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The names A Bhimsingh, K Balachander, Mahendran, Balu Mahendra, Bharathiraja, Mani Ratnam, Shankar remind us of a specific period in cinema. Who are the ones defining this period?

Heres a list of Tamil cinemas best directors under 45
Flix Kollywood Sunday, October 27, 2019 - 14:41

Tamil cinema is over 100 years old and every once in a while, the medium reinvents itself, giving its fans fresh and enjoyable cinema. This is felicitated by the entry of new talents who usher in change with their unique perspectives and nuanced stories.

Every period in cinema can be defined by its directors. The names A Bhimsingh, K Balachander, J Mahendran, Balu Mahendra, Bharathiraja, Mani Ratnam, and Shankar defined the transformation of the medium and began trends that others sustained.

Let's take a look at some of the contemporary under-45 Tamil film directors who are creating and defining their own brand of cinema.

Karthick Naren, 25

The youngest on our list, Karthick Naren made his directorial debut when he was just 22! His Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru (D16), a fast-paced intense thriller, received critical acclaim upon its release in the year 2016. He won Best Director at the International Indian Film Academy Awards for D16 and Best Debut Director at South Indian International Movie Awards in 2017. D16 also won Best Story at IIFAA that year.

Karthick has two films that are yet to release - the long-delayed Naragasooran and the now ready to be released Mafia: Chapter 1.

Ashwin Saravanan, 28

Another young director who surprised the audiences is Ashwin Saravanan who was about 24 when he made his very first film, Maya, in 2015 with Nayanthara in the lead, no less. Most interestingly, Ashwin had shared in an interview that he had pitched the story to his producer along with an inportant scene that they had already shot. A techie who dropped everything to “try” filmmaking, Ashwin’s very next release Game Over (2019) hit it out of the park. Starring Taapsee in the lead, the film was lauded as an important story that dealt with women’s safety and the psychological duress that comes after a traumatic experience. The director’s third, Iravaakaalam starring SJ Suryah, has been on the back-burner for quite some time now.

Ashwin Saravanan

Lokesh Kanagaraj, 33

Lokesh’s first film was Maanagaram that came out in 2017 and the director was just 28 when he began filming it in 2015. The film was lauded for its hyperlink narrative and Lokesh made quite an impression with it. While Kaithi, his latest film with Karthi that released for Deepavali has been well received by audience and is doing well in theatres, fans are eagerly waiting for updates on his next. His new project with Vijay, currently titled Thalapathy 64, has an interesting cast with actors like Vijay Sethupathi, Antony Varghese and Malavika Mohanan on board.

Balaji Tharaneetharan, 34

Balaji is just two films old but the director has created quite a fanbase for himself within that short span of time. His first film that released in 2012, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, got him the Edison Award for Best Debutant Director, Vijay Award for Best Debut Director in addition to winning Norway Tamil Film Festival Best Story Award. This film also gave Vijay Sethupathi his much needed break and was highly regarded for its simple story and interesting screenplay. Six years later, Balaji came up with Seethakaathi, once again starring Vijay Sethupathi. While this film did not make a huge box office impact, Balaji’s reputation for delivering unique stories remained intact. The director has the unreleased Oru Pakka Kathai that has been caught in financial issues since 2014.

Mari Selvaraj, 35

Mari Selvaraj entered the industry as an assistant to director Ram, working with him in three films - Kattradhu Tamizh, Thanga Meenkal and Taramani - before making his debut as director in 2018 with the phenomenal Pariyerum Perumal. This film shook the conscience of the Tamil audience and opened its eyes to caste atrocities.  Produced by Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions, Pariyerum won hearts of both audience and the critics alike. The film reaped several awards, putting Mari’s name on top of the list of inventive directors in Kollywood. His next collaboration is with Dhanush.

Karthik Subbaraj, 36

When Karthik made his debut as director in 2012 with Pizza, he caught the audience by surprise. Vijay Sethupathi who was mostly doing obscure roles up until then, made his big debut as the hero in Pizza. The film also won a number of awards and was remade in Kannada, Hindi and Bengali, besides being dubbed in Telugu.

Karthik's second, Jigarthanda, also received great response, and became a box-office success. Although his Iraivi and Mercury failed to impress as much, his Petta with Rajinikanth was once again appreciated by Superstar fans who thoroughly enjoyed the tribute to their favourite actor. Karthik is currently making a film with Dhanush and is also progressing fairly well on the production side, helming two different projects simultaneously with two leading women stars - Keerthy Suresh and Aishwarya Rajesh respectively.

Karthik Subbaraj

Pa Ranjith, 36

It would be fair to say that Pa Ranjith has created a movement in cinema ever since he established himself as a director in the year 2012 with Attakathi. As someone with no film background, Ranjith was backed by film producer CV Kumar who also entered the industry as a producer with Atttakathi.

A simple story engagingly told caught the attention of the audience and Ranjith came further under the spotlight with Madras (2014). Madras didn’t just rake in the awards but also made Ranjith a name to reckon with in the industry. He questioned casteist stereotypes, did away with the “upper-caste saviour” narratives and wrote strong heroes hailing from the Dalit community. His Kabali and Kaala, both with Rajinikanth, were forthright in their ideology and made Ranjith among the most important directors of the 21st century in Tamil cinema. The films also rejigged the “Rajinikanth” image trap, giving the veteran star a fresh image. Interestingly, even in star-vehicle films, the women in Ranjith's films played pivotal roles.

But more than just making films, Ranjith is nurturing a whole new crop of talents, producing Mari Selvaraj’s Pariyerum Perumal and now Athiyan Athirai’s Irandam Ulaga Porin Kadaisi Gundu. Ranjith has always insisted on art being political and has refused to water down any of his political ideologies in his creations. He is currently working on a feature film on anti-caste revolutionary Birsa Munda and has two other Tamil feature films lined up for the coming year.

Ram Kumar, 36

Director Ram Kumar is just two films old but his second film, Ratsasan, became the most interesting thriller to have come out in Tamil cinema in decades. His debut film Mundasupatti that came in 2014 was very well received by critics and the film did quite well at the box-office as well. While he had to wait for four years before his second could release, Ram Kumar was quite insistent on not compromising on his story, thereby giving Tamil cinema audience an experience worth their while. Ram Kumar is currently working on his next with Dhanush, who expressed his interest to work with him after having watched Ratsasan. This film was also remade in Telugu as Rakshasudu.

Nalan Kumarasamy, 37

When Soodhu Kavvum released in 2013, Tamil cinema was enchanted. This film was a unique offering, replete with dry wit and satire, easily becoming a film with one of the most interesting screenplays in recent times. His next film as a director came three years later in 2016 with Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum which was the official remake of the 2010 Korean film My Dear Desperado. The film was well received and also did quite well at the box-office. Nalan has also worked in other films as writer, associating with other young directors. He also wrote additional screenplay for Thiyagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe.

Nalan Kumarasamy

Raju Murugan, 38

Raju was a writer before he made his debut as a director with Cuckoo in 2014, a story of love between two visually challenged characters. His very next, Joker, won the National Award for Best Feature Film Tamil in 2016. The film’s story engagingly told the importance of toilets in rural households, with dark humour. Raju Murugan is currently waiting for Gypsy to release. The film ran into trouble with the CBFC and awaits clearance.

H Vinoth, 38

H Vinoth made his debut as a director in 2014 with Sathuranga Vettai, an interesting film about the madness to make money. The film won critical acclaim and everyone waited eagerly for Vinoth’s next. Interestingly a sequel for Sathuranga Veetai was announced but it has been on the back-burner for quite some time now. Although Vinoth has written the story for the sequel, the film will be directed by Nirmal Kumar.

Vinoth’s second came three years later, titled Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru starring Karthi in the lead. Based on real events, Theeran won critical acclaim and also fetched Karthi a Filmfare award. Vinoth’s third was with Ajith; titled Nerkonda Paarvai, it was the official remake of the Hindi film Pink. Vinoth is currently working on Valimai, once again with Ajith.

Suseenthiran, 41

As someone who pursued his father and uncle’s dreams of becoming a director, Suseenthiram persevered for 12 years to become a director, working as an assistant with director Ezhil and SD Sabha. His very first film, Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu (2009), a sports film based on a kabbadi team, won him critical acclaim. Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai that released in 2011 won two national awards. Pandiya Naadu (2013) with Vishal also gained him critical acclaim. Aadhalal Kadhal Seiveer and Jeeva are two other important films that brought him more recognition. While the former dealt with premarital sex and teen pregnancy, the latter spoke about caste in cricket – both under-explored topics in Tamil cinema. Suseenthiran has a penchant for sports films with his next being another sports film titled Champion.

Prem Kumar, 41

Prem Kumar made his debut as a director when he was 40 and struck gold! His 96 with Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha in the lead was a hit not just in Tamil Nadu but in neighbouring states as well. The film won him several awards with fans appreciating the director for giving them a unique, rare love story. The film has been remade in Kannada and is being remade in Telugu. The director is taking his time with his next but fans surely are waiting with bated breath for an announcement.

Pushkar and Gayatri, 42

The husband-wife duo made their debut as directors in 2007 with Oram Po starring Arya in the lead. While the film received fairly positive reviews, their biggest break came almost a decade later in 2017 with Vikram Vedha starring Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi in lead roles. A typical Good Vs Evil story was spun around and presented in the most interesting format and was immediately lapped up by audience. Vikram Vedha won several awards including four Norway Tamil Film Festival Awards. Rumours of its Hindi remake are currently doing the rounds. The couple have, in an interview, said that working together is the only way they know how to work.

Pushkar and Gayatri

Selvaraghavan, 42

Selvaraghavan is perhaps the most experienced, under-45 director on this list, having made his debut in 2003 with Kaadhal Kondein. Just a year earlier came Thulluvadho Ilamai, a coming-of-age drama that introduced Dhanush as an actor. Selvaraghavan had co-directed this film with his father Kasthuri Raja.

But Kaadhal Kondein was unlike any film Tamil cinema had seen back then and immediately established him as a director to look forward to. The film won him Filfare Award for Best Director. Selvaraghavan would go on to establish his style of filmmaking where the flawed hero would receive redemption through a woman.

His Pudhupettai, also with Dhanush, is highly regarded as one of the best gangster films to have been made in Tamil even while the film gained its reputation only post release, not doing quite well at the box-office. While Selvaraghavan is yet to reinvent his style in close to two decades, the director has quite a following for his unique storytelling.

Thiagarajan Kumararaja, 42

Tamil cinema waited with bated breath when Thiagarajan released his second film Super Deluxe this year and when it came out, fans thronged theatres. But how was this possible if the director was just one film old? That was how much of a reputation he’d created in his very first film, Aaranya Kaandam, which released in 2011. It is hailed as Tamil cinema’s best neo-noir thriller, even though it failed to take off at the box-office. Despite his cult following, Thiagarajan never frets, making films only when he feels like it.

Super Deluxe is a multi-starrer multi-layered story that won the Equality in Cinema Award at the 2019 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. With hyperlinked sub-plots, Super Deluxe was discussed and dissected by fans soon after its release. The director has not made any announcements about his next yet.

CS Amudhan, 42

CS Amudhan’s very first film took Tamil cinema by storm. Because Tamizh Padam, starring Shiva in the lead, is one of the industry’s few full-length parody films. While his next titled Rendavadhu Padam has been long-delayed, Amudhan and Shiva came together once again in 2018 to revive the parody business, making Tamizh Padam 2. If making a successful parody requires a well-balanced scripting, Amudhan has proved that he can handle it more than once.

Lenin Bharathi, 43

Lenin entered the industry in his mid 20s, inspired and enthused by his father who himself harboured dreams of becoming a director. Lenin was associated with important films like Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu, Naan Mahan Alla, Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai and Aadhalal Kadhal Seiveer (story by Lenin) before making his directorial debut with Merku Thodarchi Malai. The film won several awards in International film festivals before its theatrrical release. It also received resounding appreciation from both audience and critics alike joining the list of important releases that year. Lenin's next is yet to be announced.

Venkat Prabhu, 43

Although Venkat Prabhu comes from an influential family involved in direction and music direction, he made his directorial debut in 2007 with Chennai 28 that went on to become an instant hit. Starring a bunch of newcomers as cricketers from two local teams, the film depicted their rivalry to hilarious effect, going on to win the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Family Film. His Goa in 2010 also received a good response and Venkat was appreciated for the sensibility with which he handled gay relationships in this film. Venkat has created a name for himself with light-hearted scripts that manage to entertain fans. His next, Party, with a multi-star cast is expected to release soon.

Venkat Prabhu

Vetrimaaran, 44

Vetrimaaran, who is among those who hail from the Balu Mahendra school of thought, made his debut as director with Polladhavan in 2007. Then came Aadukalam in 2011 that won him two National Awards - Best Director and Best Screenplay. Visaranai that came in 2016 was again awarded the National Award for Best Tamil feature. It premierd at the 72nd Vencie Film Festival, becoming one among the very few Tamil films to do so. Vetrimaaran based this film on a novel titled Lock Up by M Chandrakumar and is one of the very few Tamil directors to have successfully adapted Tamil novels to the big screen. His latest, Asuran, is also based on a Tamil novel - Vekkai by Poomani, and received critical acclaim.

Vetrimaaran often employs violence in his films and his dark style is quite enjoyed by his fans. He has also produced films like Kaaka Muttai, Kodi, Lens, etc. He is now working on the sequel to his gangster drama Vada Chennai with his long-time associate Dhanush.

Ram, 45

Also a product of Balu Mahendra’s tutelage, Ram made his first film in 2007 with Kattradhu Tamizh. This film, that tells the story of a young man’s angst at a pretentious society, was widely appreciated upon its release. After Thanga Meengal came out in 2013, Ram became a director of repute. This film won several National and State Awards and interestingly, Ram also made his debut as an actor in it. The director screens his films in the festival circuit before their theatrical release, creating quite an anticipation before their release.

Taramani’s (2017) story was that of an unlikely relationship between a single mother and an unemployed youth. The film received positive reviews from critics, although failing to take off at the box-office.

Peranbu, which released this year, premiered at the Rotterdam and Shanghai International Film Festivals is hailed as one of the most soulful films to have been made in recent times. Starring Mammootty and Thanga Meengal Sadhana in the lead roles, Peranbu told the story of a single father and his teenaged daughter who has cerebral palsy. Ram is yet to announce his next as a director.

M Sasikumar, 45

After having assisted Ameer in Mounam Pesiyadhe, Raam and Paruthi Veeran briefly, Sasikumar directed and also acted in Subramaniapuram that won him many awards. After directing Easan a couple of years later in 2010, he took up acting full-time while also producing a good number of films. However, it is undeniable that Sasikumar the director has made quite a name for himself even if he has made just a couple of films. 

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