Decoding the decade’s top 10 trends in Tamil cinema

Either they bombarded us with horror-comedies or they gave us sequels until we said no more... these are the top trends that dominated Kollywood in the 2010s

Updated - December 27, 2019 01:17 pm IST

Published - December 26, 2019 06:22 pm IST

Actor Vijay (C) in a promotional still for ‘Bigil’

Actor Vijay (C) in a promotional still for ‘Bigil’

#1: In full farm

What has emerged in the last few years is the rise of what is now a popular sub-genre: farmers’ issue.

It is not like there haven’t been movies centred around farmers or spoke about their issues in the past. But there are two different aspects to that. If the movie’s overall design has a farmer at the centre, like Lenin Bharathi’s slightly arty Merku Thodarchi Malai, then there is absolutely no room for doubts over the film’s intent.

Case two is when filmmakers milk a societal issue to its maximum potential, to elicit responses from the audience. That is when the problem arises. If the climax of Kanaa (sports drama) had Aishwarya Rajesh making a loud statement emphasizing the importance of farming, Suriya in Kaappaan took it a whole different level.

Suriya in ‘Kaappaan’

Suriya in ‘Kaappaan’

This year, in particular, has seen a cluster of movies that at least had a passing reference about the ‘ezhai vivasayi’ syndrome. Even in a political drama like NGK, there was a subplot about farmers wherein Suriya played Nandha Gopalan Kumaran, a humble organic farmer. One of this year’s biggest blockbusters, Viswasam , had Ajith Kumar essaying the role of ‘son of soil’, delivering lines about the pride of being a farmer — the duty was taken care of by Karthi in last year’s Kadaikutty Singam , another blockbuster. In Boomerang, the makers dedicated an entire song for farmers titled ‘Desame’, which was advertised as ‘farmers’ anthem’. All of which is to say that the farmers’ issue is the hottest sub-genre in Tamil cinema, and has become an easy gateway for filmmakers to package ‘valuable’ messages.

#2: Voicing out for the oppressed class

Let us address the elephant in the room: Tamil cinema has always been casteist.

Caste, as a system, has been treated like a theory in Kollywood — something that exists, but in a universe far from ours. Even the movies that vouched against caste practises never really addressed the grassroot-level problems, and invariably featured protagonists belonging to an upper caste.

Filmmakers turned blind-eye to the politics of Dalit representation in cinema, and very few understood the importance of letting the oppressed speak. In such a scenario, there enters a man spearheading a movement in Tamil cinema. The name is Pa Ranjith.

Director Pa Ranjith

Director Pa Ranjith

His movies — whether it is Kaala or Madras — started a much-needed political discourse in cinema, in society. Pa Ranjith, perhaps, is the first filmmaker to openly acknowledge casteism — something other filmmakers failed to do.

“The first step to eradicating caste is accepting that it exists and we all are a product,” said Ranjith in one of his interviews. His production house, Neelam Productions, has been at the forefront of several initiatives — the launch of Casteless Collective, Koogai Library to name a few.

Kathir in ‘Pariyerum Perumal’

Kathir in ‘Pariyerum Perumal’

Ranjith is also responsible for introducing another solid filmmaker in Mari Selvaraj, whose anti-caste movie Pariyerum Perumal left a lasting impact, especially for its heart-rending climax sequence.

Amshan Kumar’s indie, Manusangada , is another movie that touched upon the everyday harassment and violence faced by the Dalits. Gopi Nainar’s Aramm and Vetri Maaran’s Asuran are results of what Ranjith started in 2012, when he made his directorial debut with Attakathi .

— by Srivatsan S

#3: A humorous twist

Whether it is Kaipulla, Alert Arumugam, 23-am Pulikesi, or this year’s favourite Contractor Nesamani, Vadivelu has been immortalised in the minds of Tamil movie buffs, courtesy the repetitive playing of comedy track from his films on television.

Vadivelu as the character Kaipulla in the film ‘Winner’

Vadivelu as the character Kaipulla in the film ‘Winner’

The same applies for N Santhanam (in his earlier avatar as a comedian) and the legendary pair of Goundamani-Senthil. Except, the big difference is that they had a comedy track of their own.

This decade saw an evolution in the way filmmakers fitted comedy into the average Tamil feature film. This meant that comedians’ roles too evolved.

Actor Soori explains it best: “During the days of Goundamani-Senthil and Vivek-Vadivelu, there was a separate comedy track. They will shoot for three days and give 10 days’ worth footage. The success or failure of a film did not affect the comedian. The loss would only affect the hero and the producer. But today, the comedian has to travel from beginning till end of the movie. In those days, a comedian worked 45-50 films a year, but I’m only able to do two or three films more than what a Tamil film hero does. The difference is that, back then, the comedian’s call sheet used to be three or four days. Today, if the hero has 50 days call sheet, the comedian has to give 45 days. Except for fight sequences, the comedian is everywhere... even in songs, filmmakers have started to bring the comedian in.”

Actors Vishnu and Soori have been friends for long since “Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu” (2009).  Still shows Soori (C) with Vishnu Vishal (L) and Robo Shankar (R) from ‘Velainu Vandhutta Vellaikaaran’.

Soori (C) with Vishnu Vishal (L) and Robo Shankar (R) in a still from ‘Velainu Vandhutta Vellaikaaran’

Here’s the thing about Vadivelu’s ‘Alert Arumugam’. The track is featured in a film called Vedigundu Murugesan. The number of people who can actually recall the film’s title versus the number who can guess the name of Vadivelu’s character, when they see him on screen, is disproportionately in favour of the latter.

In comparison, this decade’s comedy sequences was largely hit or miss due to the evolution. “Today, even if I utter four mokka dialogues and if the film is a hit, it won’t affect me. But if the film is a flop, then it doesn’t matter how much ever I try to entertain people... people will say the film was not good,” Soori adds.

His assessment is right. Kaipulla, as an entity, is far more successful than the film Winner, in which the character appears, ever was. However, a few comedians have been turning the disadvantage into their advantage. Names like Santhanam and Yogi Babu have been appearing in full-length comedy films this decade to try and undercut the limitations otherwise placed on their talents. It will be interesting to study how this trend evolves into the new decade.

#4: Switching lanes

Talent tends to go places, and so the advent of television was a godsend for artistes itching to make the switch over to silver screen. The biggest movie star in India to have ever crossed over from television till date has to be Shah Rukh Khan. Closer home, we can cite actors like Madhavan and Vijay Adhiraj as examples from the previous decade. Except, this past decade saw more names make this transition and, interestingly, a handful of them made the switch from an ever smaller screen — YouTube.

RJ Vigneshkanth

RJ Vigneshkanth

Names like RJ Vigneshkanth and Shah Ra (both of whom are now prominent comedians in Tamil films) came to prominence through YouTube skits via their respective channels, Black Sheep and Temple Monkeys.

Other names like Vijay Varadharaj and Harija, who played a prominent role in Atharvaa Murali’s 100, also continue to cross over into films from YouTube. Another duo Gopi-Sudhakar of the YouTube channel Parithabangal are set to make their own Tamil film having managed to crowdfund the budget.

But Sivakarthikeyan is the biggest name among this lot.

A mimicry artiste-turned-anchor for Star Vijay in a previous life, Sivakarthikeyan is a bona fide star in Tamil cinema today, who is capable of pulling in numbers that only names like Rajinikanth, Ajith and Vijay can better. Vijay Sethupathi, whose transition into a mega movie star happened this decade, too, was a part of television once (he acted in the Sun TV serial Penn which aired in 2006; he is credited as Vijaya Sethupathi).

Other names like Robo Shankar also made the step up from television. The newest entrant on the list is Rio Raj, another Star Vijay anchor, who made his debut as the hero in the Sivakarthikeyan production Nenjamundu Nermaiyundu Odu Raja . Among women, Nazriya Nazim, who was once the host of a popular singing reality show on Asianet, and Aishwarya Rajesh, who hosted a comedy show on Sun TV, are two big names to have made the leap into the silver screen.

#5: Sequel rush

If anything could scream “Show me the money!” better than Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire , it is the commerce behind sequels. Hollywood smelled it out first, long before anyone else. Today, the Americans have managed to turn their sequels and trilogies into multi-billion dollar franchises. (Marvel films, Fast and Furious are a couple of examples).

While they were super late to join the bandwagon, Tamil filmmakers and producers have decisively caught up (so to speak), as they bombarded us with no less than 39 sequels (which had a theatrical release) this past decade.

Vikram in ‘Saamy Square’

Vikram in ‘Saamy Square’

But here is the thing: a sequel has to make sense. One important criteria is that the original film should have made so much money at the box office (Enthiran) that it was impossible to overlook the economic windfall a sequel (2.0) offers. Or, the original should have at least earned a cult status (Chennai 600028) to warrant a discussion about the second film. However, save a small number of films, most of the sequels that Tamil cinema gave us did not improve on the box office return of their originals, and only served to raise the question of why — “Why does this film need a sequel?”

Here are a few of the sequels we could have lived without: Jai Hind 2, Pulan Visaranai 2, Jithan 2, Ko 2, Sadhuram 2, Manal Kayiru 2, Vishwaroopam 2, Saamy Square, Charlie Chaplin 2, Devi 2 etc.

One filmmaker who managed to build a sequel of successes was Raghava Lawrence, whose three Kanchana films ( Kanchana was actually a sequel to his 2007 film Muni ) this decade managed to improved upon its return on investment with each film.

It also inspired other filmmakers and producers to invest in many more films in the horror-comedy genre, and which also spawned sequels of their own (like Aranmanai 2, Darling 2 and Dhillukku Dhuddu 2). With recent films like Kaithi and Hero also teasing a potential second film, it would appear that the trend of sequels are here to stay in Tamil cinema.

— by Pradeep Kumar

#6: Horror-comedies and the birth of Kollywood's MCU

Though it began with Muni in 2007, the genre truly became a staple after the release of the sequel Muni 2: Kanchana in 2011, and catapulted Raghava Lawrence into one of the most bankable actors/ filmmakers in the state.

Nikki Galrani in the film ‘Darling’

Nikki Galrani in the film ‘Darling’

The franchise has become a monster of its own, while inspiring several other pretenders in its wake: some good, some average, but most terrible. Silly thrills, atrocious makeup/ VFX, a host of comedians and a dash of glam from the latest it-girl in the industry all constitute the making of a perfect ... hor-com? Yaamirukka Bayamey , Iruttu Araiyil Murattu Kuththu , Dhilluku Dhuddu are some of the more successful genre films outside the Muni Cinema Universe. We got our very own MCU, y’all.

#7: When promotions and fandom went berserk

By now, the ‘ Kabali plane' is an iconic image and talk is that the Superstar’s upcoming ‘Darbar’ will also have a similar such promotional campaign.

But producers plugging their films with unprecedented promo strategies aside, from ridiculous hashtags and handbag interviews to ‘success parties’ a day after release and ‘title font’ reveals, the 2010s will also be notorious for Kollywood fan wars (in the name of promotion) taking over Twitter India every other evening.

Apart from the usual ‘Thala-Thalapathy’ fights that we are accustomed to by now, the presence of official fan clubs on social media, influencers, film trackers and the ilk ensure Tamil releases with even moderate budgets trend nationally. If it is a Vijay or Ajith film? Chaos.

#8: How do you release a film on time?

This decade will also go down infamously as one during which the true (terrible) trappings of the film industry hit producers, directors and actors hard - even those who had been around for decades.

Dhanush and Megha Akash in ‘Enai Noki Paayum Thota’

Dhanush and Megha Akash in ‘Enai Noki Paayum Thota’

With films being made faster than one could say ‘Cut!’, even big names struggle to get screens and coveted festive dates. That, coupled with financial issues, residual drama from previous films (Gautham Menon and Dhanush’s ENPT is a case in point) and court cases have seen many a flick miss its announced date.

Vishal’s Ayogya , Nayanthara’s Kolaiyuthur Kaalam and Vijay Sethupathi’s Sindhubaadh all had delayed releases, and are just recent examples of a trend that is warning up-and-coming filmmakers, as well as the experienced ones, to be wary of the business of cinema, or face the consequences.

— by Gautam Sunder

#9: The emergence of ‘female-centric’ films

When Nayanthara gets an early morning show in theatres that is usually reserved for top male stars, you know that she has earned the tag of ‘Female Superstar’. Films like Kolamavu Kokila , Airaa and Aramm rode on her popularity and talent, and even as she did heroine-oriented subjects, she was also a part of films like Vijay’s Bigil and Ajith’s Viswasam.

Nayanthara in ‘Kolamavi Kokila’

Nayanthara in ‘Kolamavi Kokila’

Like Nayanthara, Jyotika too starred in a few strong women-oriented subjects like 36 Vayanthinile and Raatchasi , and went strong in her second innings in the Tamil film industry. The confidence that these seniors had, gave an impetus to younger heroines as well like Amala Paul, who dared to do an Aadai , and Taapsee, who worked in Game Over . With Trisha, Samantha, Aishwarya Rajesh and Keerthy Suresh doing more subjects, the list goes on...

#10: Stars working with young filmmakers

Opt for younger, fresh ideas, seemed to be the mantra this decade for actors.

Rajinikanth, the Superstar of Tamil cinema, might have opened this decade by working with an established name like Shankar ( Enthiran , 2010), but he went on to sort of pave the way for younger filmmakers, when he decided to collaborate with a relatively new Pa Ranjith (coming off the acclaimed Madras ) on not just one but two subsequent projects in Kabali and Kaala .

He also signed Karthik Subburaj for Petta , one of this year’s biggest hits, thus indicating to every other star in town to trust content and fresh ideas.

A still of Ajith Kumar in ‘Viswasam’. The actor did Nerkonda Paarvai with H Vinoth this year, and is set to front another film by Vinoth titled ‘Valimai’

A still of Ajith Kumar in ‘Viswasam’. The actor did Nerkonda Paarvai with H Vinoth this year, and is set to front another film by Vinoth titled ‘Valimai’

This idea to strike a balance between content and commercial fare has percolated to other heroes as well.

Vijay might have done only one Shankar film ( Nanban ) but he seems to have seen a lot of promise in the director’s assistant Atlee, with whom he worked three times ( Theri , Mersal and Bigil ).

‘Thala’ Ajith has also started backing young talent – with Vinoth bagging not only Nerkonda Paarvai , but also the star’s upcoming Valimai . The latest rumour in Kollywood is that Kamal Haasan has heard a storyline from Lokesh Kanagaraj, who, after the acclaimed Kaithi , is now working with a big star like Vijay.

Clearly, stars are backing younger filmmakers who’re teeming with innovative story ideas.

— by Srinivasa Ramanujam

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