Jai Bhim to Maanaadu: Best Tamil cinema of 2021

Here are 17 interesting Tamil films that caught our attention this year.
Collage of Simbu from Maanaadu and Suriya from Jai Bhim
Collage of Simbu from Maanaadu and Suriya from Jai Bhim
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This was a busy year for Tamil cinema, after the washout in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. With theatres reopening and many Over-the-Top releases, several Tamil films received good reviews and did well at the box office too. We look at the interesting films, which came out in 2021, that caught our attention.

Jai Bhim: Suriya's production, directed by TJ Gnanavel, turned into a pan-Indian phenomenon, proving that Over-the-Top (OTT) releases could go beyond the reach of a conventional theatrical release. The film is based on a real-life case fought by retired Madras High Court judge, Chandru, when he was a lawyer. It is about a family from the Irular tribe that is subjected to custodial violence. While Suriya played the lawyer, others in the cast included Lijomol Jose and Manikandan, who all won tremendous critical acclaim. It is currently the highest user-rated film on Internet Movie Database (IMDB).

Sarpatta Parambarai: Pa Ranjith's sports film on boxing clans in Madras in the '70s is an exhilarating drama revolving around a Dalit boxer and his rise to the ring. Featuring Arya in the lead, the film weaves together political history, rivalry in sports, caste structures, and Buddhist philosophy to make for a riveting watch. Actors Pasupathy and Shabeer Kallarakkal also received unanimous appreciation from the audience.

Watch: Trailer of Sarpatta Parambarai

Karnan: Mari Selvaraj's second film is loosely based on the Kodiyankulam caste violence of 1995, but takes inspiration from the Mahabharata as well. With Dhanush and Rajisha Vijayan in the lead, the film is set in a village that has no bus stop, and the struggle of the people to attain their rights. It also speaks of caste structures and state violence in the process. The film created a big impact on the audience, particularly Mari Selvaraj's storytelling that's rich in symbolism.

Koozhangal: PS Vinothraj's film about a troubled marriage told through a child's eyes was India's official entry to the Academy Awards this year. Though it did not make it to the shortlist, the film was widely appreciated in India for its craft. Featuring Chellapandi and Karuthadaiyaan, the film is set in a village near Melur in Madurai and captures the life of the people in the arid region. It is yet to be released on OTT or in theatres.

MaanaaduVenkat Prabhu's long-delayed time loop film with Silambarasan, SJ Suryah and Kalyani Priyadarshan, came as a shot in the arm for theatres, quickly becoming a blockbuster. The political thriller is about a Muslim man who finds himself in a conspiracy to kill the Chief Minister. By a quirk of fate, he ends up living and reliving the same day again and again till he figures out what to do about it. SJ Suryah's act as a corrupt policeman was especially loved by critics and audiences alike.

Maadathy: Leena Manimekalai's film on the Puthirai Vannar community, deemed 'unseeable' by caste society, revolves around a young girl called Yosana and how she transforms into a deity. The film has been on the festival circuit for a while now but was released on OTT this year. It has Ajmina Kassim, Semmalar Annam and Arul Kumar playing key roles. The critically acclaimed film won praise for its take on the intersection of gender and caste as well as the making.

Writer: Franklin Jacob's directorial debut has Samuthirakani playing a policeman who gets involved in the illegal custody case of a Dalit PhD student played by Hari Krishnan. The film was appreciated for looking at the violence of the police system from the perspective of communities who are falsely criminalised on a regular basis and of low-ranking cops from Bahujan backgrounds. The film also stars Ineya and Dileepan.

Watch: Trailer of Writer

Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum: Directed by Vasanth Sai, this film finally had an OTT release this year after doing the rounds in film festivals. The three short films in the anthology are on women from different decades, and how their lives are governed by patriarchy, particularly the institution of marriage. Kalieswari Srinivasan, Parvathy Thiruvothu and Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli play the leads. The film touched a chord with the audience, especially women viewers, who saw it as an authentic reflection of real life.

Doctor: Nelson Dilipkumar's black comedy about a doctor who gets involved in a human trafficking ring provided much cheer to theatres as it became a crowd-puller. With Sivakarthikeyan in the lead playing a sober, dour-faced doctor, the film managed to talk about a serious subject with humour. Priyanka Arul Mohan and Yogi Babu were also part of the cast.

Master: Directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, this action film brought together Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi on screen for the first time. Vijay played the role of JD, an alcoholic college professor, who ends up teaching in a juvenile home and locks horns with Bhavani (Vijay Sethupathi), a ruthless gangster who uses children for his criminal activities. The film also had Gouri Kishan, Malavika Mohanan and Andrea as part of the cast. Vijay's unconventional portrayal as well as Vijay Sethupathi's performance as Bhavani won praise from the audience.

Mandela: Directed by Madonne Ashwin, this political satire is about the state of democracy in our country, with people selling their votes for cash and political parties only focused on winning elections. Yogi Babu plays a barber, a social outcast, who ends up becoming the centre of attention because his vote happens to be the tie-breaker in an election that sees an equal number of voters in two warring caste groups. Though the film won acclaim, it was also criticised for its incorrect depiction of caste hierarchies and allusions to 'freebie' culture that many argue actually brought in social reform.

Vaazhl: Arun Purushothaman’s, at times funny and at times philosophical, drama is about a woman with a child who has ADHD. Yathramma, as she's called in the film, has accidentally killed her husband and decides to entrust her daughter with an acquaintance before taking a drastic decision. The film has Pradeep Antony and TJ Bhanu playing the lead, and was appreciated for its refreshing originality though some felt its existential concerns were resolved too simplistically.

Maara: Dhilip Kumar's colourful film is a remake of the Malayalam hit Charlie. The romance features Madhavan and Shraddha Srinath in the lead, and is about a woman who goes on holiday to avoid getting married and finds herself intrigued by a man she hears of in the village she stays. Despite being the remake of a popular film, Maara managed to impress because of the subtle changes Dhilip made to the original, improving on the material.

Aelay: The Halitha Shameem film saw Manikandan and Samuthirakani back together on screen, this time playing an irascible father and estranged son. The film, with liberal doses of dark comedy, explored family ties, small town relationships and romance.

Mugizh: Directed by Karthik Swaminathan, this slice-of-life film is about a family that has to cope with the death of a pet. The film has Sreeja, her real-life father Vijay Sethupathi, and Regina Cassandra in the lead. It received appreciation for exploring grief and how children process it, a subject that hasn't received much attention in Tamil cinema.

Kadaseela Biriyani: Directed by Nishanth Kalidindi, this film is about three brothers who decide to avenge their father's death but the hunters end up becoming the hunted. The cast of the offbeat drama includes Vasanth Selvam, Vijay Ram and Hakkim Shah while Vijay Sethupathi has lent his voice as the narrator. The dark humour and the interesting premise won praise from the audience.

Rocky: Directed by Arun Matheswaran, this film about a gangster who's released from prison after 17 years, is still in theatres and has been getting rave reviews from critics. Vasanth Ravi plays a man whose past catches up with him even as he goes in search of his missing sister. The unique storytelling and non-linear narrative make this violent revenge drama an interesting watch.

(With inputs from Ravichandran and Bharathy Singaravel)

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