Tamil cinema, long seen as the poorer southern cousin of Hindi cinema and known more or less by the histronics of its superstar(s), has been undergoing a revolutionary transformation in the last decade or so. Led by a barrage of new directors, actors and producers, Tamil cinema has managed to reinvent itself as, possibly the foremost film industry in the country. But are these changes enough to warrant the tag of a ‘Golden Age’?
It is quite clear that Tamil cinema at the moment possesses possibly the best crop of actors in the country. These actors have actively and continuously sought out new, varied and often very risky roles, whether it be Vikram in Pithamagan, Suriya in Vaaranam Ayiram or Karthi in Paruthiveeran, which have not only won them accolades but also resulted in box office successes. There has also been a wave of new film makers such as Gautham Menon, Selvaraghavan and Ameer Sultan who have pushed the boundaries of conventional film making, often taking subjects that are raw, edgy and not exactly what one would call ‘mainstream’. This is best exemplified by the critcally acclaimed Aaranya Kandaam (Jungle Chapter) released last year. The movie follows six different characters who are brought together by a packet of cocaine in the space of a day. Though such cinema always had a niche in the Tamil industry, with the likes of Mani Ratnam and K.Balachander, it is only in the last decade that it has become mainstream.
Tamil cinema has also long been blessed with the best possible technicians, from cinematographers to sound mixers, and still boasts of the best possible technical crews in the country, with the likes of Santosh Sivan, P.C.Sriram, Thotta Tharani, and Resul Pookutty.
But, one of the greatest advances of the last decade was the growth of corporate production studios and the ability to get finances through banks and other institutions. The entry of corporates changed the face of the Tamil industry, with budgets skyrocketing. The average budget of a Tamil movie with an A-list star now routinely matches the average budget of a Hindi movie with an A-list star. Any big movie now is made with an average budget of around 40-45 crores. Sometimes the budgets go higher. Way higher. The 2010 release Rajnikanth starrer Endhiran remains India’s most expensive movie with a budget of 162 crores (with marketing 200 crores). Last year, the Suriya starrer 7aum Arivu was made at a budget of 85 Crores.
Further, these big budgets have been made commercially viable with the growth of multiplexes and the ability to directly release movies outside India to meet the demands of the huge Tamil diaspora. Endhiran is touted as the highest grossing movie in India’s history, breaching the 300 Crore barrier, and according to some sources getting as much as 375 crores. Whether these statements are true or not
what can’t be denied is that Endhiran definitely features among the top three highest grossing Indian movies of all times.The top three grossers in Tamil cinema last year are Mankatha (150 Crores), 7aum Arivu (110 Crores) and Velayudham (90 crores). Of the top five grossers of all times in Indian cinema, two are Tamil movies, Endhiran (275-300 crores) and Dasavatharam (250 Crores).
Tamil cinema now also has the biggest world wide audience after Hindi cinema, with movies being routinely released in South Africa, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan. In fact Rajnikanth is a cultural icon in Japan, with his movies grossing more than Japanese releases.
And finally, it is possible to say that the Tamil audience has really matured in its outlook. This can be only explanation for why last year, the highest grossing movie Mankatha (The Game) did not have a ‘hero’ per se. The protagonist in the movie played by the Superstar, Ajith, is a scheming devious womanizing alcoholic corrupt cop who is planning on stealing 500 Crores and bumping off his accomplices in the process. Hardly what one would expect from a mainstream blockbuster with a mainstream actor. This could also be the reason why the audiences lapped up Shankar’s sci-fi extravaganza, “Endhiran”, with Rajnikanth in as non-Rajnikanth a role as possible.
So is Tamil cinema in a new Golden Age? I would argue that it undoubtedly is. But what finally clinches this argument for me is the sheer range of movie being released or planned. Take the list of movies to be released in 2012 for instance. You have Yohan: Adhayayam Ondru (Yohan: Chapter One) a spy thriller; Karikalan, a historical epic; Kochadaiyaan, India’s first motion capture movie, starring Rajnikanth; Kamal Hassan’s Vishwaroopam, another spy thriller with a budget of 150 Crores; the Suriya starrer action thriller Maatran; the cop drama Thaandavam with Vikram; the gangster flick Vettai Manan; the tragic love story 3 (the Kolaveri movie) and Vada Chennai (North Chennai) by the director of the six-national award winning flick Aadukalam. And these are just a few of the movies being released. So my advice? The next time a Tamil movie is playing near you, grab a ticket, watch (Tamil movies outside Tamil Nadu are generally released with subtitles) and enjoy film making at its finest.