Catch the New Wave of Tamil Film

This weekend marks the beginning of a new film series from 3rd I Films that will tour in certain cities across the U.S. Cruel Cinema: New Directions in Tamil Film opens today at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California (1/30-2/19), and will “travel on to the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, DC and BAMcinematek in Brooklyn, NY among other venues” according to 3rd I. The series provides an introduction to four new wave Tamil films from the latter half of the 2000s.

The program notes (quoted below) by Lalitha Gopalan and Anuj Vaidya definitely piqued my interest, and so did clips from the featured films, sometimes because and sometimes in spite of the cruelty portrayed. If you caught the wave earlier and saw any of these films, what did you think?  

This new wave is infused with cinephilia. Visual quotations from Tamil films punctuate the narratives: protagonists watch films on television and wander into movie theaters, fights break out in movie theaters and projection booths. Yet, these films are at a startling remove from the star antics and high-gloss productions characteristic of both mainstream Tamil cinema and the more pervasive Bombay cinema. Entire new mise-en-scènes open up onscreen: butcher shops, pigsties, teashops, alleyways; freaks and misfits are the protagonists of these films. The intimate cruelty of family and the tortured narratives of heightened caste and class antagonisms form their narrative backbone. Clearly, this is not fare for a family outing.

While it might not be fare for a family outing, maybe some of this new wave fare would be suitable for a La Famiglia style outing? Puddhupettai, one of the films in the series, follows the blood-and-gore path of the main character from small-time criminal to gang lord.

Paruthiveeran, another of the featured films, sounds like a tortured, tragic tale of love in this review, though not without its lighthearted moment of romance between the two main characters. This could be of interest to those who can appreciate high-waisted lungis, beards and violence on the movie screen.

Actually, there’s no shortage of beards in this film series, whether it’s the shaggy 1980s-era beards of the male leads in Subramaniapuram, or the tantric-aghori-ganja style beard of Naan Kadavul.



When: Sundays @ 2pm (Jan 30, Feb 6) and Saturdays @ 3pm (Feb 12 & Feb 19)

Where: Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94720

Tickets: $5.50 members; $6.50 UC Berkeley; $9.50 general

For details on the DC dates see the Freer and Sackler Galleries calendar.

Update: For details on the Brooklyn dates see the BAMcinematek calendar. (Thanks, Vivek!)

17 thoughts on “Catch the New Wave of Tamil Film

  1. Not bad after all the posts I made about the new Tamil cinema and in comparison to its most famous flatterer, the imitator Danny Boyle, America is finally waking up to this new cinema. Of course it will be analyzed from the usual angles and words like subaltern and its stupid equivalents will be casually thown around. But as always the joke is on the objectifier and the intellectual. These navel gazers have no idea of what they are talking about.

  2. I recommend this piece on New Tamil Cinema by Baradwaj Rangan:

    New Tamil Cinema, old school masala, amazing young music directors, up and coming female directors, young urban love stories, rooted village dramas – all these things combine to make Tamil the most creative and fertile industry in India today.

    Check out these two fabulous songs from Paruthi Veeran and Subramaniapuram

    Aiyaiyo: Kangal Irandal:

  3. First of all, Aaranya Kaandam is a poor knockoff of the above shows, especially Subramaniapuram and Pudhupettai. AK rips off Tarantino style shots and plotting to jazz up a story that ultimately does not have heft in terms of a political, social or even emotional consciousness. It is neither original, nor, once you get past the jump cuts and the dialogue (supposedly pungent, but sadly rings with inauthenticity), particularly interesting.

    By the way all these directors (Sasi, Ameer etc.) were all assistant directors to Bala; and come from that school of Bala. A welcome change from the overhyped, glittering smokebombs of Mani’s late work not to mention the rest of Tamil cinema.

  4. “America is finally waking up to this new cinema.”

    jyotsana why do you care so much if america ‘wakes up’ as you put it? I don’t see hollywood giving two cents about indian cinema…slumdog got its 8 oscars and danny boyle rode away on a wave of glory…..this hardly affected indian artsts.

  5. Do you have any more info on the Freer screenings? This looks awesome.

    Bummed to see that it looks like their DC chapter is inactive. Does anyone have more information about it? “S. Asian independent film” are four words that set off all sorts of attention sirens in my head.

  6. Paddy,

    This isn’t about Hollywood, which anyway is much more aware of cinema the world over, and definitely the cinema of India. Oliver Stone and Manoj Kumar exchanging notes? Sure, you didn’t know that. I am talking of the “intellectual culture critics” who are clueless most of the time. Bala and Bharathiraja (16 Vayadhinile fame)are both from Theni. Bala began his career with Balu Mahendra, while Bharathiraja with the Kannada maestro Puttana Kanagal. All these guys have been big fans of K.Balachander, who for decades has been writing almost book length letters of appreciation to everyone of these new wave directors. So while the outsider sees sharp breaks and crises and a fork in the path, folks such as myself see a continuum and almost deliberate evolution. The Indian mainstream cinema was famous before Ray. Raj Kapoor’s Awara was nominated for Grand Prize at Cannes in 1963, as was Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar in 1946.

    As a friend of mine at Disney tells me, it is only the intellectuals who see a mainstream cinema here and an arthouse cinema or a domestic or an international cinema. For the insider, especially the technician, the spot boy, the clapper, the grip or the sound boom operator, it’s all the same.


    Naan orudhadavai sonna, nooru dhadavai sonna madhiri

  7. So I managed to see 2 of the movies at PFA earlier this month – Subramainapuram & Naan Kadavul. Subramaniapuram was very very good. Unfortunately, the theater was mostly empty for the former, with about 3 desi faces other than the 3rd I folks. It was much better for the latter, though I am still bummed at the lack of desi support. It was the same way for the Ray movies that Stanford Theater showed a few years back in Palo Alto. In fact in December Stanford again did a double bill of Charulata & Mahanagar, two of the best Bengali movies ever made, & in the show I went to, there were barely any Indian faces. This is in sharp contrast to movies like the Taiwanese ‘A Brighter Summer Day’ by Edward Yang last month or a retrospective of Lino Brocka’s Philipino movies last year – both at PFA – which attracted a large ethnic (as in Taiwanese & Philipino) crowd. I go to PFA a lot & these weren’t the usual PFA junkies (like me :-) ). The only theory I have is that Indian movies are much more readily available on home video & there are many Indian movie theaters in the Bay Area. But anyway, some desi support & turnout would be much appreciated for these rare screenings.

    One more thing – I was a little disappointed at the 3rd I curators (Anuj & Lalitha) ability to explain the background of the films & place it in some kind of context with the rest of Indian cinema. Perhaps the Q&A format at the end of the movie wasn’t enough to go too deep into some of the questions that were being asked by audience members (I stayed for Naan Kadavul), but a lot of their responses were at the standard Wikipedia level. I was looking for some more insights. But anyway, a big thanks for 3rd I & PFA for organizing this series, I wish there were more (movies & people).

    • tipu, thanks for letting us know more. I think I posted too late to include the info about a discussion that happened before the film series: “Leading up to the first screening at the PFA, Lalitha Gopalan and Anuj Vaidya will speak about the current renaissance in Tamil cinema, and provide a historical and aesthetic context for the films presented.” (3rd I)