Tamil cinema in a year of tumult

Unusual protagonists, scathing social commentary, a departure from star-centric cinema… Though the year 2020 was asphyxiating and unkind to cinema, Tamil films still found a way to survive

When the opening weeks of this year were punctuated by the release of films featuring the likes of Rajinikanth and Dhanush, films that were designed for the community-watching experience of a theatre, it seemed unthinkable that we would spend the remainder of the year glued to televisions, and remaining awake at dawn, catching the midnight OTT premieres of many a film that had to settle for a TV release. Films like DarbarPsycho and Pattas now feel like they came out in another year, a time when we travelled in groups… wait, a time when we travelled. It’s in taking stock of the year’s releases that one is reminded that the opening three months—before the pandemic well and truly claimed this year—belong to 2020 too. How long this year has been, and how short its filmography. Tamil films came out in a trickle this year—largely those that were either made for OTT platforms or those that couldn’t afford to wait for theatres to be opened again—and yet, there were still some good films, some useful patterns… And prominent among the trends this year is the…

Searing social commentary

Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban

There were quite a few films unafraid about taking on the system, with many turning out to be enjoyable cinema too. The first prominent entry was Raju Murugan’s Gypsy, which attacks a telephone directory of issues in the country, including right-wing extremism, suppression of women, religious fundamentalism, hate politics, caste oppression, patriarchy… Even if it bites way more than can be chewed in a single story, the film is notable for never backing down from throwing punches. Arun Karthick’s Nasir does quite a bit of this, but in a less obvious, more silent way. The film captures the life of a Muslim man almost with documentary precision, so that when a cruel fate befalls him, you don’t ignore him as a statistic and instead recognise him for being a real person—and not as the ‘other’ as the system would rather we did. Towards the end of the year, we got two more strong entries: Ka Pae Ranasingam and Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban. While the former documents the struggles of a woman desperate to bring her husband’s corpse back from another country—and the systemic corruption and political manipulation that hampers her at every step—the latter is a takedown of police brutality and the impunity with which the department’s authority is often exercised. Coming as it does in the same year as the Jayaraj-Fenix murders, the message is particularly relevant. Many of these films are also notable for their…

For the remainder of this column (and there’s a lot more left, I assure you), visit Tamil cinema in a year of tumult- Cinema express

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