Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tamil Cinema in 2007 - A Recap

At the end of the 2006 recap, I said that since 2006 was so bad, the only direction Tamil cinema could go in 2007 was up. I was crossing my fingers when I said that but I'm so glad that that turned out to be true. Tamil cinema certainly had a better year in 2007 in several aspects - stars, quality, variety, music. Using the completely unscientific thumb rule of movies earning 2.5 stars or more being movies I recommend, 2007 had 13 movies compared to 2006's 10 (13 is still lower than the number of movies that earned my recommendation in all the other years but atleast we're going in the right direction!). Ofcourse 2007 was also the first year since I started reviewing movies that no movie earned 3.5 or 4 stars but I think more movies being good is better than just a couple of movies being near-classic and fewer movies being good overall. And anyway, 2 movies did come very close to getting 3.5 stars.

Each year in Tamil cinema usually sees one defining trend brought about by several movies trying to replicate the success of a successful movie with the same theme. So 2006 was the year of the 'realistic rowdy', 2005 was the year of the 'multiple personalities', and so on. But I couldn't pinpoint any such trend in 2007. Whether this was because no movie with an easily identifiable theme became a hit or because our directors finally abandoned the copycat mentality and explored new themes, I'm not sure. But its definitely a good thing since it means more genres were tackled and viewers with all tastes found something to their liking.

The year had movies with a lot of stars - both in front of and behind the camera. The biggest one of 'em all was ofcourse Sivaji, whose success matched its unprecedented hype and proved that Rajni still is the Boss. As is usually the case Vijay and Ajith had almost exactly opposite track records with Vijay getting a hit(Pokkiri) and Ajith getting a flop(Aazhwar) early in the year and Ajith getting a hit(Billa) and Vijay getting a flop(Azhagiya Thamizh Magan) towards the end of the year. Kamal and Vikram had no releases. Among the directors, Ameer once again proved that he is one of the best directors around with the earthy and emotional Paruthi Veeran while Cheran stumbled badly, letting the actor in him take centerstage with disastrous effects in Maayakkannaadi. We lost a promising director and cinematographer when Jeeva passed away soon after the youthful but uneven Unnaale Unnaale released.

2007 might be the year directors finally understood that the look of a movie is as important as other aspects. We had more movies that looked good with cinematography, editing, framing and background score contributing in equal parts. Movies like Chennai 600028 and Oram Po understood that the presentation adds a lot of energy to the proceedings and used inventive camera angles, flashy visual techniques and fast editing to add vibrancy to their stories. Billa, on the other hand, was more relaxed with its desaturated colors and slo-mo shots and turned its actors into models frequently. Pokkiri fell between the two extremes but had a sheen that is usually not seen in Vijay's mass movies. Ofcourse, there is something as too much style and this was proved by Lee, whose visual techniques only gave us a headache.

Our directors usually play it safe by sticking to genres and themes that have worked in the past. So we get cookie-cutter masala and romance movies indistinguishable from one another. These two categories still made up the largest segments in 2007 but a pleasant surprise - as well as something that augurs well for the future - was the number of genres that were tackled. Whatever your favorite genre, it was likely that there was atleast one film for you last year. For instance, sci-fi, fantasy, biography and horror are completely neglected genres in Tamil. But in 2007, Vyaabaari stepped into sci-fi territory by tackling the topic of cloning, Sivi was a creepy and genuinely scary flick, Periyaar was a solid biography about the founder of Dravida Kazhagam while Arpudha Theevu was a Gulliver's Travels-inspired fantasy tale. The aforementioned films ranged from the good to the bad to the ugly but the positive thing was that they tackled new genres. The crime thriller genre isn't as neglected as these but thrillers are still hard to come by and Vasanth's Satham Podaathey and its bad copy, Urchaagam, fell into that slot.

Also encouraging was the directors' interest in tackling different themes within the confines of familiar genres. Katradhu Thamizh focused on the sad life of a Tamil graduate and was effective even if it didn't completely justify its core theme while Evano Oruvan provided a realistic, middle-class take on the ever-popular vigilante theme. Ammuvaagiya Naan portrayed a prostitute's attempt to blend into society and lead a regular life while Gautham chose a surprising story about an extra-marital affair and an even more surprising hero in Sarathkumar for Pachaikkili Muthucharam but had to give in to Sarath's image in the end. Karuppusamy Kuthagaithaarar managed to convey a few positive points about the importance of education through its romance while Pallikkoodam's trouble was that it focused on romance instead of the reunion of the students from a school that has seen better days. And finally, though it was slow, Adaikkalam managed to tell a story without what one assumed was a staple ingredient in any Tamil film - the heroine!

Not all directors attempted to be original and many took the easy way out by opting for remakes. 2007 will probably be known as the year when remaking older Tamil films officially began. Remakes of Naan Avanillai and Billa hit the screens and their success will surely pave the way for lot more remakes. But our directors also found inspiration from a variety of other languages. Malayalam films were the inspiration for Kireedam, Veeraappu and Nam Naadu, a Telugu film was remade into Pokkiri while Kannada cinema gave us the torturous Parattai Engira Azhagu Sundaram. Quite a few directors looked beyond our shores too. Kannaamoochi Yenada borrowed its concept from Meet the Parents while Vegam liberally copied Cellular for its second half. Mozhi and Pollaadhavan too were supposed to be based on international movies though the similarities were little and the quality of the remakes made us overlook them. Ofcourse there were also movies that weren't officially remakes but reminded us of other movies anyway. Lawrence's Muni was a modern-day remake of Kamal's Kalyanaraman while Thaamirabharani and Vel, both incidentally by Hari, seemed similar to other movies with themes like faction wars and mistaken identities.

At this point, 2008 looks to be another exciting year. Vikram kicks off the year with a release after 2 years and we should have releases from all the big stars including Rajni and Kamal. Lets hope Tamil cinema continues the trend seen in 2007 and keeps getting better...

11 Comments:

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous vijay said...

Save for 4 or 5 films 2008 doesnt seem to be all that exciting. Pongal is already a washout. 2007, I thought had about 5 good efforts and a mediocre rest.But that is the typical trend here.
BTW,P. Vasu is doing Kuselan with Rajni, did you check it out in sify? Vera directore kidaikalayaa? I expect the movie to be a little dated(technically) and silly.P. Vasu's trend of massacring good Mallu movies continue.

 
At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Analysis.. Mozhi & Sivaji were clear winners.. I'm not sure Chennai 600028 was all that great..
Pushpa

 
At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting kolly-graphy of the year that ended. Nice analysis.

Out of curiosity I checked the review of Vyaabari which you mentioned had stepped into sci-fi territory. LOL....what a funny review, especially the last two paras...I think this review comes close the to Nagalingam review!

So, do we get a good and bad countdown for 07 now?....
Shwetha

 
At 5:51 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

vijay, i think i can come up with more than 4 or 5 films i look fwd to in 2008. off the top of my head, there's dasaavadhaaram, kuselan, sultan, kuruvi, vellithirai and naan kadavul :)

chk my new post for why 'kuselan' might work :)

anon, thanx! i loved c28 too :)

shwetha, thanx! glad that review made u laugh cos i certainly wasn't smiling when i saw the film :)

the top and bottom 10 should be next in the recap series but probably not till next week :)

 
At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's interesting that you are so upbeat bc most of these movies didn't even interest me enough to check them out -- katradhu thamizh i did see and was disappointed. sivaji i did see as a faute de mieux long after it was released and it was really awful.

 
At 7:38 AM, Anonymous vijay said...

"i think i can come up with more than 4 or 5 films i look fwd to in 2008. off the top of my head, there's dasaavadhaaram, kuselan, sultan, kuruvi, vellithirai and naan kadavul :)"

In that list only dasavadharam and Naan Kadavul interest me. The 2 Rajni films are obvious for you :-) Kuruvi?!!

 
At 7:39 AM, Anonymous vijay said...

I left out Vellithirai which mildly interests me.

 
At 9:12 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

anon, as i mentioned, i was upbeat mainly cos the year seemed better than 2006. but seen on its own, it was a pretty bad year quality-wise though, as i said, there was more than usual variety :)

vijay, 'kuruvi' is directed by dharani. since he directed 'dhill', 'dhool' and 'gilli', 3 of my all-time fav masala movies, yep, i am really looking fwd to 'kuruvi' :)

 
At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Vaaranam Ayiram" is sure a movie to look forward to from Surya-Gautham combo, probably a musical with Surya at his lovable best....

 
At 5:29 PM, Anonymous rathi said...

i am looking fwd to all the movies that u said balaji..vellithirai should be nice cuz it has both the Rajs and their last attempt was a huge success. *and for the fact that PRithvi is super cute! =)*

 
At 1:19 AM, Blogger aliens said...

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