Tamil cinema is faring well despite all the off-screen turf wars and insipid star projects. In 2016, Tamil cinema delivered the usual disappointments from major stars and promising directors. Mediocrity was celebrated, while fine filmmakers struggled to get green light for their truly distinct projects. Yet, in 2016, Tamil cinema has delivered some good entertainers and meaningful projects. Actor Vijay Sethupathi and directors Vetrimaaran and Manikandan are the saviors of this year. I hope 2017, which has in store directorial projects of Ram, Thyagarajan Kumararaja, Mysskin, Mani Ratnam, Vetri Maran, and Shankar, turns out even more exciting. For now, here are my picks of the 15 best Tamil movies released in 2016:
(Read the Tamil version of this article here: இறைவி – விசாரணை வரை – 2016இன் 15 சிறந்த தமிழ்த் திரைப்படங்கள்)
Aviyal is the second anthology of Tamil short films, released by director Karthik Subburaj’s Bench Talkies. Although the shorts don’t have great production values, the audacity of these young film-makers to approach distinct subjects makes it a commendable effort. Alphonse Puthran’s Eli aka Rat (made in 2011, starring Nivin Pauly) is my favorite among the four short films. The performances are uniformly great, especially the charming lead performers in the first short.
Considering the string of disastrous projects actor Surya involved himself in, in the recent times, Vikram Kumar’s 24 seems quite refreshing. I wouldn’t say Surya has re-invented himself or that 24 is a wonderful sci-fi thriller in Tamil cinema. In fact, despite the shiny production values, the script doesn’t rise from the inherent mediocrity. Nevertheless, the high-octane parts of the film were visualized well and enjoyable. If only Vikram Kumar used the masala elements in a sensible manner (the romance and sentiment), it could have been this year’s Indru Netru Naalai. 24 deserves a mention, possibly for not being a totally irritating star vehicle. (Read full review here).
There are a lot of admirable factors in Vijay Kumar’s micro-budget debut feature Uriyadi. Although like many other young Tamil filmmakers Vijay Kumar has chosen ‘college’ as the primary setting, he has actually tried to deal with a volatile subject. There is no heavy commercialization: like forced romance and bland comedy tracks. Some may call the acting a bit amateurish, but that doesn’t affect the feel of the movie. The four college students in the story have a realistic character sketch. But the stodgy, brutal violence employed in the final act mars the film’s efficiency. It’s too cruel to be a revenge entertainer and totally debased to be the alleged social-message movie.
Sasi’s Pichaikkaran (aka Beggar) has a very melodramatic plot-line. A rich businessman’s mother falls into coma after an accident and the doctors don’t give much hope. The rich guy seeks a holy man’s advice, who advises him to live the life of a beggar for 48 days. He should never reveal his real identity in those 48 days. Sasi’s script is far sensible than what we expect from this kind of sentimental drama. There’s lack of depth in the narrative, but it’s tautly executed. Producer, music composer, and actor Vijay Anthony knows his limitations as a performer and never oversells the emotions or his heroic capabilities.
Arun Kumar’s Sethupathi includes two worn-out set-ups in contemporary Tamil cinema: tough cop and Madurai. As usual, the villain is a corrupted but influential man from Madurai, who, as expected, is brought down by an honest police officer. But thanks to Vijay Sethupathi’s captivating on-screen avatar, the film turns out to be a fine entertainer. His performance is infused with great energy. He is sensible enough to do away with silly, over-the-top punchlines. Even though every narrative beat is predictable, it’s neatly packaged.
Thozha (aka Friend) is the official adaptation of the French feel-good film The Intouchables. The erratic caregiver character was played by Karthi while the quadriplegic billionaire role was played by Telugu star Nagarjuna. It’s a fairly efficient remake. Director Vamsi Paidipally doesn’t rely much on bland entertainment (masala) elements of South Indian cinema. The bromance aspect between Karthi and Nagarjuna worked very well. Rest of the cast, including Prakash Raj and Kalpana, did an excellent job. It was simultaneously made in Telugu, under the title Oopiri (Breath), and enjoyed great commercial success in both film industries.
Lakshmy Ramakrishnan is one of the sensible filmmakers in contemporary Tamil cinema. Her third film Ammani turned out yet another charming, socially relevant drama. The 90-minute film tracks the bond between impoverished, hard-working civic worker Salamma and an 80 plus rag picker Ammani. The central performances from Laskhmy Ramakrishnan and Subbu Lakshmi were beyond excellent. I’ll pardon a few narrative pitfalls (towards the end), because there were no insipid commercial compromises.
Ananda Krishnan’s gritty crime/drama Metro uses one of the prevalent and often ignored subject as its backdrop: chain-snatching. Like in Udta Punjab, the narrative delves initially into the chain of culprits, who thrive through this nasty activity. Much of the narrative unfurls in flashback, where the gruesome aftermath of a chain-snatching incident is portrayed. Metro could have become one of the good Tamil crime films, if not for the feeble conflicts in the script and inefficient performances. Bobby Simhaa as the leader of the chain-snatching gang, isn’t menacing at all (he’s even laughable at times). But the direction was pretty good, with a sense of disquiet maintained throughout the narrative.