As the Year 2K gets into its final, festive phase, the Tamil industry comes up with its regular crop of Diwali releases.
A rather unusual crop it is, too, with several being remakes.
Kamal Haasan leads the star parade this time, with Vijay, Arjun, Prashanth, Murali, Manoj,
Karthik and Prabhu all figuring in starring roles on the festive marquee.
Among the women, Jyotika is clearly the leader with two major films, while Simran shares part
of that limelight with a major outing opposite Vijay.
Here's a quick run through of what is on offer this Diwali:
Thenali: Kamal Haasan, who burnt his fingers badly with his directorial debut Hey! Ram (let's not count Chachi 420, where he stepped in and took over from
Shantanu Sheorey after a part of the film was already canned) sticks to acting, this time,
with a romantic comedy.
Much has been written about the film in these pages over the months, so we won't go into the storyline and such again. The highlights are the pairing of Kamal and Jyotika, the music of A R Rahman (interestingly, Vairamuthu does
not take credit for the lyrics here, Rahman experimenting with a couple of new names), and the direction of K S Ravikumar, whose previous outing was the Rajnikanth superhit, Padayappa.
This is the film that is expected to be the biggest performer over the festive season, for any number of reasons. For one, Kamal has a good track record with comedy. For another, Jyotika these days has an awesome initial pull at the box office. And with K S Ravikumar helming the film, fans are assured of just the kind of fun, light stuff that goes with the holiday mood.
Piriyatha Varam Vendum: Prashanth and Shalini lead the star cast with Janakaraj, Ambika, Kovai Sarala and others in the supporting cast.
S A Rajkumar takes credit for the music, and Kamal helms the project.
First, it is a remake of the Malayalam film, Niram. Which, again, was directed by Kamal.
Second, this film has had its fair share of controversy. You will remember the furore created by Shalini's marriage and her refusal to work after. Which meant that the directors were left with a few days of shooting to complete and no heroine
to shoot with.
After much heartburn, the makers have gone the computer route -- taking scenes from Niram, which, fortunately, had Shalini as the female star. And they patched them onto the Tamil
remake, editing out Kunjacko Boban, who starred in the original, and replacing him with Prashanth, who stars in the Tamil version.
It all sounds hugely complicated, and there is going to be a lot of interest in how well the makers have managed the patchwork.
If the film is handicapped by having to work part of the time without the heroine, on the plus side, there is this: Kamal has a track record of delivering 20 hits (including Niram) out of the 23 films he has directed so far.
The question is, can he translate that success onto the Tamil marquee, where he debuts with this film?
Cheenu: Another remake. This one, familiar to all lovers of good Malayalam cinema. The original, Bharatam, was a tour de force for both Mohanlal and Nedumudi
Venu, who act out the drama of sibling rivalry against the backdrop of classical music.
The remake has P Vasu directing and playing Venu's role, while Karthik plays the role essayed by Mohanlal in the original. Malavika takes on Urvashi's role.
The original Malayalam film was sombre, 'heavy', and tension-laden throughout. The remake attempts to lighten the mood a bit, with Karthik's comical moments interspersed within all the serious stuff.
Vanna Thamizh Paattu: This one, again, is helmed by P Vasu, making him the only director to have two releases this Diwali. Vasu teams up with Prabhu again -- their previous outing, Chinnathambi, was a superhit.
The story revolves around a small town that, collectively, hates the concept of love and doesn't want to see romance within its precincts. And then, the town bigwig's son has to go and fall in love, with amusing consequences. Prabhu has a dual role, with Vaijayanthi and Mani Chandra as his leading ladies. Prabhu leads the comedy, with Vadivelu as his accomplice in chief. S A Rajkumar takes credit for the music -- his second score for the season.
Priyamanavale: Still on the remake theme, this one is inspired by Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain, the Anil Kapoor-Kajol starrer, itself a remake of the Telugu film Pavitra Bandham.
Vijay, riding a personal high thanks to the birth of his first son and a professional one thanks to the superhit status attained by his last outing, Khushee (alongside Jyotika), plays a rich and spoilt young man, very definitely not the marrying kind.
Simran gets into a contractual relationship with him, and finally changes his mind -- there, now you know what the film is about. The last time Vijay and Simran teamed up together, they came up with the superhit Thullaatha Manamum Thullum, so there is a lot of expectation built into this one.
Directed by Selvabharathi, with Radhika Choudhury, Vivek and Vaiyapuri featured in the cast and S A Rajkumar, again, providing the music (count three for him), the film also has, by way of added attraction, S P Balasubramaniam playing a key role as Vijay's papa.
Vanavil: Arjun has been having a lean time of it lately. Sudhandiram, the Tamil remake of Ghulam, was a huge flop.
So was Kannodu Kanpathellam, and his latest outing, Rhythm, didn't set the box office on fire either. Which means that after Shankar's Mudalvan, Arjun hasn't
had anything to write home about.
Vanavil pairs Arjun with Abirami, familiar to Malayalam audiences, while Prakash Rai (or Raj, whichever you like), S P Balasubramaniam, Uma, Manivannan, Vishu and Devan
make up the rest of the cast.
The story revolves around three friends who, as they grow up, go in different directions. One becomes a cop. The other -- surprise, surprise, no surprise -- becomes a criminal. And the third stands for love and justice (huh?).
Director Manoj Kumar boasts that the film is akin to going round the world in two-and-a-half hours -- 18 different foreign locales figure in the film. And the filmmakers boast that, for the first time, they have even managed to shoot INSIDE the Taj.
Apparently, Manivannan uses the Taj as backdrop for some very patriotic stories. Manoj Kumar has, all along, been associated with village subjects. Here, he is out to prove that he can handle 'urban' tales as well, come the need.
Kannukku Kannagaa: This one features the directorial debut of Dayalan, with Henry (Bharathikannama and Marumalarchi) producing.
Deva's music and Thankar Bacha's cinematography are other leading credits in a film that
stars Muralil, Raja, Devyani, Vindhya, Vadivelu, Charuhaasan and others.
The movie centres around the affection that bonds a brother and sister. The buzz is that the makers have asked Bharatiraja to delay the release of his own Kadal Pookal, because both films star Murali. And the feeling is that one or the other will get hurt if they clash for the attention of Murali fans.
Bharatiraja is said to have agreed, which means that Kadal Pookal could be released a week or two after Diwali. In fact, Bharatiraja has reason not to wish for anything to hurt his own film at the turnstiles -- his earlier film, Taj Mahal, seen as the launch vehicle for son Manoj, was a miserable flop. He hopes for better luck with Kadal Pookal, and won't want anything, even friendly competition, to spoil its chances.
Kadal Pookal: Heading the cast are Manoj and Murali, with Uma, Prathiksha and Sindhu. The music is Deva's, with Bharathiraja directing.
The film is inspired by Chemeen, the Malayalam classic based on the novel of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillay and starring Madhu, Satyan and Sheila. The original, set on a seaside and featuring a triangular love story against the backdrop of the lives and superstitions of fisherfolk, had in fact walked off with some national awards.
The Tamil version, which has made changes to the original storyline in keeping with changing times and ethos, has been shot entirely in Muttam, remains rooted in the fisherfolk milieu, and is dominated by the two heroes, both of whom have been given very strong characters.
Snehigithiye: Priyadrashan, who had introduced Jyotika in his Doli Sajake Rakhna, has her leading the credits in this all-woman film that also features the other
Priyan favourite, Tabu.
The fact that it is an all-woman story ("Women will go to see it. And where women go, the men follow," was an amusing quip from the producer), Vidyasagar's music, and a surprise twist in the tale, are the factors that could make this one the sleeper hit of the Diwali season.
Palayaithu Amman: No Diwali crop of releases is complete without the mandatory goddess movie.
So here's this year's version -- with Meena playing goddess Amman.
Rama Narayanan, known for a penchant for the religious genre, directs, and the kernel of the story is a new item about how a baby once fell into, or was deliberately put into, the collection box (hundial) in Tirupathi.
In the movie version, it is an accident, which sparks a clash between the temple authorities who claim anything found in the hundial is temple property, while the parents -- played by Ramki and Divya Unni -- insist that they want their child.
Meena, the goddess, decides the issue -- with your mandatory computer graphics and special
effects and all the rest of it.