Envisaging Tamil Cinema in 2020
With the last decade turning out to be a groundbreaking one for the Tamil film industry in various aspects, let's look at what we can expect from Kollywood in 2020
The 18th-century German philosophical concept named 'Zeitgeist' is a word that translates into, "The defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time." Tamil cinema is an industry that is heavily characterised by the sociopolitical happenings of our State and to an extent, the country, and vice-versa. Here are trends you should look out for in 2020.
Be ready for lesser films
You might have been spoilt for choice in recent years when it comes to Tamil films, but note that the number of films released in 2019 is the lowest in the last few years (apart from 2018, which saw the Producers Council strike for two months). While Tamil cinema went past the 200 films a year mark in 2019, we barely made it. This is despite a market prediction of having a little more than 250 plus releases in the year. The difference between the projected and factual numbers are not because of the lack of films being made but the difficulty involved in releasing them. Those in the trade have been constantly grumbling about smaller films never getting a solo release and multiplexes avoiding them like the plague in favour of films starring bankable actors and films of other languages. This, unfortunately, is predicted to continue this year as well.
OTT to the rescue
And that's where OTT platforms such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hotstar and SunNXT come in. 2019 saw a few direct-to-OTT releases such as Sigai, Igloo and Kalavu, and this trend is expected to increase exponentially this year. Director Balaji Tharaneetharan's Oru Pakka Kathai has already been bagged by Zee5. Venkat Prabhu's production venture RK Nagar is said to be getting a Netflix release and his long-delayed Party is also speculated to follow suit. Not only have these platforms become a boon for films struggling to find theatres, but they have also become avenues for films that have had a successful run on the big screen to make more money. The biggest hits of 2019 such as Petta, Viswasam, Bigil and Nerkonda Paarvai are all available for streaming. Kaithi was available on Prime, a mere 30 days post its release, causing a backlash from exhibitors who claimed that the film was still running to packed houses. Earlier this month, a spokesperson from the multiplex association said that films can be premiered on OTT platforms only after 56 days of their theatrical release.
A new canvas
Apart from streaming feature films, OTT platforms also regularly churn out original content. The last couple of years saw a boom in this medium causing actors and filmmakers to jump ships, without the fear of release issues and censorship. Original OTT content might have hit the shores of Mumbai earlier, but 2020 seems to be the year where Tamil content will likely prove its mettle. Tamannaah's debut web series for Hotstar, titled The November Story, is expected to be out in the first quarter of this year. Samantha, meanwhile, joined the bandwagon by nabbing a role in the second season of The Family Man. A Netflix anthology from directors Gautham Menon, Vetrimaran, Vignesh Shivan and Sudha Kongara, based on honour killings, will also be dropping this year. The series will star actors such as Kalki Koechlin, Anjali, Prakash Raj, and Sai Pallavi. Let's also not forget the multilingual prequel to the Baahubali franchise, Baahubali: Before the Beginning. Expected to be the most expensive web series made in India, it will follow the journey of Sivagami's rise to power in the Mahishmati kingdom.
A recognition of MeToo
The MeToo movement shook the Tamil film industry to its roots with many renowned names such as Vairamuthu, Arjun, and singer Karthik getting called out. Shockingly, very few from the industry stood up to the survivors and to make things worse, the accusers were denied work by their respective councils. Sruthi Hariharan, who accused her co-star Arjun after working with him in the film Nibunan, was never seen in a Tamil film after that. She had gone on record confirming that films in Kannada, where she works predominantly, had reduced significantly. Singer Chinmayi, who headlined the several women's accusations against lyricist Vairamuthu, was thrown out of the dubbing union and it took a toll on her career despite her stellar work in 96. She made her Tamil dubbing comeback in Sivakarthikeyan - PS Mithran's Hero, and both its producer and director have been vocal about pulling every string possible to get her behind the mic.
The end of 2019 saw some actors receiving flak for collaborating with those accused of harassment. A few weeks back, actors Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth were criticised for sharing the stage with Vairamuthu who was present to celebrate Kamal's 60th year in the industry. The lyricist, who was supposed to receive an honorary doctorate from a University last Saturday, was not honoured following widespread outrage and the University's subsequent decision to shelve the plan after chief guest Union Minister Rajnath Singh cancelled his visit. Meanwhile, Vairamuthu's name has not been mentioned in the crew list of his long-time collaborator, director Mani Ratnam's next film, the adaptation of Ponniyin Selvan. Interestingly, another frequent collaborator of Vairamuthu, musician AR Rahman, has stopped working with the lyricist after 2018's Chekka Chivantha Vaanam and has roped in Chinmayi for songs in his last two Tamil projects, Sarvam Thaala Mayam and Bigil.
Rise of the YouTube generation
With comedians such as Santhanam and Yogi Babu preferring lead roles, last year saw an influx of YouTubers in cinema. While there were also a few directors that were discovered from the massive Tamil YouTube diaspora, this year will see exponential growth in the YouTubers joining the film industry. Famous Tamil YouTube channel Temple Monkeys is coming up with its first feature film. Titled Pallu Padama Paathuka, the film, directed by Vijay Varadharaj, will star the whole team of Temple Monkeys apart from Dinesh and Sanchita. Gopi and Sudhakar of Parithabangal channel will be releasing their debut film titled Hey Money Come Today Go Tomorrow Ya. After opting for crowd-funding, the film, which also stars the comedians in the lead, apparently collected in excess of Rs 6.5 crore and became Asia's biggest crowd-funded film. Popular YouTuber Rajmohan too will be debuting as a director this year on an education-based film.
On the acting front, many of these YouTubers will be seen in Vijay-Lokesh Kanagaraj's Master. The latest to join the bandwagon is Jumpcuts fame Hari Bhaskar who is set to play the lead in the romantic film, Ninaivo Oru Paravai. R Badree, a constant in the Temple Monkeys team, is part of Ranveer Singh- starrer '83 in which he plays the role of cricketer Sunil Valson.
From Chennai to Hollywood
After the recent Hollywood debut of Tamil actors such as Dhanush in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir and Amitash Pradhan in Heartbeats, Hollywood no more feels like a distant dream. 2020 will see a few more Tamil actors working hard to bridge the gap between the two industries. This year will see GV Prakash foraying into Hollywood with the film Trap City, co-starring Brandon T Jackson. Similarly, veteran actor Napolean will have two Hollywood releases this year -- Devil’s Night: Dawn Of The Nain Rouge and Christmas Coupon, both produced by the same production house, Kyyba Films.
Heroes to villains
Actors who have played lead roles turning antagonists is not a particularly new trend in Tamil cinema. Interestingly, seasoned actors such as Rajinikanth, Sathyaraj and Sarathkumar started out as villains before winning the hearts of people. But this year will see a new breed of villains--actors who have hitherto been our heroes. Vijay Sethupathi, who played a character with grey shades in last year's Petta, is going all black for Vijay's Master in which he is playing the villain. Bollywood actor Suniel Shetty, who had a brief tryst with Tamil films with the 2001 film 12B, is returning to the industry as the villain in Rajinikanth's Darbar which is releasing next week. Cinematographer-turned-actor Natty is also said to be playing a role with grey shades in the Sibiraj starrer, Walter. Director Venkat Prabhu, whose acting skills were recently showcased in Kalavu, will be playing the villain in Vaibhav-starrer Lock Up, which is produced by his Nitin Sathyaa.
Pending films see the light of day
2020 will be the year when we might finally get to see if certain movies in cold storage have aged well enough. A few films affiliated to Gautham Menon were facing tough times. There was light at the end of the tunnel after his directorial venture, Enai Noki Paayum Thota, which was completed at the end of 2018, finally released in November 2019. His pet project, the Vikram-starrer Dhruva Natchathiram which went into production in early 2017, which is yet to be completed, is expected to release this year. The release of Naragasooran, which was co-produced by the director's Ondraga Entertainment, was also put on hold. Selvaraghavan's Nenjam Marappathillai, starring SJ Suryah, which allegedly was co-produced by Gautham, will also be supposedly releasing in the first quarter of this year. Interestingly, Gautham, in mid-2018, cleared the air by releasing a statement saying that he is not connected to the film anymore. While on Selvaraghavan, his long-delayed Santhanam starrer, Mannavan Vanthanadi, which has been in the cans for a long time because of a dispute between its producers, is expected to get cleared this year. Interestingly, Santhanam also has two films — Server Sundaram and Odi Odi Uzhaikkanum — which have long been in the dark without a release date in sight. Other much-delayed films that hopefully should hit the screens this year include SJ Suryah's Iravaakaalam, Abhay Deol's Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kathai, Arvind Swami's Sathuranga Vettai 2, Samuthirakani's Kitna, Vijay Sethupathi's Idam Porul Yaeval, Atharvaa's Othaikku Othai, Kajal Aggarwal's Paris Paris, Shirish's Pistha and Prabhudheva's Yung Mung Sung.
This year will also see some unexpected team-ups. The most surprising one must be director Vetri Maaran's film starring comedian Soori in the main lead. Next in line is Thalaivi. The Jayalalithaa-biopic starring Kangana Ranaut will mark her return to Tamil cinema after more than a decade. Last seen in the 2008 film Dhaam Dhoom, Kangana is teaming up with director Vijay for the first time in this trilingual biographical film. After amazing us by working with Nelson last year in Monster, SJ Suryah seems to be continuing his streak in this year's Bommai that will see him working with director Radhamohan. While on him, let's not forget his Uyarndha Manithan in which the director-turned-actor will be teaming up with legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan, who will be making his Tamil debut with this film. On the musical front, GV Prakash who has composed music for more than 65 films, had notably never worked on a Suriya film before. This will change this year as the young composer is in charge of music for Suriya's Soorarai Pottru. Similarly, Imman, who has more than a hundred films under his name, will be working on his first Rajini film. Ilaiyaraaja will be working with Vishal (Thupparivaalan 2), Vijay Antony (Thamilarasan), Udhayanidhi Stalin (Psycho) and Aadhi (Clap). Speaking about the maestro, the year will also mark the first time he will be composing with Yuvan Shankar Raja in Vijay Sethupathi's Maamanithan.
Evolution of the Superstar
Even with more than 160 films filling up his filmography, Rajinikanth will mostly have another busy year with two releases. In this year's first release, Darbar, he will be playing the role of a cop -- 27 years after his 1992 film Pandiyan. His second film of the year, by director Siva with whom he is collaborating for the first time, will see him teaming up with Khushbu and Meena after 28 and 24 years, respectively.
Away from the tinsel town, 2020 is also expected to be the year when Rajinikanth will take a deeper plunge into the world of politics. When he announced his foray into politics exactly two years ago, he confirmed that his party will contest in the 2021 Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly elections in all 234 constituencies. Political analysts speculate that the actor hinted at a collaboration with Kamal's Makkal Needhi Maiam in the event and that's something only time will answer.
A rare occurrence
A little bit of research shows that 2020 will probably be the first time after 2010 that all the top stars of Tamil cinema — Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Ajith, Vijay, Suriya and Vikram will all have a release each in the same year. The last time this happened in 2010, the films that came out were Enthiran, Manmadhan Ambu, Aasal, Sura, Singam and Raavanan. This year, apart from the above-mentioned Darbar and Thalaivar 168, we will also be seeing Vijay's Master, Ajith's Valimai, Kamal's Indian 2, Suriya's Soorarai Pottru and Vikram's Cobra and Dhruva Natchathiram. With these many biggies in the offing, 2020 looks to be an important year for the industry commercially and that thought is enough to make this New Year special.