Aval, Mental Madhilo, Arjun Reddy: First-time directors from Tamil, Telugu cinema who wowed us in 2017

Haricharan Pudipeddi

January 05, 2018 15:53:00 IST

2017 has been a phenomenal year for first-time directors in Tamil and Telugu cinema. Not only some of their films were widely appreciated by critics and audiences alike, most of these projects did reasonably well at the ticket-window, thus breathing hope into the dreams of aspiring filmmakers who are yearning to make the cut. This year saw the debut of over a dozen filmmakers across both the industries.

Interestingly, these were directors who dared to go against the grain and make content that was not run-of-the-mill.

Nithilan Swaminathan’s Kurangu Bommai, about crime and collateral damage, is one of the most underrated Tamil releases of the year. Featuring Vidharth and veteran filmmaker Bharathiraja in the lead roles, it revolves around a father, his son and a missing bag. It’s a slow burn thriller and when all the pieces come together in the end, in the climax, it hits you very hard.

Stills from Aval.

Lokesh Kanagaraj made a terrific debut with Maanagaram, and it’s shocking to know how all the bad things happen to good and innocent people in the film. It’s a story about metropolitan dreams in the lives of a few characters. A lot of people from different walks of life come to a metropolitan with dreams, but when reality strikes them they realize life isn’t easy.

Based on Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, Sri Ganesh’s 8 Thottakkal works beautifully as a police procedural and it’s rare to find such gems in Tamil cinema. When the gun of a rookie cop is stolen, it sets in motion events that ask us the question – who decides what’s right and wrong? MS Bhaskar, the veteran, is magnificent in the film and his is the kind of performance we don’t come across often.

Milind Rau in the genuinely frightening Aval, which features Siddharth in the titular role, makes an assured debut. Milind and Siddharth, fans of pure horror cinema, create the kind of horror experience that’s original given Tamil cinema standards. But they also pay homage to the best horror offerings from the US, Japan and a variety of classics. Aval manages to create the kind of atmosphere that’s very unlike the horror culture in Tamil cinema.

Nayanthara in Aramm.

Gopi Nainar’s Aramm is a hard-hitting socio-political thriller that gets a tad preachy at times. With its gripping and mostly intense narration, the film takes a look at our flawed system through the eyes of a 4-year-old girl. Stepping out of her comfort zone, Nayanthara shines in a very strong role. It’s gutsy of her to shoulder a film on her own and she proves yet again that she’s an actress of substance.

Arun Prabhu Purushothaman’s Aruvi hits you like a ton of bricks and it’s extremely difficult to not shed tears as the titles roll down. Centered on the eponymous titular character played terrifically by newbie Aditi Balan, the film works as a satire, an awareness movie and even as a tragedy at times. What it succeeds in achieving - while being crowd-pleasingly entertaining and emotionally moving -- is that it never goes overboard in making its point and that’s the film’s biggest strength.

Breaking away from everything Telugu cinema is accustomed to, debutant Sankalp Reddy's Ghazi, India’s first submarine-based war film, shines as it truly offers a cinematic experience and it's easily the most engaging film from the industry in recent times. Unlike other war films, the reason one connects instantly with Ghazi is because it sucks you into a world you haven't seen before. As a viewer, when you're taken inside the submarine, you're in awe of everything you see.

The story of a surgeon’s downward spiral after a breakup, in Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Arjun Reddy, is pure, unabashedly bold and hard-hitting. It touches the soul in ways it can't be explained. It gives the story a modern-day Devdas twist, while making the overall cinematic experience a journey to remember for a long time. This is a very personal story of love and suffering, aided by beautiful cinematography and terrific music, particularly the background score.

Vijay Devarakonda in Arjun Reddy.

Shiva Nirvana’s Ninnu Kori works as a mature story of love and marriage. It’s a contemporary spin-off of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and what works in the film’s favour is that it’s treated in a lighter vein, using comedy adequately to lighten the mood and entertain at important junctures.

Gowtham Tinannuri’s Malli Raava – starring Sumanth and Aakanksha Singh – has its flaws, but it still works quite well as a part love, part coming-of-age tale. An ode to love and longing, never does the film get deliberately emotional and that’s its biggest strength. Even though there’s nothing novel about the story, it leaves with the feeling of having watched a very personal story.

In Mental Madhilo, writer-director Vivek Athreya turns a wafer thin plot into a slice-of-life drama and eventually pleasant romance. Sree Vishnu is terrific as the indecisive guy who has to choose between two women. In her Telugu debut, Nivetha Pethuraj rises above her good looks and turns in a very enjoyable performance. It’s amazing how Vivek turns a very predictable tale of romance into something unarguably sweet.

Other directorial debuts worth mentioning are Dhanush’s Pa Paandi, ARK Saravanan’s Maragatha Naanayam and Rathna Kumar’s Meyaadha Maan among others.

Updated Date: Jan 05, 2018 15:53 PM