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Special – The best of Tamil cinema 2011-20


The decade gone by saw several filmmakers go against the grain and deliver some path-breaking films.

Haricharan Pudipeddi

Tamil cinema has come a long way in the last decade. From making quintessential masala films to championing the indie space, this period saw several mainstream filmmakers go against the grain and make some path-breaking films.

The decade also saw the arrival of fresh talent such as Thiagarajan Kumararaja, Lokesh Kanagaraj and M Manikandan who carved their own paths with films that challenged classification.

So let's jump straight into Cinestaan's pick of the 10 best Tamil films of a decade of change and experimentation. The films are listed here in chronological order.

1. Aaranya Kaandam (2011)

Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Aaranya Kaandam may have bombed in the theatres when it was released, but as a noir gangster drama it has attained cult status since. Aaranya Kaandam marked the debut of a filmmaker who dares to carve his own path with his unique storytelling and quirky ideas. Based on criminal gangs and their lives in North Chennai, the film stood out for its characters and great use of comedy to tell its story about the fight for power. Jackie Shroff was a revelation in the role of ageing don trying to still be at the top of his game.

Disney+ Hotstar and MX Player are streaming Aaranya Kaandam.

2. Soodhu Kavvum (2013)

Nalan Kumarasamy’s noir comedy Soodhu Kavvum was Tamil cinema’s most successful attempt in the dark comedy space. Centred on a group of misfits who dream of making a living by pulling off small crimes, the film is a laugh riot from start to finish and catapulted Vijay Sethupathi to stardom. What really stood out in Soodhu Kavvum was that it wasn’t a film that set out to make any point or deliver a message.

Soodhu Kaavum is available on MX Player.

3. Pisaasu (2014)

In Tamil cinema, Mysskin is the last filmmaker you would expect to make a horror film. So when he set out to make Pisaasu, which beautifully explores the paranormal dimension, he stunned critics and audiences alike. Only Mysskin could come up with a plot where a ghost falls in love with a human and still make it as poetic as one can imagine. The auteur successfully turned the definition of mainstream horror cinema on its head with a spine-chilling but equally emotional tale of a lonely ghost. He extracted possibly the best performance from Radha Ravi, who is otherwise wasted playing mindless supporting characters.

Pisaasu is available on Disney+ Hotstar.

4. Visaaranai (2016)

Vetrimaaran’s Visaaranai, based partly on a Tamil novel called Lock Up, is an honest, spine-chilling take on powerful men in uniform and how they abuse their power to get the job done. Made in an industry that is known for hero-worshipping the men and women in khaki, this gritty and hard-hitting portrayal of the police came as a jolt of realism. Yet, not for an instant do we feel that the filmmaker is taking sides, and he achieves that poise because of his ability to strike a balance between good and evil.

Visaaranai is available on iTunes and YouTube Movies.

5. Kaakka Muttai (2016)

M Manikandan's debut feature film Kaakka Muttai is not a children's film though the protagonists are children. It's a film for adults centred around children oblivious to the growing social divide, capitalism and elitism. Of course, it is also a film you can show your children and rest assured that they will enjoy it. Kaakka Muttai is about the adventures of two street urchins seeking their first bite of pizza. As a film, it talks about class differences and enters satirical territory where it mocks politicians, the police, the media and capitalists, all done gloriously without getting pretentiously didactic.

Kaakka Muttai is available on Disney+ Hotstar.

6. Maanagaram (2017)

Lokesh Kanagaraj burst on to the scene with his gritty thriller Maanagaram. Set against the backdrop of Chennai, this is a story of metropolitan dreams in the lives of a few characters. A lot of people from different walks of life come to a metropolis with dreams, but when reality strikes them they realize life isn't easy, and that is what the film manages to convey. Maanagaram stood out for its gripping storytelling and hyperlink narration. More than the story, it's the sequence of events that makes this film engaging.

Maanagaram is available on Sony LIV, Amazon Prime Video, MX Player and Yupp Flix.

7. Vada Chennai (2018)

Vetrimaaran’s multi-generational gangster epic Vada Chennai takes us on a journey into the dark underbelly of rowdyism and politics in North Chennai. Tamil cinema has had its share of gangster films, but there can't be a more authentic and rooted gangster film than Vada Chennai. Vetrimaaran creates a world where it is tough to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong. It's a world where the men are schemers, women are bold and survival comes at a cost.

Disney+ Hotstar is streaming Vada Chennai.

8. Peranbu (2019)

In one of his boldest roles, Mammootty plays a single father trying to come to terms with the recent custody of his daughter, who has cerebral palsy. It is a tale of a father’s understanding of his daughter’s sexuality. This is both a coming-of-age drama and a hard-hitting tale of survival in a world where everyone is quick to judge others. In what can only be described as a departure from his usual style of filmmaking, Peranbu is Ram’s quietest, most meditative and rewarding film in recent years and the filmmaker will find it really tough to go one better.

Amazon Prime Video is streaming Peranbu.

9. Super Deluxe (2019)

It's impossible to categorize Super Deluxe into one genre, or even a few for that matter. As a film, it is at times crazy, at times dark, at times philosophical, at times funny, and also emotional in parts. This concoction of genres is what makes this an experience that's not just hard to forget but equally tough to comprehend because the film has so much to offer. The film, unarguably the gutsiest attempt in mainstream Indian cinema, revolves around a bunch of eccentric characters who find themselves in even more eccentric situations. This was only the second film of Thiagarajan Kumararaja and came almost eight years after his first, Aaranya Kaandam. It was well worth the wait.

Super Deluxe is available on Netflix.

10. Oru Pakka Kathai (2020)

Balaji Tharaneetharan is one of the more original and exciting filmmakers in Tamil cinema today. Though he, too, has managed just three releases in eight years, his work has earned him a decent fan following. With Oru Pakka Kathai, he has made it clear, if ever there was any doubt, that he is a filmmaker who genuinely tries — despite all the trouble he has to go through to release his films — to tell stories that matter, even if they are bizarre. And Oru Pakka Kathai has to be the most bizarre story to have come out of Tamil cinema in recent years. It’s not surprising it came from Balaji, who is known for quirky but original storytelling. With great use of dark humour while touching upon themes like religion, faith, abortion and science, the film beautifully explores the core plot. It’s a family drama but one with not so much drama.

Oru Pakka Kathai is available on Zee5.

Good, bad, ugly... what did you think of this list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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