In the first half of 2022, some of the biggest stars of Tamil cinema let the audience down. The actors knew the crucial roles they played in reviving the box office business in the state, which had been grappling with uncertainty in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. And yet these stars picked shallow movies that had little to offer to the audience. Even in the middle of a pandemic and the rise of the streaming platforms challenging the supremacy of theatres, these stars remained defiant by refurbishing the formulas of the by-gone era. The choices they made suggest one of two things: either they don’t understand the gravity of the situation that the business of cinema is in today or they simply continue to take the movie-going crowd for granted.
The bad ones
Starring Vijay in the lead role, Beast tells the story of a stoic protagonist, who accidentally gets sucked into a high-stake hostage situation. As the terrorists take control of a popular mall, Vijay’s Veeraraghavan becomes the only hope for innocent people who are held at gunpoint. Beast could have been Tamil cinema’s own Die Hard, only if director Nelson Nelson Dilipkumar had the strength to do what’s necessary, instead of what’s popular. Nelson solely relied on the stardom of Vijay to make up for the absence of creative will to do something original and memorable.
In Valimai, Ajith Kumar plays the role of a smart cop who loves to pop a wheelie. The makers seemed to have desperately hoped and prayed that Ajith’s motorbike riding skills would make up for the shortcomings in the movie like an acceptable story, interesting screenplay or good acting. This film was a pure shocker. It’s not the first time Ajith has delivered a dull movie. But, Valimai is not the kind of movie we have come to expect from director H Vinoth, after movies like Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru. It felt like a betrayal.
Written and directed by Pandiraj, Etharkkum Thunindhavan is loosely based on the Pollachi sexual assault case. In the movie, several young women are subjected to sexual assault through the means of blackmail. And Pandiraj seemed to have given no deeper thought to the crime while fashioning a film about respecting women. After delivering terrific performances in movies like Soorarai Pottru and Jai Bhim, Suriya seemed to have been in some sort of compulsion to do something totally dull and mindless.
Starring Vishnu Vishal in the lead role, FIR sheds light on the ills of islamophobia. While the Manu Anand directorial means well, the film flounders when it comes to a much deeper and comparative understanding of the subject it’s dealing with. The film is sort of dishonest with what it wants to convey and resorts to stereotypes of differentiating good Muslims from bad Muslims.
The romantic comedy marked the directorial debut of choreographer Brinda. Brinda seemed to have been under the assumption that as long as she could get a cast made up of gorgeous people and set her story against the backdrop of monsoon, she could pull off a passable romantic movie that would appeal to the young audience. Well, she was wrong. The good looks and charms of Dulquer Salmaan, Aditi Rao Hydari and Kajal Aggarwal failed to save this flimsy movie.
Maaran tells the story of a firebrand journalist, who doesn’t think twice before publishing what he thinks is the truth. Again, it is a by-product of a filmmaker, who hasn’t done his homework on how the news publishing industry works. Talents like Dhanush, Malavika Mohanan, Samuthirakani and Ameer are totally wasted in this film.
Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal
Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal revolves around an average Joe, who has made peace with his misfortune. He has come to strongly believe that he’s a bad omen, and he poses a certain danger to his loved ones. His fortunes change when he runs into two beautiful women, who are way out of his league. He gets greedy and wants to marry both of them. So it leads to the age-old drama of two women fighting for one man. Director Vignesh Shivan made this movie to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
The good ones
Director Lokesh Kanagaraj borrowed the character of Vikram from Kamal Haasan and reinvented it to suit the taste of the current generation of movie-going audience. Vikram is a fast-paced, fun, playful and very enjoyable popcorn entertainer. It is Kanagaraj’s love letter to Haasan. But, at the same time, it is also a film that allows space for the supporting actors to shine.
In Mahaan, director Karthik Subbaraj did a swell job exploring the shrinking space for individualism and society’s sinister ways of forcing a person into an ideological trap. Vikram is in-form as a man who wants to live on his own terms and pushes against the restrictions imposed by society at every turn. The film also provides ample opportunity for Vikram’s son Dhruv Vikram to showcase his acting chops. But, his craft is yet to evolve like his father’s to hold our attention through a range of emotions.
With Kadaisi Vivasayi, M Manikandan delivered a nearly perfect piece of cinema. The movie follows the life of a farmer, who refuses to give up his piece of land for money. Because that farmland, even though it has stopped being his source of livelihood, gives him a reason to wake up every day in the morning. It gives him a purpose to stay alive and be active. Farmer Mayandi speaks only a few words but the way he lives his life speaks volumes about the collective moral and spiritual bankruptcy that we are facing today.
This unapologetic revenge drama tells the story of two siblings going on a killing spree to avenge the injustice meted out to them. The caste violence and its dehumanising effects on innocent people are at the heart of this film. And director Arun Matheswaran tackles these issues in a style that feels like a cross between Vetrimaaran’s rawness and Mari Selvaraj’s poeticism.
Vijay Sethupathi seems to have a certain policy when it comes to picking movies. He’s not trapped by an onscreen image that he wants to protect at the expense of good characters. He is an actor who does big-budget films like Vikram and Master and small-budget movies like Maamanithan. While the movies in the former category help him to maintain a healthy bank balance, the latter nourishes the artiste in him.
Don is an absolute comfort film. It simply reproduced the familiar themes, humour, sentiments and message that have been deeply imprinted in our memories by all the movies that dealt with Indian parents’ obsession with engineering. And yet, this film works.