CE Year in Review 2023: Tamil films that deserved more love
As we are in the last leg of a rather eventful 2023, let us take a look at the list of films that deserve more recognition, encouragement, and of course... love
Unlike in 2022, the system wasn't kind to 'small' films in 2023. While many deserving works of 2022 had the opportunity to be direct to OTT releases, this year's feature films had to opt for the cut-throat theatrical windows braving competition from the A-listers, limited screens, and extreme climatic conditions. Most streamers turned their focus towards web series and post-theatrical acquisition of big-ticket films. While some still managed to stand out of the crowd, they rightfully deserved more. As we are in the last leg of a rather eventful 2023, let us take a look at the list of films that deserve more recognition, encouragement, and of course... love.
Filmmaker Dharani Rasendran's Yaathisai is both the story of the oppressor and the oppressed. The director makes a daring statement that when the roles are reversed, people don't really empathise but just take on the garb of being the oppressor without putting up a fight. The film keeps reiterating that wars are initiated by men to quench their thirst for power and authority, but are covered up with agendas like liberation, livelihood and dignity. Yaathisai makes us introspect about power, masculinity, sins, and death. When a film made by a team of newcomers can leave us with such intense thoughts and deliver a wholesome theatrical experience, it surely deserves a royal welcome.
Just like the iconic Thevar Magan, the protagonist of Kazhuvethi Moorkkan (Arulnithi) is also from a dominant caste, but there is a twist. He isn't a messiah-like Sakthi Vel, instead, he is a victim of casteism like a Seevalaperi Pandi. Even though the film borrows a couple of ideas from some classics, it manages to be its own film. It is quite commendable that the film manages to touch upon intricate angles like scheduled caste people looking down upon scheduled tribes and Dalits who managed to escape the oppression with power and education, without deviating from the main plot.
Yogi Babu is a comic actor, who is at the top of his game, and that is probably why every time he takes a serious turn in films, the impact is even more profound. One such outing where the performer kept aside his usual cheeriness to delve into a poignant tale of a father was this year's release Bommai Nayagi. The film talks about a father's fight against the system to bring justice to his daughter, who is sexually assaulted by men higher up the caste hierarchy. It might offer simplistic solutions to pertinent questions, but there is a sense of earnestness in the writing that is elevated by the performances of every cast member.
Thalaikoothal takes on the topic of euthanasia and gives it a personal and emotional perspective. The film reflects the lived experiences of each of the characters caught in an emotional and ethical turmoil. Instead of villainising certain characters, Thalaikoothal reflects on the personal conflicts of each person in the story. It takes a clever route of surrealism and delivers a subdued take on oppression prevalent in society. Fronted by Samuthirakani, Kathir and Vasundhara, the film's inherent drama and immersive narrative urge us to make choices drawn from our consciousness and empathy.
Asvins is an interesting horror film, where its sound department made the right noises and took it to a niche audience. The intricately planned sound effects of the film became its visiting card and delivered a unique cinematic experience to the cinephiles who caught it on the big screen. Asvins is also a good case study on how a small film, made by a small crew can create a big impact when the vision and planning are clear. Mounted on folklore surrounding Hindu deities Asvini Kumars, the London-based horror is shouldered effectively by the brilliant performance of Vasanth, who plays both the scared and the one who scares.
Veeran by Maragadha Nanayam-fame ARK Saravan is a superhero film where the sidekicks save the day rather than the titular superhero played by Hiphop Tamizha Adhi. Just like his debut, the director scores big on the humour quotient making up for the misses in the superhero adventure angle of the film. It is the unexpected slapstick and dialogue humour that packs the punches instead of the elaborate action sequences. With spot-on world-building and extremely likeable characters, the stage is set for a refined and funnier sequel. But will Saravan take the chance? Well, that's a question for another day.
Sarjun's Burqa is a heavily conversational film that unfolds at a single location with just two characters. However, it never feels suffocating thanks to the brilliant play with light, shadow, set properties and artistic frames that elevate this slow-paced plot. The director creates an impressive setting to discuss sensitive topics sincerely and also entwines a beautiful chemistry between a local thug with progressive thoughts and a young widow caged by the regressive practices. Burqa is a film that not only creates room for a discussion on progressiveness and liberation but also beautifully reflects on the hard-hitting reality of how it is not easy to change or rather accept change.
Director Ra Venkat's Kida might start as yet another feel-good drama that might even remind you of titles like Saivam. But as it progresses, the layers beneath the core idea of searching for a goat for an oblation unravel and we understand why this wild goose, I mean goat chase is integral for the primary characters. Venkat, keeping the simple premise in mind, subverts the narrative by establishing the goat's disappearance in the very first scene and the consequences that trickle down to introduce us to his characters. With Kaali Venkat and the late Poo Ramu headlining an otherwise new yet competent cast, Kida is a neat little film with a lot of heart.
Parking is a bold film that revealed its core in its promotional trailer. Despite clearly knowing the order of crucial events in the tale, we are hooked on to the screen thanks to the superior command director Ramkumar has over his craft. The brilliant making of Parking places us in the driver's seat and ensures that we feel the rage, adrenaline rush and instant regret of the leads throughout the runtime. The technical brilliance and smart writing are effectively elevated by the performances of Harish Kalyan and the ever-dependable MS Bhaskar, making Parking one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of 2023.
Car, middle class and male ego. Doesn't it ring a bell? The same base ingredients of Parking were also present in Balaji Venugopal's comedy-drama. The second Yogi Babu starrer in the list features him as an urban family man, battling a series of unfortunate events in his life. His life goes for a toss when his most priced possession and lucky charm, his car goes missing. The film asks a lot of right questions starting from the definition of real happiness to the casual domestic violence in families. Made with a lot of heart, Lucky Man once again proves the versatility of Yogi Babu and we are the ones lucky to witness a performer like him.