There's no doubt that a big budget Tamil film is a lot of fun. There's the fan frenzy surrounding it, the addictive songs that play on loop, and the joy of seeing your favourite star glorified on screen. There's also the comfort of sitting back and watching a film where you know exactly what's going to happen next, but don't mind the predictability.
However, if you are looking for a change from mainstream cinema and would like a break from the usual formula flicks, here's a guide (in no particular order) to some of the most interesting cinema to come out of Kollywood since 2010.
With modest budgets and nearly no big stars in the cast, these are films that have won over the audience with the strength of their storytelling. This is not an exhaustive list, only a beginner's guide to exploring more Tamil cinema.
1. Pizza (2012, Horror): Karthik Subburaj's debut film, Pizza is a creepy horror thriller about a pizza delivery man (Vijay Sethupathi) who gets trapped in a house where he's gone to make a delivery. But there's more to it than what meets the eye, and we're in for some major surprises. The film was made way before Vijay Sethupathi became the star that he is now.
2. Azhagarsaamyin Kudhirai (2011, Drama): Directed by Suseenthiran, this film is about a wooden horse that goes missing. With Appukutty in the lead role, the film promotes rationalism and paints a vivid picture of life in a Tamil Nadu village.
3. Ammani (2016, Drama): Elderly women are mostly wallflowers in mainstream cinema. This film by Lakshmy Ramakrishnan is about Saalama (Lakshmy), a retired woman, who decides she's had enough of her greedy, demanding family.
4. Thamizh Padam (2010, Satire): An unusual film directed by CS Amudhan, the film is a spoof of mainstream Tamil cinema. It takes some of the most common yet truly absurd tropes of Tamil cinema, and projects it hilariously. The song 'Oh Maha Zeeya' which is made of gibberish words from popular Tamil songs is a delight.
5. Aandavan Kattalai (2016, Comedy): A hilarious film about a man who needs to make an important change to his passport, this M Manikandan directorial is rich in irony. Although it has Vijay Sethupathi in the cast, his role is devoid of any heroics. Ritika Singh as a no-nonsense journalist is a joy to watch as well.
6. Saivam (2014, Drama): Films with children as the central protagonists are rarely authentic. This AL Vijay film about a girl (Sara Arjun) who wants to save a cock from being sacrificed, however, is a heartwarming story that doesn't get preachy.
7. Oru Naal Koothu (2016, Drama): This film directed by Nelson is about three women (Mia George, Nivetha Pethuraj, Rithvika), their views on marriage, and how they eventually find the right guy (or not). A bold film with authentic characters and an entertaining script.
8. Soodhu Kavvum (2013, Black comedy): Directed by Nalan Kumarasamy, this film is about a gang of kidnappers who go from one mess to another. The film has Vijay Sethupathi in the lead role with Sanchita Shetty playing his imaginary girlfriend.
9. Kaaka Muttai (2015, Drama): M Manikandan's wonderful film has a deceptively simple storyline - two underprivileged children want to eat a pizza. Their ambition turns into an adventure, and the film makes us cry and laugh in equal parts.
10. Angadi Theru (2010, Drama): Directed by Vasanthabalan, this gut-wrenching film is about life in a street everyone in Chennai would be familiar with - Ranganathan Street. With Anjali and Mahesh in lead roles, the film puts a face to the invisible workers who toil in Chennai's busiest market district.
11. Uriyadi (2016, Thriller): This hard-hitting political thriller by Vijay Kumar is about caste politics and the web of violence that surrounds it. Vijay Kumar starred in the film as well. With its real characters and riveting screenplay, the film opened to rave reviews.
12. Pisasu (2014, Horror): This Mysskin horror film is actually a love story - between a ghost and a man who wants to help her. As absurd as that sounds, the evocative storytelling makes it a gripping watch. The film has Prayaga Martin and Naga in lead roles.
13. Maanagaram (2017, Thriller): Lokesh Kanagaraj's film is about a bunch of characters with no names (unlike a village where everyone knows everyone, anonymity is the norm in big cities). The film explores life in a big city and how people react and respond when they're thrown in a spot of trouble. The gripping screenplay made sure that the film became a hit despite having no big names in the cast.
14. Oru Kidayin Karunai Manu (2017, Drama): Directed by Suresh Sangaiah, this unusual film is about a goat that's on its way to be sacrificed at a temple. But then, the vehicle with the goat and the people who are taking it, meets with an accident. Now what to do about the 'corpse' they have at hand? Funny and insightful, Oru Kidayin Karunani Manu is an unusual film.
15. Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom (2012, Black comedy): Based on real events, this debut film by Balaji Tharaneetharan had Vijay Sethupathi playing a man who loses his memory. What's worse, he loses his memory 2 days before his wedding! With a stellar performance by Vijay Sethupathi, this film is an entertaining watch.
16. Kurangu Bommai (2017, Drama): With an interesting non-linear plot, this film directed by Nithilan Swaminathan is about an honest driver who finds himself in a smuggling web. With great performances, especially from Bharathiraja, the film opened to critical acclaim.
17. Kalyana Samayal Sadham (2013, Comedy): Directed by RS Prasanna, this is a very unusual film for an industry that's given to celebrating masculinity. The hero (Prasanna) has erectile dysfunction, and must figure out how to fix the problem before he gets married. Both Prasanna and Lekha Washington turned up excellent performances which made the film believable and real.
18. Dhuruvangal 16 (2016, Thriller): A debut that turned heads, Karthick Naren's thriller with a tight plot, unreliable witnesses, and believable characters makes for an exciting whodunnit. The film is rich in detail and went on to become a blockbuster.
19. Lens (2017, Thriller): Shot on a shoestring budget, this film by Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan is a brave attempt to look at the issue of cyber crime. The director, who also plays the lead role, paints a vivid picture of a middle class man obsessed with pornography and cyber sex. The film is not without its flaws, but makes for an engrossing watch nevertheless.
20. Aadhalal Kadhal Seiveer (2013, Drama): This Suseenthiran film is about teenage love and the consequences it can have. Although the film could have easily turned moralistic with such a theme, the director handles the subject sensitively and with a good deal of realism. The last scene, especially, is very powerful.
21. Pa Paandi (2017, Drama): Although Dhanush, the director, makes a cameo, the film belongs to Raj Kiran, who plays a retired stunt master. Like Ammani, this is a film about an elderly person discovering their dreams and following their heart. Revathi makes a delightful appearance, too.
22. Visaranai (2015, Thriller): Directed by Vetrimaran, this film is based on the real life story of Auto Chandran, who was taken into police custody, booked on a fake charge, and tortured. A hard-hitting and difficult film to watch, Visaranai was India's official entry to the Oscars.
23. 8 Thottakkal (2017, Thriller): Directed by Sri Ganesh, the film was released at the same time as Mani Ratnam's Kaatru Veliyidai. However, the thriller with its ensemble cast and tight plot managed to do well at the box office. MS Bhaskar's performance especially came in for appreciation. The revelations in the plot work well and the film maintains suspense throughout.
24. Kirumi (2015, Thriller): Directed by Anucharan, this film with its flawed hero (Kathir) explores the underbelly of the police force. Gritty, real, and with dynamic characters, Kirumi stood out from the usual stories about corrupt cops.
25. Kuttram Kadithal (2015, Drama): A teacher (Radhika Prasidhha) slaps her student (Master Ajay) and he slips into a coma. What happens next? We read about incidents like these in the news and are quick to pass judgment. However, director Bramma gives us the stories that make up these characters.
26. Joker (2016, Satire): Raju Murugan's hard-hitting film is about a woman (Ramya Pandian) who lays down a single condition to get married - there must be a toilet in her new home. Mannar Mannan (Gurusomasundaram), the groom, promises to fulfil her lone demand but how easy is that in an apathetic world?