CE Year in Preview: A new dawn for Tamil cinema
With 2020 being underwhelming for cinephiles, here's what we can expect from Tamil cinema in 2021
Year 2020 was quite dramatic, to say the least, with the pandemic rattling almost all businesses, including cinema. Film industries across the globe came to a standstill; shootings were disrupted, theatres were closed. North America saw its lowest box office weekend last year since 1998. Multiple chains and single-screen theatres across the world, including Cineworld, the world's second-largest cinema chain, closed its premises. With the world trying to limp towards normalcy, here's what we can expect from the Tamil film industry in 2021.
More number of films
We had around 200 releases in 2019, one of the lowest in recent times. 2020 took it to a new low with the total number of films barely crossing the 100 number mark, and this, of course, includes OTT releases as well. With a sizeable number of unreleased films awaiting release and with shooting restrictions currently relaxed, we hope to see more than 250 films gracing the screens this year. With OTT platforms proving to be a parallel stream for smaller films, we can expect quite a few releases every Friday. Also, be prepared for more original content in the form of Tamil web series this year. We hope they turn out to be better than we have seen so far.
A viral trend
Films are a reflection of society. With the pandemic becoming a worldwide phenomenon, it's only natural that we see more films based on the virus and the lockdown. While we have already got films like Unpaused and Putham Pudhu Kaalai in 2020, we can expect to see more films based on the pandemic. In order to minimise the risk of infection, makers will also contemplate the idea of shooting in foreign locations and stories involving fewer people. We can see more dramas shot predominantly interiors or in controllable environments. Our stars are likely to skip escapist dance sequences.
This trend is no joke
Apart from star films, comedy has long been a crowd puller. What can be more cathartic than laughing together with your family? But 2021 looks to be shaping into a gloomy year for Tamil cinema with light-hearted films likely not to make the cut. Apart from Corona Kumar by director Gokul and releases from Santhanam, there is not much comedy to look forward to. Major comedians also do not seem to have big projects on hand. The experienced ones meanwhile are opting for character roles while those like Soori and Yogi Babu are preparing to play the lead.
Giving youth a chance
With the biggest stars of the Tamil cinema not able to hit the standards they once did with their frequent collaborators, they seem to be giving young directors a shot. Right off the bat, we have Vijay-Vijay Sethupathi's Master coming up that's directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj who will also be directing Kamal Haasan later this year in Vikram. Vijay is also joining hands with Kolamavu Kokila-fame Nelson Dilipkumar for a film. The two-film-old Ajay Gnanamuthu is directing Vikram in Cobra following which the actor will work with Karthik Subbaraj. Ajith is teaming up once again with Vinoth for Valimai after the success of Nerkonda Paarvai.
Return of the theatre
Many theatres have shut shop, and OTT platforms seemed like the only alternative, but theatres are now back and hopefully here to stay. While movie-buffs have already made a beeline to their favourite big screen at the end of last year, thanks to the release of Hollywood biggies like Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984, this year will likely see the masses regaining their taste for the theatres. Master is expected to open to packed houses across the state and with theatres promising to make it safe for their patrons, it's safe to presume that the viewing experience could inch back to normalcy. Sanitised touchpoints, closed snacks containers, hand sanitisers in every corner, reduced occupancy and compulsory masks are some of the regulations we will have to endure for a few more months.
OTT vs theatres or OTT and theatres?
A year back, the major films that released on OTT platforms were those that already had a theatre release. How this situation has changed. With more of us getting accustomed to OTT releases, this year should be quite interesting to see how the content is going to be apportioned. Will distributors and theatre owners mount opposition to OTT platforms? Will the Warner Bros. model of releasing films in theatres and online on the same day work for us too? Will the two platforms eat into each other's space or will they be two different lines of revenue working in unison? Only time can answer these questions, but what's for sure is that OTT platforms have made a place for themselves.
Stars shine for OTT platforms
While 2020 saw stars like Jyotika, Keerthy Suresh, Suriya, Aishwarya Rajesh and Nayanthara opt for OTT releases due to a lack of theatres, 2021 could see them doing more OTT-specific content. The end of last year saw established actors in series and anthologies like Triples, Time Enna Boss, Putham Pudhu Kaalai and Paava Kadhaigal, and this year, we will see more stars embracing this route. Suriya is making his OTT debut with Navarasa, which also features Vijay Sethupathi in another episode. VJS is also, along with Raashi Khanna, to be seen in a Hindi series that will be directed by Raj and DK whose second season of The Family Man will star Samantha. Kajal Aggarwal, Tamannaah and Sathyaraj will be making their OTT debut with the Disney+Hotstar specials Live Telecast, The November Story and My Perfect Husband, respectively.
The year of anthologies
Last year might have seen the beginning of the anthology trend, with films like Putham Pudhu Kaalai and Paava Kadhaigal coming out, but this year, the trend should truly explode. Navarasa, Mani Ratnam's productional venture, also stars Vijay Sethupathi Siddharth, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Arvind Swami, Aishwarya Rajesh, Gautham Karthik and Prasanna and will also mark the OTT debut for directors like KV Anand, Karthick Naren and Ponram. Speaking about anthologies, Venkat Prabhu, Pa Ranjith, M Rajesh, and Chimbu Devan are coming together for Victim: Who Is Next?. Directors Gautham Menon, Venkat Prabhu, Nalan Kumarasamy and Vijay have also completed shooting for another anthology titled Kutti Love Story. All these are just the announced ones and according to sources, more are on the way.
More platforms than you can count
Considering the ever-increasing number of new releases every Friday on OTT platforms, it's only natural that more of them come. 2020 saw established platforms like MUBI make their foray into India while new regional specific ones like Namma Flix (Kannada) and Aha (Telugu) came into the limelight as well. In Tamil, we had the YouTube channel Black Sheep coming up with its own platform, BS Value. Tamil producer CV Kumar started his own pay-per-view platform called Regal Talkies while J Sathish Kumar started JSK Prime Media. We can expect more homegrown platforms this year and though they might not compete with giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, they are sure to be a haven for the umpteen unreleased small-budget films that are waiting to see the light of day.
The rise of Dhanush
We saw him act, sing, write songs, direct a film, go to Bollywood and even act in an English film. This year, we will likely see him do this all over again and in a never-before-seen level. The actor will star in his first actual Hollywood film, The Gray Man that will have him rub shoulders with actors like Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. The project will be directed by the Russo Brothers who are known for films like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame. Apart from this biggie, Dhanush has Karthik Subbaraj's Jagame Thandhiram ready for release followed by Mari Selvaraj's Karnan. The actor will also be seen in the Hindi film Atrangi Re alongside Akshay Kumar and Sara Ali Khan. Dhanush also has films with Ratchasan-fame Ram Kumar, Karthick Naren, Mithran Jawahar, Vetrimaaran and Selvaraghavan. Talk about a promising lineup!
A name to reckon with
Based on the number of films Priya Bhavani Shankar has in her kitty, we shouldn't be surprised if she has a film releasing in every single month of 2021. The young actor, who had only acted in one film a year for the last four years has a fantastic lineup of films this year, including Kuruthi Aattam, Oh Manapenne, Bommai, Kalathil Santhipom, Pathu Thala, Kasada Thapara, Vaan, Rudhran and an untitled anthology directed by Rajesh. The actor will also be making her Telugu debut with Aham Brahmasmi this year. Looks like we will be seeing PBS more often this year, and really, we have no complaints.
2021 will also see the comeback of some talents we wish we had seen more in the last few years. We have Silambarasan announcing Eeswaran, and this time, he is armed with a toned physique and looking passionate than ever before. Eeswaran will be out this Pongal, followed by Maanaadu and Pathu Thala. If these three films come out this year, it will only be the second time after 2004 when he had Kovil, Kuththu and Manmadhan, that he will have as many in a year. The year will also see the return of music director Karthik Raja to mainstream films, with director Mysskin's Pisasu 2. Director Manikandan who gave us films like Kaaka Muttai and Aandavan Kattalai will return after a five-year hiatus with his much-awaited Kadaisi Vivasaayi this year. Jeevan, known for playing the lead in Thiruttu Payale and Naan Avanillai, is making a comeback with Pambattam.
A new breed of directors
Like every year, 2021 too will see many films by debutant directors. We have Arun Matheswaran's Rocky coming up followed by Saani Kayidham that will see the acting debut of director Selvaraghavan. Music director and actor Darbuka Siva is donning the director's hat for the first time with Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee. The long-delayed Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kathai from Rathindran R Prasad, the man behind the viral music video Kodaikanal Won't and a few more short films, is expected to be out this year. His second featurette, the Aishwarya Rajesh-starrer, Boomika, will also release this year. Rathindran is also one of the nine directors who will be directing the anthology Navarasa for Netflix. The anthology will also mark the directorial debut of actor Arvind Swami who is incidentally trying his hand in a new aspect of filmmaking in his mentor Mani Ratnam's production. A number of famous Tamil YouTube channels too are transitioning to the big screen. Many directors from channels like Parithabangal, Finally, Black Sheep and Eruma Saani are planning on releasing their films this year with Temple Monkeys' Vijay Varadharaj directorial debut Pallu Padama Paathuka expected to be the first of the lot.
We will see a record number of women-centric releases this year. Nayanthara has Netrikann while Jyotika has an untitled film co-starring Sasikumar. Samantha is teaming up with Ashwin Saravanan for a film while Kajal Aggarwal will be starring in her first female-centric Tamil film this year. She has an untitled film with Deekay, Ghosty with Kalyan and her long-delayed Paris Paris. Trisha has Paramapadham Vilayattu, Garjanai and Raangi while Amala Paul has Adho Andha Paravai Pola and Cadaver. Hansika's 50th film and her first outing as the solo lead, Maha will be coming out soon. Andrea has Pisasu 2 as well as Maaligai and Kaa. Shraddha Srinath has Kaliyugam while Regina has Soorpanagai and Flash Back. With Jyotika's Ponmagal Vandhal and Keerthy Suresh's Penguin proving that OTT is also a great venue for women-fronted films, we can expect more direct-to-OTT releases too.
Post the humongous success of Sudha Kongara's Soorarai Pottru last year, we can rest assured that we will see more female filmmakers come to the fore this year. What makes it more special is the fact that while women filmmakers' works are usually attributed to the offbeat film category, the films lining up this year are sure to get rid of that stereotype. While Sudha is said to be in talks with a big star for her next project, dance master Brinda is making her directorial debut with Hey Sinamika starring Dulquer Salmaan, Kajal Aggarwal and Aditi Rao Hydari. Sillu Karuppatti-fame Halitha Shameem has two films -- Aelay and Minmini coming out this year and a little birdie tells that she might also direct a film starring Suriya and Jyotika. Madhumita, whose KD aka Karuppu Durai won her critical acclaim once again, is said to be making her Bollywood debut. Priya Krishnaswamy will be directing Vijay Antony in the sequel to his hit film Pichaikkaran. Punnagai Poove-fame actor Kaveri has also turned director for a bilingual project.
Make way for the biggies
Considering so many big films are in the making, 2021 will be the year where each big star is expected to have at least one release. Rajini has Annaatthe, Kamal's got Indian 2 and Vikram, Vijay has Master and Thalapathy 65, Ajith will be seen in Valimai, Vikram has Dhruva Natchathiram and Cobra while Suriya has Navarasa, Vaadivasal and a film with Pandiraj. 2010 was the last time Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Ajith, Vijay, Suriya and Vikram had a release in the same year. Should all these films come out, year 2021 could well be what the doctor ordered for us starved fans.