The best Tamil films of 2015, listed out in alphabetical order…
1. Baahubali – The beginning
A decade in the dreaming and more than 30 months in the actual making for the first instalment, this movie is a song to the world of imaginative commercial cinema. Every film-maker is something of a visionary but Mr. Rajamouli’s uncanny inventiveness embraces cinema both as a visual art and a compelling story-telling excuse. The untiring efforts of the VFX team superbly bring to life Rajamouli’s surreal imaginary terrain of Bahubaali, cloaking to a large extent the film’s shortcomings in writing. In fact, the film’s greatest achievement is that it never comes across as simply a sensational crowd-pleasing entertainment film, although it is ‘frankly’ that. The first part might be more of a visual spectacle with lots of unanswered questions, but with the final part, Baahubali might just be an event, one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation about Indian cinema.
2. Demonte Colony
Demonte Colony revolves around four youngsters, whose lives turn upside down after a visit to a haunted bungalow in Chennai. The plot is not something that has never been done before, and feels like a ‘desi’ version of a Stephen King novel. Débutante Ajay Gnanamuthu however compensates with his gripping narration, catching us off guard every other moment. The film therefore transports us into a claustrophobic housing board apartment for the majority of the running time, and presents the convincing and eerie atmosphere of the closed sinister space, in bewitching detail. The horror feels frighteningly real and spooks us out intelligently, without resorting to routine gimmicks and jump scares. This neatly done intense thriller that draws on tension and building curiosity is quite a treat for horror fans.
3. Indru Netru Naalai
Inarguably, science fiction is not a very popular genre in our Tamil film industry. The reasons are many; the most prevalent being the notion that our audience generally don’t prefer anything remotely cerebral. Even if a film gets made braving the weather, the pressures of commerce result in a lot of unimaginative ‘dumbing down’, thereby diluting the genre. Why not operate within the confines of our mainstream cinema space, and attempt an entertaining take on science fiction, asks débutante director Ravi Kumar and takes us on a fun ‘time-travel’ ride, which despite being light-weight material, manages to keep us engrossed for most of the time. Getting the atmosphere right and the deceptive tension across, even while making the audience smile takes quite some talent and Ravi proves his calibre in skilfully
4. Kaaka Muttai
Once in a while, comes along a film, that reminds us of the magical ability of the cinematic art form to successfully blend contrasting emotional components – something that emphatically warms our hearts, while at the same time managing to pull a few heart strings – something that leaves us endeared and uplifted, while simultaneously raising questions about the nature of the society we live in – something that keeps us thoroughly entertained , while at the same time, not confirming to the unwritten rules of the movie trade – something that makes us exit the cinema hall with a huge smile in our faces and at the same time, some meaningful moisture in our eyes – something that kicks all banalities of film commerce at its butt, while still drawing packed houses. Kaaka Muttai, written and directed by débutante Manikandan is one such beautiful film, which happens once in a blue moon.
5. Kuttram Kadithal
With the insightfully titled Kuttram Kadithal, writer-director Bramma comes out with a haunting film in his debut, while narrating a dramatic tale of guilt, repentance and psychological distress with the confidence and skill of a seasoned film-maker. An impulsive moment of physical force on a student triggers a chain of repercussions that rapidly spirals out of control. A lesser film-maker might have tapped this conflict for more manipulative emotions by taking sides – by painting a particular set of characters in bad light. But Bramma handles the material with great subtlety, ensuring that only the right kind of sensationalism appears on screen. The writing is brilliant, with each of the artists being given unique transformation arcs. There is an added layer of emotional muddling. And all of these are awash with some stunning religious imagery. The film, despite its missteps in the last thirty minutes, is one of a kind celluloid experience.
After the pretty impressive ‘Demonte Colony’, director Ashwin Saravanan makes you hopelessly fall in love with the supernatural thriller genre, with his debut film, a surprisingly well written and filmed piece of supernatural horror. The basic premise about ‘life after death’ is not totally groundbreaking. But given the kind of film that Maya is, it’s all about execution, and Aswin seems to clearly understand it. The writing and the treatment in many instances are strikingly clever, with visual cues strewn all over. The final product is sincere, unsettling and atmospheric – a film where craft and art come together. A film-maker is born. And the atmospheric horror genre is made proud.
7. Naanum Rowdy Dhaan
Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, in essence, is an attempt at the comedy of errors genre, where all we are expected to do is forget everything and laugh our lungs out. The conflict here, which is about a wronged daughter pining for revenge, doesn’t really matter. The wronged girl turning out scarred for life also doesn’t matter. The romantic angle doesn’t matter. In fact, nothing matters, except for the laughs. And that it delivers, in delightful ways. The film meanders a lot in the first hour, trying to tap the non-existent emotional beats, before it finally comes alive in the latter half – when Vignesh Sivan goes no holds barred on the humour, making us blissfully overlook the sentimental stakes.
8. O Kadhal Kanmani
There are directors. There are story-tellers. There are film-makers. And then there are magicians. The breezy ‘OK Kanmani’ is proof yet again, of the kind of celluloid brilliance, the magician in Mani Ratnam can bring to life with the lightest of scripts. Almost the entire script screams of the director’s romantic touch and his knack of injecting relatable youthful charm to his characters, that after a critical point, starts brimming over the screen, splashing on us like a sprightly shower, catching us grinning, blushing and hushing. The plot, actually, is painfully simple. Opportunities for infusing some essential drama into the leisurely paced narrative are shunned, with the confidence and experience of a film-maker, who seems to be extremely sure of what he is doing. May be, he is kind of making a statement here. ‘”Here it is guys, the thing you seem to love from me, etched and crafted to perfection. Now show me some business. And I will give you some more drama and experimentation next time for sure”. And dare we protest? With pleasure, Sire.
9. Orange Mittai
Crafted as a heart-warming tale of the unlikely friendship that blooms between a stubborn old man and a compassionate youth, Orange Mittai oozes Biju Viswanath’s passion for pure simple cinema in every frame, every shot, every character, every stretch of insightful quietude, and every dialogue left unsaid. The pace slackens quite frequently, leaving us a tad impatient, but for most of the running time, the film pans out as proof of what happens when films are made just for the joy of film-making. Biju, at no point, attempts to desperately ‘commercialize’ his brand of entertainment, staying true to his convictions. In the end, Orange Mittai manges to give a fresh perspective of the complicated emotion called love and its effect on bitter-sweet life.
Kamal Haasan reprising Drishyam’s George Kutty in Tamil! If that’s not a reason enough to catch this superb remake, what else is? An accidental murder. Contrasting perspectives of justice involving two sets of parents- one of the offender and other of the victim. And both capable of going to any length for their children. Jeetu Joseph’s plot is so astoundingly strong that the film would have worked with any artist worth his salt. But when the ‘actor’ Kamal comes into the picture, things are bound to get terrific. And that, it does in amazing ways. Haasan brings his own perspective to the lead character by making him more of an extrovert – a sentimental person who wears his heart on his sleeve. With the more restrained Lal, we connected with George’s determination to save his family against all the odds. But with ‘Papanasam’, Haasan and Joseph, in addition to the original’s emotional thrills, beautifully bring out the wrenching agony of apparent sin and the subsequent yearning for absolution.
The ‘con’ genre is like walking a tight rope, especially in the context of Indian cinema. con men or con artists are seldom seen in our feature films as lead men, not because they are hard characters to write, but because our commercial cinema space doesn’t allow for a grey shaded protagonist, not to mention the lack of freedom to engage the audience with focused or distraction free storytelling, making the gradual escalation of stakes literally impossible. And so there is something terribly inspiring about a début film-maker, who takes up the con genre for his maiden film and chooses to believe in his craft, while staying honest to himself, the viewers and the genre as a whole. AG Amid deserves a round of applause for his guts in making this witty, clever, and audaciously bold entertainer.
12. Tamilukku En Ondrai Azhuthavum
A deadly bomb would be set off if a computer geek restores a solar fare crippled mobile network. The one-liner might sound like one of those geeky thrillers, Hollywood churns out every season, but first-timer RamPrakash Rayappa gives the script his own humorous twist, in the process delivering a film that entertains without expecting you to leave your brains at home. The songs. The comedy. The romance. They are all there, as per Kollywood conventions. But Ram Prakash manages to give every single cliché a new color, which keeps us watching. Neat, funny and mostly engaging, Tamilukku En Ondrai Azhuthavum deserves a watch just for the way it infuses small but delightful variations in mainstream commercial cinema.
13. Thani Oruvan
How refreshing it is to drool at the brains, arrogance and veiled indifference of Siddharth Abhimanyu in a cinematic atmosphere that routinely hypes up dimwits and clowns in the name of villains! When was the last time we saw a film that begins with the back-story of its antagonist? When was the last time a writer treated the good and the bad guy as two halves of the same person in a mad cat and mouse game for superiority, and for that reason, end up as equals in ability and competence? It takes immense guts to come out of your comfort zone and try something radically different. Mohan Raja has done exactly that, giving us a smart and engaging tale of good vs. evil with some intelligent twists. And more importantly, he has given us a delightfully savvy villain. And he has done all that, being truthful to the script and not to the star. Thani Oruvan deserves a watch just for him.
14. Uttama Villain
Haasan’s layered story of a modern superstar overlapping with that of an eighth-century character he wants to plays in his last dream-movie, can be a perfect example of how it’s almost impossible to do justice to some amazing scripts on-screen! But Haasan as the terrific narrator and brilliant actor keeps us almost glued, contemplating on the delightful self-references thrown at us, almost ignoring the average film-making. As the dying cancer patient, who is forced from his self-constructed fantasy world of intoxicating fame back to the harsh reality, where years of apathy towards his son plague him, Kamal Haasan is totally impressive. The 18th century portions come across as inconsistent. But despite all the faults, it’s real tough not to admire the ‘meta-ness’ of it all. Uttama Villain is, in many ways, Kamal putting a mirror to himself in public. Would you dare say no?
15. Yennai Arindhaal
This latest collage of ‘Menon-isms’ to arrive after a gap, Yennai Arindhaal has it all – beautiful and bold female characters who double up as the Achille’s heal for both protagonists and antagonists alike, lead men who are extra-nice to women, the inspirational father figure, the battle of the heart and the brain, the pain of a personal loss, the insecurities of a seemingly invincible man and the list goes on. And rightly so, the film works more as an emotional mood piece than a gritty cop drama. It might not be Gautham’s best, but it’s real hard not to come away impressed by its overall appeal. It’s neither possible nor necessary to pin down on whether this is brilliant film-making, but without doubt this is interesting and responsible film-making.
At least part of the credit for Kirumi’s raw appeal must go to Manikandan, the man who gave us Kaaka Muttai, for coming up with a story that explores a relatively uncharted territory in Tamil cinema – the power politics among cops and the impact it has on the average civilian who attempts to capitalize on it. But the idea on paper doesn’t translate on-screen with the same kind of fearful intensity, probably because of a few tonal issues. This is not to say that the film ends up as an average thriller. In fact, it’s far from that. The story-telling is raw and honest, and at the same time surprisingly economic for the maximum running time. And the character sketches are brilliant. If you think the protagonist, who doesn’t hesitate to fish in troubled waters, is daringly written, you have to wait till the main cop character unfolds in the most intriguing of ways to get débutante director Anucharan’s mettle.
Débutante director Vadivel, in ‘Kallapadam’, follows the escapades of four struggling film technicians as they turn reluctant larcenists for pursuing their fantasy of filming their dream script. The film, at some level, is an awkward wish-fulfilment fantasy that takes itself too seriously occasionally for its own harm. The core idea of setting up the narrative by equating the stages of the heist to that of making a film is quite a brilliant master stroke, but the making comes across as highly inconsistent, brilliant in bits and unremarkable at other instances. Interesting characterizations are frequently blunted by bland performances. But despite the faults and the all-pervading ‘amateurish feel’, Kallappadam is definitely a refreshing and bold attempt that might merit a watch just for its lofty ideas.