From January till June, we have seen some impressive films from the South. We saw actors redefining themselves with their stellar performances – be it ‘Attakathi’ Dinesh as Pandi Ravi in Vetrimaran’s Visaranai or S J Surya as Arul in Iraivi. We take a look at the ten films that stood out (in no particular order).

Ravi Kiran

1. The raw deal

The raw deal Vetrimaaran’s Visaranai (Interrogation) is based on the novel Lock Up by M Chandrakumar. The film deals with police brutality, corruption and the ‘control of justice’. The story tells the plight of four Tamil migrant labourers wrongfully imprisoned in the state of Andhra who are tortured to accept the committing of a crime. The movie is a spine-chilling take on the dark side of the police force which has long been glamorised by Indian Cinema. The film was premiered at the 72nd Venice Film Festival where it won the Amnesty International Italia Award is a testimony to its fine portrayal.

2. Knockout

Sudha Kongara churns out a classic old-fashioned tale of a boxing coach’s obsessive quest in developing a lady boxer of international standards. A rift with a member of the Boxing Association (also a National Coach) sees Prabhu (Madhavan) being transferred to Chennai on the teasing pretext of unearthing a champion boxer from the southern coastal city. Prabhu finds a ‘born champion’ in a young lady fish monger, Madhi (Ritika Singh). Initial misunderstandings fall apart as their dreams to conquer the world merge. With power packed performances from Madhavan and Ritika Singh, Irudhi Suttru (Final Round) packs a solid knockout punch in both entertaining and inspiring the audience.

3. Tryst with time

Vikram Kumar returns to helm 24, a sci-fi thriller about time travel. This bi-lingual (Tamil and Telugu) sees Suriya playing three roles with Nithya Menen, Samantha Ruth Prabhu and Saranya Ponvannan playing important roles. In January 1990, the young ingenious scientist Dr. Sethuraman/Sethu (Suriya) fulfills his dream of inventing a watch that can let you travel back and forth for a maximum of 24 hours. His evil twin brother Athreya (Suriya) tries to take the watch and ends up killing Priya (Nithya Menen), Sethu’s wife in the process. Sethu leaves his son, Mani in the care of Sathyabama (Saranya Ponvannan) and for twenty-six years he grows without the knowledge of the time travel watch in his possession. Meanwhile, comatose Athreya pursues his hunt for the watch. The movie keeps you hooked for its aesthetic cinematography by Tirru and the awe-inspiring production design by Amit Ray and Subrata Chakraborty.

4. Smashed (h)it

Uriyadi is the debut film by Vijay Kumar and has been the surprise package of Tamil Cinema this year. The film is set in 1999 to imply that the caste problems continue to hamper us despite progressing onto the 21st century. It opens with a meeting of the male folk from a particular community who have gathered to discuss the placing of a statue for their departed leader. Even in what appears to be a civil discussion, one can see a slight tension arising from it. The story is of four engineering college students in the Tamil town of Trichy. When a caste outfit decides to form a political party, they fall into the tornado of caste tensions. They don’t merely free themselves from this quagmire but win with their brawn and brain. Uriyadi means the breaking of pots, which is mainly done on the occasion of Krishna Jayanthi (a God who believed adharma should be met with adharma). The title fits aptly to the thriller-revenge saga.

5. The bitter half

Iraivi (Goddess) empathises with the women suffering at the hands of men. Arul (S J Surya), an up and coming filmmaker takes an undesirable liking to liquor owing to his dejection following a rift with his producer. The producer is adamant on not releasing his film. Arul’s brother Jagan (Bobby Simha) and cousin, Michael (Vijay Sethupathi) hatch a plan to smuggle stolen idols of Hindu Goddesses sculpted by Arul’s father to pay the producer in order to buy back the film. Their plans are thwarted as things go haywire. Add to this, Michael shares a complex sexual relationship with a young widow named Malarvizhi (Pooja Devariya) which he wishes to continue post his marriage to Ponni (Anjali) and the crumbling of Arul’s marriage with Yazhini (Kamalini Mukherjee). Karthik Subburaj’s Iraivi is a fine take on how the decisions men take adversely impact the lives of the women involved. The film has stellar performances by the cast with S J Surya pulling off his finest performance on screen yet, one that shattered all the bad memories of his past performances.

6. A sensible comedy

Dileesh Pothan’s Maheshinte Prathikaram (Mahesh’s Retaliation) tells the story of Mahesh Bhavana, a photographer who owns a small studio in the Kerala town of Idukki. From the title, one may expect a revenge saga. But instead, we get to see a refreshing take on Retaliation itself. Mahesh majorly captures photos at weddings and funerals. A fight that picks up comically at a funeral ceremony has a cascading effect that ultimately impacts him. On the other hand, his childhood love picks another man for her marriage. The film is all about how he responds. The movie has some of the most well-crafted comedy scenes. The background score and songs by Bijibal are mellifluous. Fahadh Faasil as Mahesh is a Class Act ably supported by a wonderful cast, notably Soubin Shahir as Chrispin, the photoshop ‘expert’.

7. The great Indian family

Jacobinte Swargarajyam (Jacob’s Kingdom of Heaven) is a Malayalam family drama directed by the multi-talented Vineeth Srinivasan. It is based on the heart-warming true story of how an NRI family settled in Dubai adversely affected by the financial regression endured and overcame tough times. Although it is laden with cultural clichés and has a predictable storyline, Vineeth Srinivasan keeps you invested in the characters. He doesn’t embellish them but by keeping them restrained, he makes the audience relate to the characters. Renji Panicker and Lakshmy Ramakrishnan play the couple Jacob and Shirley respectively while Nivin Pauly stars as Gregory Jacob in this southern drama.

8. A cop closer to reality

After the resounding success of 1983, Director Abrid Shine joins hands with actor Nivin Pauly for the delightfully charming cop story, Action Hero Biju. Nivin Pauly plays Sub Inspector Biju Paulose a.k.a Biju, of the town station at Kochi. Unlike other police movies which tend to glorify the cops by projecting them as Superheroes, Action Hero Biju normalises the cop’s role. This isn’t a conventional tale of good vs evil where Biju goes after a villain either. The movie pans out more like a graphic novel where Biju resolves petty issues with his wit and wisdom. Occasionally when the need of the hour demands his presence, he tactfully accomplishes the challenges. By making the cop more humane and relatable, Abrid Shine makes the audience enjoy and embrace the experience.

9. Witty and whimsical

Raam Reddy’s Thithi (Death Ceremony) is set in Nodekkapalu village in Mandya district of Karnataka. The story is about how three generations of men in a family react to the death of the cantankerous ‘Century Gowda’, the 101-year- old family patriarch. There is this good-hearted but uncouth ‘Gadappa’, son of Century Gowda, who is detached from the world and doesn’t want to remain at a place. Thammanna, the grandson, is materialistic and is interested only in the agricultural farmlands inherited by his father from Century Gowda. He wants to clear his debts by selling them but is unable to make his father transfer the same to his name. Abhi, the great-grandson, is wasting his youth in his relentless pursuit of a shepherd girl. Instead of being preachy and philosophical, Thithi is witty and whimsical. The three stories converge on the 11th day of Century Gowda’s funeral, Thithi. But what truly sets Thithi from the rest is the amateur cast (have no prior acting experience). The sounds of the village come alive as Raam Reddy makes us appreciate the aural texture of the village.

10. Horror takes over

After the critical and commercial success of the crowd-funded Lucia, Director Pawan Kumar returns to weave a mystery tale on roads. U Turn begins with a well-crafted introduction scene in an auto between the protagonist Rachana (Shraddha Srinath) and her mother that establishes her character. She is an intern with The Indian Express and her desire to cover a story about people who take illegal U-Turns on a particular flyover in Bangalore, makes her to unintentionally fall into a quagmire of sorts. The people who take these U-Turns die in mysterious circumstances. After initially being thought as a suspect, Rachana soon earns the trust and support of Sub-Inspector Nayak (Roger Narayan). U Turn doesn’t play with your head like Lucia but is definitely an engaging watch, thanks to an intensified portrayal of Rachana by Shraddha Srinath and the supporting act of Roger Narayan as the cop, Nayak.