7. Irudhi Suttru
Director: Sudha K. Prasad
Sudha’s Irudhi Suttru (aka The Final Round) is yet another Tamil movie released this year, whose cliched storyline was transformed by meticulous central performances. The boxing drama tells the efforts of explosive, rule-breaking boxing coach Prabhu (Madhavan) to train the young, raw boxing talent (Ritika Singh). There’s the typical romance angle, melodrama, pumped-up underdog themes. But, still the tightly wounded script doesn’t have a dull moment. Be it in the anguished expressions or the furious rants, Madhavan once again proves what an excellent performer (but often under-used) he is. The movie was also simultaneously shot in Hindi (Saala Khadoos).
6. Dharma Durai
Director: Seenu Ramasamy
Seenu Ramasamy’s Dharma Durai follows the life of a doctor, from a small village. When we first meet Dharma Durai (Vijay Sethupathi), he seems to be the embarrassing figure of the village. Later, the flashback reveals his glorious past. Then comes the journey towards redemption. Ramasamy extracts every relevant social theme possible from a village set-up (caste, dowry, etc.). There’s an overt message to people seeking foreign employment. The director also has a good eye for details in depicting the ebb and flow of village life.
Alas, he does falter a bit with his in-your-face, contrived approach to put forth messages. The script also starts off slightly erratic. Nevertheless, Vijay Sethupathi’s fantastic, laid-back performance (in the vein of great Malayalam actors like Mohanlal) turns the film into a wonderful family entertainer. Yuvan Shankar Raja’s musical score is another strong USP. Makka Kalanguthappa is one of the most brilliantly scored and visualized songs in the recent times. Tamanaah delivers a good performance, which isn’t very often.
Where to Watch: YouTube
Director: Karthik Subburaj
Karthik Subburaj’s Iraivi (Goddess) tells the tale of victimized women through the viewpoint of sympathetic males. Iraivi has ample space to provide the so-called messages. But unlike many Tamil filmmakers, Subburaj employs a dense film form to deliver the indelible emotional impact. The film has no narrative center and couldn’t be classified under a particular genre, yet the events flow through smoothly. One of the vital flaws in the film are the melodramatic skirmishes in the second half.
It kind of simplifies the issues it wants to deal. Vijay Sethupathi delivers a hard-hitting performance, as expected, but actor-turned-director Sj Suryah is a surprise. No other actor could have put forth a failed, alcoholic director’s portrayal this brilliantly. Iraivi makes a healthy argument to take forth Tamil cinema in the right direction (although the form gradually loses its subtlety in the narration).
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
4. Kuttrame Thandanai
Director: M. Manikandan
Mr. Manikandan (Kaaka Muttai) is one of those rare Tamil film-makers who can get across socially relevant issues in the most interesting manner. His micro-budget crime/drama Kuttrame Thandanai (aka Crime is Punishment) blends in Hitchcockian themes with socioeconomic and ethical conflicts. Protagonist Ravichandran (Vidharth) works as a collection boy in the credit card collection office. He has a tunnel vision and the doctor warns him of losing his eyesight unless he goes for an eye transplant. The operation would cost more than Rs 3 lakh, which is an impossible amount for him to amass.
The murder of a girl, opposite his flat, provides Ravichandran an opportunity to attain money. The choices lead him to a narrow, non-ethical path (like his literal tunnel vision). Although Kuttrame Thandanai has the premises of a whodunit, Manikandan uses it to craft a good morality play (without heavy-handed elements). Few narrative turns aren’t fully convincing, but it’s worth a watch for Manikandan’s mature direction.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Director: Raju Murugan
Raju Murugan’s Joker is not a great film. It spells out its message at every turn and misunderstands rants as a form of satire. But, it still seems to be a necessary film; one that shows complexities of a reality without resorting to vigilante-style justice. Joker has the kind of premise which almost resembles a Shankar movie.
But Raju Murugan’s treatment relies on the helplessness of the cursed protagonist rather than the false resurrection of a hero. The set-up and characters do tend to get a bit tiring and the stagings are less engaging. If the film worked for me, it is primarily due to Guru Somasundaram’s splendid performance. Despite the shoehorned didacticism, Mr. Somasundaram is a marvel to watch. And, director Raju Murugan does a great job handling the flashback sequences in a humanistic way, unlike the cringe-worthy Shankar film flashbacks.
2. Aandavan Kattalai
Director: M Manikandan
Manikandan’s meaningful entertainer Aandavan Kattalai is a pleasant surprise from this year. The premise of a debt-ridden south Tamil Nadu guy using false means to go to a foreign land may not seem original. But, director Manikandan, as usual, grounds his characters perfectly, never reducing them to stereotypes. Like in Kaaka Muttai and Kuttrame Thandanai, false desires, societal shortcuts, and endless consequences form the central theme.
But, there’s no in-your-face message from the director. Aandavan Kattalai happens to be Vijay’s fifth film in 2016. The fact that you’ve seen him five times on the big screen already this year never fills you with a sense of boredom. Sethupathi plays the common guy role with such nuance, it makes me excitedly await his line-up of future projects.
Vetrimaran’s hard-hitting study of pawns of the ‘system’ provokes feelings most moviegoers are reluctant to face in a cinema hall: fear, helplessness and righteous fury. The director uses Chandrakumar’s painful memoir Lockup as a perfect framework to explore the complexities within the often thrown word ‘police brutality’. Many found the intertwining element between Pandi (Dhinesh) & co and auditor (Kishore) an inorganic aspect.
But, that’s a minor quibble in a narrative which unveils one hard truth after another. And it doesn’t fail to engage our emotions. Visaranai is like a surreptitious trip behind-the-stage; the stage designed (to fool the general public) by the complex collaboration of the powers that be (media, police, etc). The total lack of accountability and apathy of the lawmen sends a chill down our spine.
Samuthirakani as the cornered, good policeman (won a National Award for his performance) doesn’t go for typical emotional bursts. His hard emotions implode within, much like the viewers’ emotions.
Honorable Mention: Karma
Karma is an experimental, one-room set investigative film. Independent filmmaker Arvind Ramalingam’s debut feature is the first Tamil film to be released through different online platforms. Director Anurag Kashyap released the film’s link. Madrid Film Festival and Hollywood Sky Film Festival screened the film.
By Arun Kumar
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An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’