2022 Wrap: Best Of Tamil Cinema (2024)

2022 was a great year for Tamil cinema, with two films breaking several box office records and earning over Rs 400 crore each. Interestingly, the youth-centric action film Vikram and the period drama Ponniyin Selvan - 1 brought people from different age demographics into theatres. There were several other films, too, that were loved by the audience – some of them OTT releases and some theatrical.

Here’s a look at the best of Tamil cinema this year. This list includes films with interesting ideas that may not have worked out fully but deserve a mention nevertheless for the effort.

13 Tanakaaran

Many Tamil films have glorified custodial torture and police violence. Tamizh’s film is a surprising delve into how intrinsic violence is to the police system, starting with the brutal training process. The director is an ex-cop, and the film is said to have been inspired by his experiences – and it indeed feels like a documentation of what goes on in these camps on a day to day basis.

Vikram Prabhu plays the lead role of Arivu, a police trainee who takes it upon himself to question his superiors and pays the price for it. The film at times takes a melodramatic turn and also has a climax that’s too similar to what we’ve seen in sports biopics – the underdog emerging on top. The need to play to the gallery ends up diluting the strength of its material, but Tanakaaran still works as an insightful commentary on the psyche of the police.

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12 Kanam

Shree Karthick’s time travel drama, made simultaneously in Tamil and Telugu, is about three grown men (Sharwanand, Ramesh Thilak and Sathish in the Tamil version) who decide to go back to the Nineties to fix certain events that happened when they were kids. The film also stars Amala Akkineni in a key role.

Strictly speaking, the film falls under the science fiction genre but it is mostly a family drama with plenty of humour. The time travel aspect isn’t explored in a particularly original way, and even the time machine looks pretty dated. However, this simple story about grief and acceptance is powered by some very enjoyable Nineties nostalgia that keeps you smiling through most of it.

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11 Mahaan

Karthik Subbaraj’s action film has Vikram sparring with his real life son, Dhruv. The film has an unusual take on Gandhism – not as a philosophy of simplicity, non-violence and kindness but as a thought system built on intolerance. Vikram plays Gandhi Mahaan, a boy born into Gandhism who also marries a woman (Simran) who is an ardent follower. But Gandhi Mahaan wants to enjoy life, and he ends up becoming a liquor baron.

It’s a rollicking premise but doesn’t entirely work in execution because the characters become predictable caricatures. It also feels over-indulgent at times, stretching the battle between father and son way too much. Mahaan has sparks of interesting writing that could have made the film better than what it is.

10 Veetla Vishesham

RJ Balaji’s Tamil remake of the Hindi film Badhaai Ho retains the storyline of the original – an older woman (Urvashi) who becomes unexpectedly pregnant and her family struggling to cope with the news. But while the film has several scenes from the original, it also makes enough departures and cultural adaptations that give it a fresh feel.

Urvashi, always reliable, is great with Sathyaraj who is known for his comic timing. They’re a hoot together as a middle-aged couple, and this makes the film enjoyable even if you have seen the original. A good example for how remakes should be done.

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9 Natchathiram Nagargiradhu

Pa Ranjith’s experimental film on the politics of love isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It follows a difficult style, including documentary-like scenes that break the viewer’s suspension of disbelief – rather like Bretolt Brecht’s epic theatre. The story unfolds in a theatre group, and is centred on Rene (Dushara Vijayan), an Ambedkarite Dalit woman who has just broken up with her upper caste boyfriend (Kalidas).

The theatre group is diverse and has people from all kinds of social locations and identities. This leads to discussions on what constitutes love and who can love whom. While some scenes work brilliantly (the one with Kalaiarasan’s Arjun visiting his hometown in particular), others feel too deliberate and force-fitted. The queer love stories, especially, appear tokenistic. Still, the film has enough going for it to feature on this list.

8 Vendhu Thanindhadhu Kaadu

Gangster sagas are so overdone by now that it’s difficult to make a film that offers something that hasn’t been done before. Gautham Menon’s VTK takes the viewer to a parotta shop in Mumbai’s Chembur where Muthu (Silambarasan) becomes entangled in the crossfire between two gangs ruling the area.

Conceived as a two-part film, VTK takes quite a few surprising turns – the biggest of which is Simbu’s understated heroism. Menon takes the time to build this frightening world of violence, drawing us in slowly and allowing us to feel the pressure building within Muthu. There is very little glorification of violence, which is quite unusual for films of this genre. Neeraj Madhav’s role as Sridharan, a Malayali man who is sexually exploited by one of the gangs, is a sensitive portrayal of male rape. VTK flounders towards the end with a hurried setup for the sequel, but for the most part, this is an engaging gangster drama that feels new.

7 Witness

This hard-hitting legal drama released on SonyLiv, and is directed by debut filmmaker Deepak. It follows the story of a young swimmer (Tamilarasan) from a Dalit caste who is forced into manual scavenging and loses his life. His mother (Rohini), a sanitation worker, fights the case with the help of the Communist party and a woman architect (Shraddha Srinath) from the apartment complex where the crime took place.

Though some characters feel underdeveloped and the lines at times sound repetitive, this is among the more sensitive films to have been made on the subject. Witness is careful not to descend into exploitation even as it represents several uncomfortable truths about systemic injustice. It has an unexpected but effective ending which holds up a mirror to our caste-ordered society.

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6 Vikram

Lokesh Kanagaraj’s multistarrer was among the most awaited films of the year. How could it not be when it had Kamal Haasan, Fahadh Faasil and Vijay Sethupathi in the cast? A hark back to Haasan’s 1986 film of the same title, Vikram pays tribute to several of the superstar’s films (of which Agent Tina has our hearts) – but without compromising on the storyline and turning it into just a ‘spot the reference’ game.

Haasan plays the titular role of a secret agent who’s after the drug mafia while Sethupathi is the main antagonist. Faasil has a pivotal role as an agent investigating a crime that leads him to Vikram. The film is part of the same cinematic universe as Kanagaraj’s previous blockbuster Kaithi, and there’s a third one on the cards which will feature Suriya. Though it isn’t as well written or fleshed out as Kaithi, Vikram’s unapologetically massy treatment makes it one of most entertaining films of the year.

5 Seththumaan

Directed by Thamizh, Seththumaan revolves around the politics of food and caste, much like Nagraj Manjunle’s Fandry (2013). Poochi, an elderly basket weaver (Manickam) from a marginalised caste wants to educate his grandson so he can have a better life. It’s a simple dream and it ought to be possible in a country where Ramnath Kovind, a Dalit man, has just become President (the film is set in 2017). But there’s so much that can spiral out of control when you belong to a less privileged social identity.

Based on Perumal Murugan’s short story ‘Varugari’, Seththumaan deals with the stigma associated with certain food and how it is tied into much larger ideas of caste and its expression. The film never overplays the drama, and is quietly realistic about what it wants to articulate.

4 Thiruchitrambalam

Mithran Jawahar’s romcom has none of the elements that trade pundits would say demands a theatrical experience in the post-pandemic world. But this simple story about a food delivery boy and his yearning for love struck a chord with the audience and how! Dhanush has always excelled in playing the Everyman and his chemistry with co-star Nithya Menen who plays his vivacious bestie Shobana, made the film an enjoyable relationship drama. Actors Prakash Raj and Bharathiraja, who play Thiru’s (Dhanush) father and grandfather respectively, were excellent in their roles too.

The romcom made over Rs 100 crore at the box office – surprising for a film that has a hero who turns away from fights and when pushed to do it, hits back like any ordinary person. It may seem like a straightforward film, but Thiruchitrambalam broke away from quite a few mainstream conventions in telling this familiar yet heartwarming story.

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3 Ponniyin Selvan 1

Tamil cinema’s long standing dream of making a film on Kalki’s historical fiction series finally saw the light of day with Mani Ratnam’s PS - 1. The multistarrer boasted of names like Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Karthi, Trisha, Jayam Ravi, Aishwarya Lekshmi and Sobhita Dhulipala among others. If SS Rajamouli’s style of making a period drama is to build fantastical sequences and elevate every moment possible, Mani Ratnam’s approach is to stick to a gentle realism that turns Chola royalty into ordinary mortals who have their share of confusions and insecurities.

Condensing a five-part series into two films is no joke, and PS - 1 satisfied most fans, young and old, including this writer. While the first part is more about world building and establishing the connections between the various characters and the plot threads, the second part is expected to play up the drama a lot more.

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2 Kadaisi Vivasayi

M Manikandan’s poignant drama about an elderly farmer (Nallandi) who gets arrested for a crime he did not commit, functions as a social commentary on a number of things – the slow and at times absurd process of the law, corruption in farming practices, the decline of farming land and so on. The film’s unhurried pace and gentle humour sits well with its yearning for a past where life was simpler, and without the aggressive consumerism that defines our existence now.

Kadaisi Vivasayi is rich with metaphors, and also has Vijay Sethupathi, its producer, playing a cameo as a man driven to insanity by the death of his love. Without assuming to lecture to the audience, Kadaisi Vivasayi makes its points through effective storytelling. The best way to ensure that the lessons stay with us.

1 Gargi

Several films on sexual violence have come out in Tamil over the years, but few have been as hard-hitting and sensitive as Gargi. Directed by Gautham Ramachandran who co-wrote the film with Hariharan Raju, Gargi takes us into a middle class home where the father (RS Shivaji), a security guard, is accused of sexually assaulting a minor. His daughter, Gargi (Sai Pallavi), is determined to prove his innocence with the help of a sympathetic lawyer (Kaali Venkat).

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The film plays on cinematic tropes and the genre conventions of a courtroom drama to deliver a stunning and unexpected climax. Based on real life crimes, Gargi is greatly helped by the stellar performances of its cast – Sai Pallavi and Kaali Venkat in particular. There are many films that set out to be “message padams” and end up preaching to the audience; Gargi, however, respects the viewers’ intelligence and makes for a searing watch that will not be easily forgotten.

2022 Wrap: Best Of Tamil Cinema (2024)
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