As I take stock of the year that has been in Tamil cinema
Trust Bala to usher in the first month of 2016 with mutilation, trauma and death. As the characters of Tharai Thappattai became slowly familiar with Bala’s screen philosophy—a likely adaptation of Murphy’s Law which states that whatever can go wrong, will—we, the audiences, couldn’t help but walk out of the theatres during Pongal time, feeling pessimistic about our expectations for the year. However, as the year has since showed, it wasn’t all bad… at least in the world of Tamil cinema. Any year with a decent Rajinikanth-starrer is a good one. And this year, we got more than we bargained for with Kabali. Do you remember the frenzy around the release? The mad rush for tickets, flights with huge Rajinikanth posters, the record-breaking views for ‘Neruppu Da’… It’s a mark of the momentousness of the film that for almost a month around its release, no other significant films were released. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the world stopped moving for a brief while during that last week of July. Ranjith’s Kabali was, no doubt, the biggest event of planet Kollywood this year. For purists, it marked the long-awaited return of Rajinikanth, the actor—not the star—and in a serious film about caste politics no less. And what an interminable wait it had been. The hope that Rajinikanth would submit to a serious film that would tap into his acting ability had long been expressed amid hushed whispers and vociferous conversations, in traffic signals and railway stations, in bars and bedrooms. So, yes, that finally happened, this year. The biggest star of them all shone again.
While on stars, this was also the year when some actors attempted to pass the litmus test of commercial cinema. G. V. Prakash tried that with Enakku Innoru Per Irukku, and Kadavul Irukaan Kumaru, titled so perhaps in the hope that the lines would bring in some of the good fortune of the hugely successful films they are from. ‘Naan E’ Sudeep went to the modern godfather of Tamil commercial cinema, K. S. Ravikumar, with Mudinja Ivana Pudi. Jiiva spat blades in Thirunaal. Santhanam, the hero, took a few more calculated steps away from Santhanam, the comedian, with the successful Dhillukku Dhuddu. Dhanush shrugged off the miserable Thodari by playing an all-too-familiar character in Kodi—beard, scrawniness, swag and all. Vijay, meanwhile, did what Vijay does in the rather entertaining Theri. Another Vijay, of the Antony mould, despite being bereft of the performing gifts of all the above actors (okay, maybe not G. V. Prakash), managed to become a bankable actor with both Pichaikaaran and Saithan reportedly having done good business. And of course, Sivakarthikeyan continued his meteoric rise by showing he can make mediocre films work. Is there another young actor who could have made the twin horrors, Rajini Murugan and Remo, work as well?
This was also a year of sequels. Even films you’d never have imagined would get a sequel, or wanted one for, got them. There was Sundar C’s Aranmanai-2, which single-handedly pulled the horror genre backwards by several kilometres. There was Jithan 2 (did you know this one?), which had nothing to do with Jithan. In a way, it’s a bit like Ko 2, which had little to do with Ko. Perhaps this calls for a body that has the power to prevent films from being wrongly advertised as sequels. There was also Manal Kayiru 2, whose existence was not half as astonishing as its lack of relevance. However, sequels got a shot in the arm with Chennai 600028 II, which technically should have been Theni-28. The film, however, had some decent moments, thanks mainly to the resurgence of RJ Shiva, and managed to bring back the scent of a beautiful period from almost a decade ago. If that’s not what the best sequels do, what is?
“You got a bad script? Great. I’ll turn it into a blockbuster.”
There were quite a few experiments too, both in the mainstream and the fringe category. In the latter, there was Jil Jung Juk, which you may remember as the film with the ‘Shoot the Kuruvi’ song. There was another called Sawaari, which as a character in it says is about a “psychiatric serial killer”, even though the writers likely meant ‘psychotic’. There was the appreciated-by-everybody-who-saw-it Uriyadi. The real miracles happened in the mainstream zone. We got the terrific Irudhi Suttru, which made a boxer into an actress, by making her play a boxer. Karthik Subbaraj reposed all the faith we have in him by delivering with the brave and utterly original Iraivi. It also served the purpose of bringing us SJ Suryah, the actor. Meanwhile, another Suriya, witnessed a welcome return to form with the slick, super-smart, time-travel film, 24. This was the Suriya we had long missed. Oh, and we also got to see zombie take-downs in Miruthan, which had quite a decent run. There were also heartening remakes, even if their collections didn’t break the bank. Bangalore Naatkal, Amma Kanakku, and Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum were all well-made, enterprising films, even if none of them were outstanding. In contrast were the horror films, which, with the exception of Devi, were all horrific, and not in a good way.
But truth be told, in a year that has been witness to demonetisation and a dreadful storm, the cinema thankfully hasn’t been all bad. Recently, as I stood in one of those never-ending queues outside an ATM, a bored man was casually whistling the tune of ‘Thalli Pogathey’, if only so his wait could become more bearable. If that’s not an indication of the redemptive power of cinema, what is? While we have had to deal with large-scale tragedies, 2016 also gave us films to be fiercely proud of. We had the deeply affecting Visaaranai, which deservedly was sent to the Oscars. We had the incredibly promising Manikandan add two more to his ever-growing list of terrific films: Kuttrame Thandanai, and Aandavan Kattalai. The latter also showed that despite being a star by his own right, Vijay Sethupathi has still not sold out. And remember, this was a year when the biggest star of them all, Rajinikanth, showed that he wasn’t averse to peeling a few layers of his stardom. As I said, 2016 wasn’t half-bad.
P.S.: At the time this was written, I hadn’t caught the final releases of the year yet.
A version of this column was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.