, played by Vijay. The unhurried and smooth texture of the film makes it an important one in Vijay’s career.

Karnan

Written and directed by Mari Selvaraj, this film is visual poetry. While in his debut film Pariyerum Perumal, Selvaraj’s hero, was a non-violent college boy who suffers all humiliation in silence, the hero of Karnan is a sword-wielding soldier, who refuses to obey discrimination in the name of caste hierarchy. Dhanush is a revelation in this movie.

Mandela

Written and directed by Madonne Ashwin, this one was a real surprise. The film is set against the backdrop of a small village, which is deeply divided along caste lines. And the caste continues to show how elections play out in the village until a nameless man in the village secures a vote ID card. And what happens when he understands how to properly wield the weapon of his democratic right without succumbing to caste prejudice? Madonne explores the endless possibilities of this setup in a humorous way, supported by Yogi Babu’s realized performance.

Sarpatta Parambarai

This film is a benchmark in Tamil cinema when it comes to making boxing movies. It did not just give an honest depiction of the boxing sport, it also provided an engaging narrative of the forgotten culture of Chennai (then Madras). Unlike his previous film, director Pa. Ranjith didn’t reflect on the evils on the outside. But, he services fault lines within the community. The hostility in the movie stems from more primitive instincts such as jealousy, greed, insecurities and self-indulgence.

Jai Bhim

Director T. J. Gnanavel’s movie is based on real-life events that happened in retired Madras High Court Justice K. Chandru. The film follows the struggles of a tribal woman who fights the system with the help of an activist advocate to find her husband, who gets lost in the cracks of our vast democratic setup. The film is sincere, unflinching and relentless.

Doctor

The film was a welcome respite from all the emotionally heavy socio-political dramas we were subjected to this year. The film is a significant upgrade in terms of humour and the general quality of presentation from Nelson Dilipkumar. The unique comical timing of the director that we saw in his first film Kolamaavu Kokila (2018), gets bigger, better and sharper in Doctor. The film deals with an eccentric savant, who works as a doctor in the army. Sivakarthikeyan delivers a restrained performance in the dark comedy, which is populated by child kidnappers, petty thieves, murderers, and kingpins of illegal organ trafficking.

Vaazhl

Director Arun Prabu Purushothaman’s road movie is a visual treat. The film treads a rather familiar path. It explores the trappings of modern society, 9-5 jobs, and the meaninglessness of urban lifestyle, which desperately tries joy in the most happening watering holes of the city. But, he tells the familiar tale in a dreamy visual style, which is almost meditative.

Maanaadu

Simbu almost makes it up for his lousy excuse of a film (Eeswaran) with this political thriller that messes with the very fabric of time. After a very long time, director Venkat Prabhu has really sequenced his creative part of the brain to design a film that gets the best out of the time-loop genre. The film revolves around a man named Abdul Khaaliq, who can reset the day in the instance of his death. And he gets to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right. Entangled in Abdul’s time loop is a corrupt cop Dhanushkodi, played by wonderful S. J. Suryah, who delivers a pitch-perfect villainous performance. Maanaadu is Venkat Prabhu’s best movie since his debut Chennai 600028 (2007). And that was a long time ago.

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