Tamil cinema pushes the boundaries in 2016, tackling gender, caste and politics

From Kabali to Kodi, a wrap of the best of Kollywood in 2016
Tamil cinema pushes the boundaries in 2016, tackling gender, caste and politics
Tamil cinema pushes the boundaries in 2016, tackling gender, caste and politics
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2016 wasn’t a breakout year for Tamil cinema, but it certainly had a lot to offer in terms of both blockbusters and modest entertainers. The defining cinematic event of the year was, of course, the release of Kabali, which characterised 2016 in some ways.

A very un-Rajinikanth film when compared to his recent hits, the film left many audiences disappointed with its loose scripting and direction. But it also garnered itself attention for the interesting take it produced on caste and gender.

Much like the Thalaivar’s latest outing, 2016 didn’t produce any wildly successful experiments, but it pushed the envelope enough to make sure we didn’t come away disappointed. Here are some of the highs in Kollywood from last year:


It may not have made it to the Oscars gala, but this taut and unflinchingly realistic drama was easily one of the most relevant films to come out of the Tamil film industry in recent times. It drew its fair share of controversy for the high level of violence and for the offence that the TamilNadu police took for how they were portrayed. But it’s impossible to deny that this film drove its point home with intimate and disturbing closeness, and kickstarted a highly relevant debate.


Joker was a superb example in how to make a sharp, pointed socio-political critique without beating your audiences over the head with weighty sermons. An unsettlingly colourful and funny but incisive look at poverty, activism and governmental failure towards the poor, we loved Joker especially for giving us a human heroine with a basic need like going to the toilet in the privacy of her own home. The film also made superb use of veiled and incidental references, touching on an incredible profusion of political issues and events all of which beautifully offset the central plotline of the film without detracting from it.

Irudhi Suttru

As a sports film, Irudhi Suttru delivered the predictable highs and lows. What made the Sudha Kongara-directed film such a refreshing change of pace was its unabashed romance with the power of the female body rather than its allure. Ritika Singh’s feisty and driven young boxer, against Madhavan’s own gone-to-seed character made for an interesting dynamic. But one felt that the movie could have done without the romantic interest Ritika’s character almost too expectedly develops for her coach.


Don’t look too closely at the scripting on this film, or you might see the plot holes that span the ends of eternity. But really any time a blockbuster star vehicle (Suriya playing three roles here) in Kollywood takes a stab at science fiction, it gets our vote. Sure, there wasn’t all that much science in it. But 24 didn’t dumb down time travel to asinine levels either and that earns it a place in the list of highs in 2016.  


Uriyadi gave us an interesting and relatable set of protagonists – neither spotless white superheroes nor righteous vigilantes, but regular guys working with a straightforward moral compass. It also gave us a political script that took potshots at political parties working on caste pride. It had its rough edges, but it also veered clear of the overly slick territory of blockbusters to give us some of the messiness necessary for a good story.

Kuttrame Thandanai

Kaaka Muttai’s Manikandan leapt miles away from the heartwarming young protagonists of that film with his visually-impaired protagonist with an ambiguous morality, and managed a perfectly competent finish too. Instead of taking the moral high-ground of the law, Manikandan keeps the film’s perspective limited and partial, much like the visual spectrum of his protagonist with tunnel vision. Life simply happens to the protagonist, and keeps us thoroughly engaged and more captivated than we might have expected in this film.

Aandavan Kattalai

As if Kuttrame Thandanai wasn’t enough for the year, Manikandan came back with Aandavan Kattalai, which came up trumps with that light-touch approach to poverty and desperation that endeared Kaaka Muttai to us. Economically written and directed, there’s nothing wasteful in this film about a man in need who hopes to find his salvation overseas. If given a choice, the only thing we’d want to change about this film is the unwieldy title.

Oru Naal Koothu

An excellent film on the pressures of getting married for women. With three realistic women characters, and a surprisingly positive outlook towards sex, and a realistic grasp on the issues faced by women, this film is a wonderful counterpoint to the usual patriarchal standards in-built in so many Tamil blockbusters.


Kodi finds itself on this list for one reason – for the space it created for Trisha to deliver one of the defining performances of her career. Refreshingly, Kodi let Trisha play a woman villain without forcing her into the predictable terrain of a Neelambari from Padayappa. Trisha’s Rudhra is ambitious, certainly, but doesn’t turn into a demon or a succubus as a result. We might have liked her to face a better resolution, but we were more than happy with how she played out in the rest of the film. 

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