Breaking the old ways: Tamil cinema's Vetri Maaran and Pa Ranjith

The two directors have only a handful of films to their credit but they have created a space for themselves in the industry.
Breaking the old ways: Tamil cinema's Vetri Maaran and Pa Ranjith
Breaking the old ways: Tamil cinema's Vetri Maaran and Pa Ranjith
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There is hardly any dearth in numbers as far as the release of Tamil films is concerned, only a handful of films have impacted the box office while the others have returned to the cans in record time.

But, the silver lining is that the industry now boasts of a number of young filmmakers who can be counted on to hold the banner of Tamil cinema aloft in the coming days. Themes considered taboo are being tackled with gusto, and audiences which were lulled into a soporific slumber by the monotonous fare now have something to cheer for.

Two directors who have already made a name for themselves though they have helmed only a handful of films are Vetri Maaran and Pa Ranjith. To the former, goes the credit of bagging the prestigious National Award for Best Director for his second film Aadukalam. Ranjith is not far behind - when he was just two films old, he managed to get back to back assignments to direct Rajinikanth starrers, something that directors would give their right arm for.

But what is refreshing about these auteurs and others like them is that they are not too wary of the box office and are prepared to swerve from the beaten track to tackle fresh and novel themes.

Vetri Maaran, a protégé of the late cinematographer-director Balu Mahendra, commenced his innings with a regular commercial film Polladhavan, a title borrowed from an yesteryear starrer of Rajinikanth. With Dhanush as the hero, the film had little to commend it as it more or less revolved around stunts and romance with the vivacious Divya Spandana paired opposite the hero. The director hardly gave any glimpses of his craft in the film, which however had a good box office run.

However, it was his second directorial venture Aadukalam again with Dhanush in the lead role that won plenty of critical acclaim and a bagful of awards that marked out the young director as a talent to watch out for. Set in a village where cock fights are common, Aadukalam mirrored life in the raw with flaring passions, gang wars over roosters, enmity between different sects etc forming the leitmotif.

A petite Tapsee Pannu was roped in to play the female lead. With excellent choreography by Dinesh and riveting music by GV Prakash Kumar, the film had everything going for it. But where Vetri Maaran scored was in fleshing out his characters with Dhanush, Naren and Jayabalan all perfectly cast in tailormade roles, A taut screenplay and pithy dialogues too added plenty of pep to the film. A rich haul of National Awards came the film’s way and the box office collections too were heartening, considering the fact that the film was made on a shoestring budget.

But arguably, the best film by Vetri Maaran was the hard hitting Visaranai, India’s entry to the Oscar Awards. It was based on an autobiographical novel Lock Up by Auto Chandran. The film, which dealt with custodial violence, had a surfeit of blood, and gore. So much so, that Dinesh, who was incidentally introduced by Ranjith in Attakathi and played the lead role in Visaranai, confessed that he would get nightmares recollecting the graphic violence in the film.

Visaranai elicited mixed reviews, but critics also lauded the director for not chickening out in depicting the sordid sequence of events where police use extreme third degree tactics to extract confessions from innocents. Vetri Maaran, who has floated his own production unit, has also produced films like Kaaka Muttai and Kodi, with Dhanush as a co-producer. His next film, too, has Dhanush leading the cast and Vada Chennai is touted to be a movie based on gang wars in Tamil Nadu. Thanks to his Dhanush fixation, Vetri Maaran is yet to make films with other A lister heroes. 

Pa Ranjith debuted with a romantic comedy Attakathi, but it was with the political film Madras that he won his spurs as a director. Madras, in which Kaarthi played the lead, dealt with depression and unemployment among the youth. The film had a political slant and the symbolism was apparent as the story unfolds around a giant hoarding of a politician on a wall that leads to intrigue and murder.

Ranjith shot to further fame with the two films that he made with superstar Rajinikanth.. Directing superstars, however, has its pluses and minuses and while it can assure a good outing at the box office, the director has to finetune his script keeping the superstar’s image in mind. This would leave him little elbow room to maneouvre. But that did not unnerve Ranjith who not only turned Kabali into a hit, but also bagged Rajini’s next film Kaala.

Kabali, extensively shot in Malaysia, pleased the superstar’s fans with the director affording Rajinikanth free rein to showcase his mannerisms, flex his muscles etc, while putting forth his brand of politics. In Kaala, it was the director and scriptwriter Ranjith who stole the show. Kabali, the story of a don who goes in search of his family after serving a stiff jail term, was also written by Ranjith but Rajini’s overpowering aura was the piece de resistance of the film.

Kaala, set in Asia’s biggest slum - Mumbai’s Dharavi -  dealt with the displacement of have-nots from their homes by land sharks. With a theme revolving around oppression and anti-caste politics, Ranjith’s fiery dialogues were the mainstay and even the star’s charisma had to take a backseat. While Ranjith is not keen on being labeled as a Dalit filmmaker, caste inequalities have always been part of his films. The grapevine has it that Ranjith is all set to do a web series on the late actor Silk Smitha.

Ironically, despite their success, both Vetri Maaran and Ranjith have not found the sailing smooth so far in their careers. Vetri Maaran, especially, has had producers play ducks and drakes with him and stars too have opted out of his films at times. But the future augurs well for both the filmmakers, as they have the courage of their convictions and the innate ability to tell a story the way it should be told.

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