Naan Kadavul  

Naan Kadavul has to be one of the strangest and most fascinating Indian films ever made, and certainly the most offbeat even among the more recent offbeat Tamil movies. With Bala’s Naan Kadavul, it isn’t a matter of opinion anymore whether there really is a new Kollywood emerging: it is brilliantly evident.

Naan Kadavul is only one example among several recent Tamil films that point to a very quiet but exciting revolution taking place in contemporary Tamil cinema: an unexpected, astonishing move towards realistic, intelligent, strongly scripted storytelling. What is just as remarkable is their success at the box office. In some ways, the new Tamil film by deftly weaving Kollywood and realism, is more ambitious and more entertaining than a big budget film with stars.

What these new wave of Tamil films seem to be doing is to fuse the energy and entertainment of a mainstream film (without its formulaic excesses) with the complexity and

sensitivity of an art film (minus the excessive artiness).Suddenly, it seems there is a new Tamil audience, a young audience, willing to see new things. The big Pongal releases, for instance, seem un-entertaining and even tame to a new Tamil audience now used to a cinema that is more inventive.

The Tamil New Wave is also characterized by style, personal filmmaking, a minimum song soundtrack (with songs in the background rather than lip synched and danced to) a shorter running time, no parallel comedy track (the comedy arises instead from within the plot) and themes that are sharply observed, tough-minded explorations of rural life and life on the mean streets. The characters here are rooted in family, culture and tradition but are forced to break with everything because of their personal choices — usually love or ambition.

The significance of these films is not for Tamil cinema alone. Their influence is already being felt through the rest of Indian cinema, signaling to filmmakers that our formulaic movies can be reinvented. Already paralleling the Tamil revolution is a new kind of Hindi movie, evidenced by the multiplex movie. Except their themes are urban, looking at sex, adultery, relationships, work pressure, crime and everything else that contemporary living throws up. If Tamil movies depend too much on a rustic milieu, Hindi movies lean too much on the urban. Both cinemas need to crossover.

How exactly did this new cinema come about? Had its young audience, now exposed to better cinema from around the world, begun to tire of the more formulaic, fantasy-driven films? Or was it the young directors themselves who now desired to tell new stories in new ways?

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when this film revolution in contemporary Tamil cinema started, but I’d like to mark two films as possibly having inspired and kick started this new wave: Autograph and Kaadhal. Both films were artistically made, entertaining, and — most crucially — huge box office hits. It must have startled the Kodambakkam industry to see two intimate love stories with no stars winning such a huge audience.

Balaji Sakthivel’s Kaadhal and Cheran’s Autograph signaled two things to Kollywood’s aspiring younger directors — that there was an audience for character-driven, strongly scripted, low budget movies, and that there were bold producers and passionate filmmakers willing to risk telling more realistic, intelligent, personal stories. Paruthiveeran and Kattradhu Tamil confirmed it, while Subramaniapuram, Poo and now Naan Kadavul have gone on to establish it firmly.

However, I must also add that there is still plenty that is disturbing about even new Tamil cinema: endless violence, obnoxious attitude to women, and ingratiating tropes. What is cause for celebration, though, is that this vibrant new cinema in Tamil is not at its culmination but is just beginning. Already in many of these films violence is not gratuitous, and there are no item numbers. It certainly feels like Tamil cinema has finally grownup, turned a corner, and gone beyond old Kollywood.

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