Thamizh Talkies: A new dawn
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
It’s the start of a new year, end of a decade, and I attempt to look for that one defining moment which has shaped the Tamil film industry in the last ten years. To begin with, this decade saw the shifting of gears for two mainstream superstars between cinema and politics. Kamal Haasan straddles the twin fields with equal depth. Haasan made a thumping statement in 2013 when faced with the Vishwaroopam controversy, thus proving his command over cinema lovers and by extension, the voting Tamil diaspora. Rajinikanth who is still flirting with his entry into politics, maintains his solid box office lead in cinema, despite setbacks to his health. He has made a wonderful return to good health, with the decade seeing a slight change to his film choices which were as varied as Kabali and Kaala to Enthiran 2.0, with this year's Pettai further strengthening his superstar stronghold.
Apart from the increased success graphs of Vijay and Ajith, we also saw the rise of independent filmmakers, independent producers and that of a young breed of directors who sprang up from the television studio backlights. The first season of the reality show Naalaiya Iyakunar gave us the ace director trio led by Karthik Subburaj, Nalan Kumarasamy and Arunkumar, and that season also gave us this decade’s most beloved performer - Vijay Sethupathy. Just like a Kamal Haasan has a Rajinikanth to contend with, Vijay Sethupathy has a Sivakarthikeyan, who also rose to box office fame from television but from the studios’ spotlight. Two other directors who made a considerable mark in this decade are Vetrimaran and Thyagarajan Kumararaja, both of them exhibiting sheer mastery over the medium and enthralling us with their stamp of narrative with no fear of whether their cinema will 'sell or not'. Dhanush and Karthi also emerged as strong actors with their choice of films.
This decade also saw the return of Mani Ratnam (though according to me, he didn’t go anywhere but success in Tamil cinema is always spoken in terms of the last hit). So, can we safely say that this decade has moved away from just top heroes and given way to auteurs? The directors whose signature style of work is met with glowing box office numbers? I’m not mapping trends like horror films or heroine-oriented films seeing a good run because those are not reliable benchmarks on which to assess long term success in a medium which is primarily dependent on one person’s vision, the director. In an industry like Malayalam, it is fairly easier to assess what kind of films do well: The good kind. A good film in Malayalam always sees a good run in Kerala and now, outside of the State as well, irrespective of the star cast or combination of saleable names. There, the combination of names is only a starting point. Whereas in Tamil, it is the sole point. This is why films made by the directors from the reality show Nalaiya Iyakunar remain the talking point of this decade.
An actor like Vijay Sethupathy who takes unimaginable chances (read risks) with his choice of roles and sees great success in it, is what defines this decade for Tamil cinema for me. The only other actor I can think of who will dare to don an interesting role in another hero’s film is Kamal Haasan, whose career graph has a list of hitherto unseen roles, and that quality I can see now in Vijay Sethupathy, who is separated from Kamal Haasan by about three decades and who is showing signs of getting into that privileged hot seat eventually. It’s one thing to have the courage to take up different roles but it’s another thing when the audience loves you for it. To that extent, Vijay Sethupathy has won our love this decade, hands down.
This decade also belongs to one woman whose tenacity and will to survive is reflected in her box office success. Nayanthara became an icon, this decade. To have scripts revolve around her and to live life on her own terms are both commendable qualities which I want to see more of in the next decade among many heroines. I look forward to seeing heroines win alongside the hero and who have commercial clout riding on their name alone. When that happens, the narrative from women (meaning more women directors) and on women (female-centric realistic films, not just the avenging angel types) will shift to a much better place than what we see now. I raise a 'happy new year' toast to that.