Vishnu Vishal is one of the few Tamil actors who has made a career out of subverting commercial stereotypes and picking ingenious scripts. Vishnu Vishal’s tryst with content-driven scripts has proved more successful than his commercial films — from Neerparavai to the blockbuster Ratsasan. FIR, his latest release, aspires to be an addition to the list. He plays Irfan Ahmed, a struggling chemical engineer graduate from IIT Madras, who gets ‘framed’ as a terrorist. But is he one?
Manikandan’s films always operate on two levels. There’s a seemingly straightforward story and then, there’s the fine print. For example, Kaaka Muttai was about the permeating effects of globalisation and consumerism in our society. Even for people who miss the subtext, the film holds well as a charming comedy about two kids who lived in a slum and dreamt of having pizza. His films are examples of the middle ground Tamil filmmakers have carved in the mainstream — where social relevance and entertainment are significant equals.
If you think of cops in Tamil cinema, you are bound to hear Duraisingam bellowing, “Ongi adicha ondra ton weight da.” Or, Aaruchamy saying, “Naa police illa porukki.” You might even hear, “Thimiru dhan pudichavan thimiruke pudichavan” in the background. If you’re an ardent fan of Tamil cinema from the 80s, then a montage of Vijaykanth from various films should run in your mind’s eye. In an industry that is obsessed with larger-than-life heroes, the police force is often used to create brash, loud, messengers of justice.
“We are violent people. Violence namma raththulaye iruku (Violence is our blood),” says Rocky (Vasanth Ravi) to his sister Amutha (Raveena Ravi). The film argues that violence is everywhere. You can either choose to acknowledge and participate or ignore it. But there’s no escaping it. For a long time, Rocky belonged to the former. (He is infamous for disemboweling Manimaaran’s (Bharathiraja) son.) After a seventeen-year jail sentence, Rocky wishes to be the latter. But he is forced to see the violence, quite literally — enemies hold his eyes open to make him see a near one die. After multiple failures, will he finally be able to protect what’s left of his world?
In the final few minutes of Anand Shankar’s Enemy, Chozhan (Vishal) asks his son about his desires. The boy thinks for a second and then says something close “ I want to fight like Batman, be funny like Shin Chan, and act like Kick Buttowski… etc”. It made me wonder if this eclectic combination was the actual inspiration for Enemy.
Starring Vishal and Arya in lead roles, Anand Shankar’s Enemy is a trite, formulaic action drama that laughs at logic and people who expect the same.
Chozhan (Vishal) has a dull childhood, thanks to his ‘Risk Ramalingam’ (Thambi Ramaiah). For Ramalingam, everything is a risk. And this meant that Chozhan had to stick fastidiously to his ‘home-school-home’ routine. Enter Rajiv (Arya) and his father Paari (Prakash Raj), who move to Ooty and become Chozhan’s neighbours. Paari, an ex-CBI officer, decides that his son should become a police officer, and trains him for the same. Chozhan, who is intrigued by what Rajiv does, eventually joins him. Chozhan turns out to be better than Rajiv is, much to the latter’s jealousy. But one day, Pari gets killed. To avoid complications for his family, Ramalingam moves to Singapore. The frenemies grow apart only to meet under very different circumstances 25 years later.
In a recent interview with The New Indian Express, director Siva revealed that when Rajinikanth asked him what kind of film he had in mind, he said, “It’s a film that has everything.” But when you watch Annaatthe, what this actually means: a mixtape of themes and emotions from their previous work. (If Viswasam was the battle between two fathers, Annaatthe is the clash of two brothers.) And they do not stop at their own work.
Annaatthe has pieces from almost every film in the ’90s and early 2000s, so much so that it feels like we have discovered the film from a time capsule. This family drama is so familiar that the audiences become autocomplete tools — it is enough if you just hear the beginning of the dialogue, you know the rest.
In his last speech to the Constituent Assembly, BR Ambedkar observed that India as a republic ‘would enter into a life of contradictions’. He believed that while we will be equals in politics (one man, one vote, one value) we will deny that equality in our economic and social life, thanks to the structures in place. Ambedkar strongly believed that as long as one doesn’t achieve social liberty, the freedom provided by the law is of no use to you. Several decades later, the words still hold extreme significance as we struggle to achieve that mandate. Suriya’s latest release, appropriately titled Jai Bhim, reflects the contradictions Ambedkar speaks of and the harrowing trauma that follows. The film sees Suriya play Advocate Chandru who fights a legal battle for Sengeni (Lijomol Jose), a tribal woman whose family is subjected to brutal custodial torture.
Udanpirappe is Jyothika’s 50th film. Her ‘second innings,’ as she calls it, has been dotted with stories that champion women. More specifically, her films speak of, and for the middle-aged woman, a demographic that is often left out on screen. Tamil cinema rarely engages with middle-aged women, beyond her identity as a wife or a mother. Jyotjika has spoken very candidly about the gender bias in the industry, and her films have been crucial in representing this space.’
However, Udanpirappe is not a female-centric narrative like her earlier films. The film revolves around the bond between Vairavan (Sasikumar) and his sister Mathangi (Jyotika). An ongoing feud between Mathangi’s husband (Samuthirakani) and Vairavan has led to a falling out. While family feuds are no stranger to Tamil cinema, Udanpirappe has an interesting clash of ideologies at the centre. While Vairavan believes in quick justice, even if it means turning vigilante and resorting to violence, his brother-in-law is a stickler for rules. The latter argues that violence will only add fuel to the fire, and can never be the solution. However, Vairavan argues that our snail-paced systems rarely get around to delivering justice. However, Udanpirappe does not explore these contrasting perspectives in detail. It is content to stick to the surface — happy to make an Anniyan out of Vairavan and an Ambi out of his brother-in-law.
In the past few weeks, Vijay Sethupathi has had three film releases. He is also hosting a show on a popular Tamil television channel, has given umpteen interviews. Suddenly, Vijay Sethupathi is everywhere: in theatres, on digital platforms, on TV, Youtube. Memes flooded the internet and they progressed to trolls, fuelled by the failure of his recent projects. But VJS is showing no signs of slowing down: he has a long list of projects that are in various stages of production. Thus, the popular opinion came to be: “Are we seeing too much of Vijay Sethupathi”
Independent musician turned actor Hip Hop Aadhi’s first ticket to fame was his 2011 single ‘Clubbula Mabbula’. The rookie video — a mobile recording of two youngsters rapping in a radio station — became a viral hit, even before we knew what that meant. For the uninitiated, ‘Clubbula Mabbula’ is a song that trashed women who consumed alcohol and partied, branding them as harbingers of cultural doom.
Ten years later, his latest directorial Sivakumarin Sabadham has a similar instance. Shruthi (Madhuri) is harassed at a club by rogue men, saying the same things ‘Clubbula Mabbula’ did. While a usual Tamil cinema hero would have patronised Shruthi, Sivakumar (Hip Hop Aadhi) speaks of the initial culture shock and the subsequent realisation of his erroneous understanding. “Avano avalo ellam onnu dhana, adhu arivu varappo ungaluku thaana puriyum. (Whether it is a man or a woman, the rules are the same.)” And further consoled the sobbing heroine saying, “Nee correct nu unaku theriyum la. Yaaru enna sonna enna?.” (You know you are right. Why do you care about what other people say?)