It’s an understatement to say that Tamil cinema is peaking. For some years now, Kollywood has steadily ventured into new territories, explored fresh themes and storylines, and made stars out of debutantes.
While the industry continues to spawn run-of-the-mill films, riddled with stereotypes, on one side, it’s also seeing a brave new crop of directors who are breaking the mould and winning over audiences with their original filmmaking.
Older, established actors too are interested in working with these comparatively young filmmakers, excited by their craft and the response that they have garnered from the public. Rajinikanth agreeing to work with a then two film-old Pa.Ranjith is a sign of these times.
Here’s a look at some of these intrepid, new-to-the-game directors who’ve changed the rules and given us quality cinema along the way.
Anucharan’s “Kirumi”, a thriller, was a surprise in many ways. Quite a few films with great ideas are let down by poor scripting. But “Kirumi” stays authentic and does that rare thing in storytelling – show, don’t tell. The hero, Kathir, is anything but the conventional do-gooder that we’re used to seeing. He’s a philandering husband, a neglectful father, and is pretty much of no use to anyone. And yet, we come to care about him and his journey into a dark world where he never knows if he’ll be predator or prey. Despite the violence and gore, “Kirumi” is an entertaining watch, breaking away from stereotypes with a deliberate casualness.
“Kirumi” was co-written by M Manikandan, who made the brilliant “Kaaka Muttai”. It’s extremely difficult to make films with children – their characters are routinely written as either annoyingly innocent or annoyingly precocious. The protagonists in “Kaaka Muttai”, however, are delightfully original and real. The premise is simple – a pair of slum kids want to eat a pizza. How do they achieve their desire? Their quest draws us into so many complexities and raises uncomfortable questions with feisty humour. The film reminds one of the Iranian classic “Children of Heaven” – it could have so easily turned into a saccharine sob story but the director lets his characters keep their dignity right to the end.
Speaking of humour, Balaji Tharaneetharan’s “Naduvula Konjam Pakatha Kaanam” is a hilarious film about a man who suffers from short-term memory loss. Starring Vijay Sethupathi, the film depends on repetitive sequences for it to achieve comedy – and that could have very well been its undoing. But the predictability of what’s to come is what makes the story work. Black comedy is a difficult genre to pull off, and though the film is apparently based on a real life incident, it’s the original, deft direction and storytelling which save it from turning into a yawn-fest.
Raju Murugan’s “Joker” is making waves, earning praise from the Superstar himself. A sharp political satire featuring new faces, “Joker” looks well on its way to becoming a hit. Raju Murugan’s earlier film, “Cuckoo”, is about the romance between a blind couple. Films that deal with disability have either cruelly made fun of the characters or have treated them with pity. “Cuckoo” could have turned into a soppy mess, but, like “Kaaka Muttai”, the refreshing treatment, packed with realistic humour and genuine moments of warmth lift it to becoming the entertaining and poignant watch that it is.
It’s the Olympics season and India’s women athletes are doing us proud at Rio. Sudha Kongara’s “Irudhi Suttru” which featured a female boxer’s gritty journey in the world of a male-dominant sport won over the audience with its unconventional quick-tempered heroine. Given that the average heroine is stuck playing “child-like”, helpless roles, Ritika Singh’s one-armed push-ups proved to be a sight for sore eyes. This is why we need more female directors in the industry – to plant in the public imagination clear-headed notions about the ability of the female body rather than its constant infantilisation, alternating with objectification.
Directors like Vasanthabalan, Karthik Subburaj, Vettrimaaran, and Susintheeran don’t have long filmographies but their films have enjoyed good runs at the box office while also winning critical acclaim. They have paved the way for more young people to wipe the slate clean and reinvent the alphabet.