Most memorable Tamil films of 2021, from Karnan, Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela, Jai Bhim

In a year when we needed solace, reassurance, hope, and an escape the most, cinema did not fail us. So in no particular order, here are some of my most memorable Tamil cinematic experiences in 2021.

Ashameera Aiyappan December 30, 2021 08:03:30 IST
Most memorable Tamil films of 2021, from Karnan, Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela, Jai Bhim

Arya in Sarpatta Parambarai

"What’s your favourite film?"

As a film reviewer, it is the question I have been asked the most. And it is also the toughest question to answer.

Films, at least for me, are very personal experiences. Personally, It is impossible to objectively compare different films with each other, and pick the ‘best’ out of them. It would be like comparing apples with oranges.

2021 has given several memorable cinematic experiences. In a year when we needed solace, reassurance, hope, and an escape the most, cinema did not fail us. So in no particular order, here are some of my most memorable Tamil cinematic experiences in 2021.

Mandela

In the past few years, Yogi Babu has been omnipresent in Tamil cinema. But only a few films used the actor other than as the comedian. Mandela is an effective satire that is flavourful and engaging. In his debut film, director Madonne Ashwin delivers a smart satire by creating a contained universe, which he uses for social commentary. The film has several great performances, and some peppy, foot-tapping music.

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Streaming on Netflix India.

Karnan

After the unforgettable Pariyerum Perumal, Mari Selvaraj delivers another sucker punch with Karnan. This retelling of the Mahabharata brims with anger, one that scorches anything in its path, like the sun. The film attracted several controversies for its plot, which is loosely inspired from true events. But there is no denying Selvaraj’s visual proficiency. Oh, and how can we forget that cracker of an album from Santhosh Narayanan!

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.

Maadathy

Based on the collective experiences of the Puthirai Vannar community from Tirunelveli, Leena Manimekalai creates a haunting portrayal of inequality with Maadathy. It is a reminder of how refreshing, sensitive, and powerful the female gaze can be. Manimekalai's restraint in documenting sexual violence and her vibrancy in capturing nature in its fluid glory makes this indie film an important watch.

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Streaming on NeeStream.

Koozhangal

Another product from Tamil cinema’s growing independent cinema, Koozhangal has been celebrated across the world. PS Vinothraj’s debut feature was India’s official entry for the Oscars, and it has also featured in The New Yorker’s best films list for this year. It is not without reason. In a simple father and son tale, Koozhangal packs a lot of social commentary on familial dysfunction and patriarchy in our lives, documenting small acts of rebellion and their futility. Not to mention, the visual inventiveness in capturing the parched lands of rural Tamil Nadu.

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Still from Koozhangal

Sarpatta Parambarai

Pa Ranjith’s film with Arya is a rousing tale of an underdog who fights his way to success. Ranjith builds the Madras in the mid-'70s so well, including various details of not just the sport but also the politics prevailing at that point. With Kabilan’s story, Ranjith captures both the personal and the politics, making a strong point about the perishability of success for the vulnerable.

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.

Jai Bhim

Director TJ Gnanavel’s film with Suriya ticks several boxes. It is progressive, tells an important story, and is well-made. But mostly importantly, it clearly steers away from making its protagonist a saviour. The legal drama documents the fight of a tribal woman for her husband, a victim of custodial violence. With grounded writing, terrific performances, and charming music, it is no surprise that Jai Bhim is one of Tamil cinema’s most celebrated films this year.

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.

Sivaranjaniyum Sila Pengalum

Director Vasanth Sai’s anthology is atmospheric and honest in capturing ordinary women. In a period where I was personally tired of anthologies, Sivaranjaniyum Sila Pengalum reminded me of what the format could do. By juxtaposing the lives of three different but normal women, Vasanth gives great insight into non-linearity of women empowerment, and how they fight rebel every day in their homes to claim their space, both private and public. (Also, with great performances in Karnan and Sivaranjaniyum Sila Pengalum, what a year it is for Lakshmipriya Chandramouli!)

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Streaming on SonyLIV.

Maanadu

One o biggestf the and most exciting trends of 2021 is stars finding a middle ground between concept and commercial cinema. Maanaadu is a fine example of this. Director Venkat Prabhu takes a high concept, and gives it an entertaining twist, making a sci-fi movie that is truly our own. His wit carries the film. Along with SJ Suryah and Simbu’s enjoyable performances, Maanadu was some clean, good fun at the theatres.

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Streaming on SonyLIV.

Rocky

There is blood, there is violence, and a whole load of style. Director Arun Matheswaran makes a debut to remember with this revenge drama. Vasanth Ravi and Bharathiraja give commendable performances, playing off of each other’s energy. Rocky never forgets to question the vicious circle of violence, underlining the futility of it all. It is a film that does not want to be angry, but realises that it has no choice. Even though the style is great, it is the sentiment that makes Rocky truly unique.

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Writer

After Pariyerum Perumal and Gundu, Pa Ranjih’s Neelam backs another unspoken perspective of social justice. Franklin Jacob’s Writer demolishes the starry-eyed perception pop culture has for the police force, and presents a tale that is real, honest, and insightful. From casteism and sexism in the force, Writer also speaks of the deteriorating mental health of officers who are forced to abide and work for an unfair system. It is another debut to remember.

Most memorable Tamil films of 2021 from Karnan Sarpatta Parambarai to Mandela Jai Bhim

Ashameera Aiyappan is a film journalist who writes about Indian cinema with a focus on South Indian films.

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