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Times were when Superman, Spider-Man and He-Man caught the imagination of Tamil filmgoers. The superheroes used to entertain and excite the audiences with their exotic looks and heroism, taking on the baddies with extra-terrestrial might. Film audiences here longed to see such films in their own language. That longing is now being fulfilled. But there’s much scope in this genre for Tamil filmmakers to explore.

It must be said that the fantasy genre is not foreign to Tamil film industry. Early Indian films, including Tamil, began with stories based on Hindu puranas that portrayed worlds far from the real and the mundane. Goblins and elves hopped from the sky to the earth and back. Films like Gulebagavali, Alibabavum 40 Tirudargalum and Thangamalai Rahasyam could bring magic on to the screen easily, eclipsing theatre that was constrained by reality.

Released in 1963, the film Kalai Arasi spun a tale around the fantasy of UFOs and aliens. But it proved a dud at the box-office. The matinee idol MGR’s presence in the lead could not attract even his hardcore fans, let alone the general audience.

Yet the fantasy trend continued unabated. Sridhar’s Nenjam Marappathillai, which was released during the same period, spoke about reincarnation. Through films like Saraswathi Sabatham, A.P. Nagarajan took fantasy along the path of religiosity. The MV Raman-Javert Sitharaman combination came up with a successful fantasy, Pattanathil Bhootham that re-imagined the Aladdin genie in the contemporary world.

Released in 1963, the film Kalai Arasi spun a tale around the fantasy of UFOs and aliens. But it proved a dud at the box-office

Vittalacharya-directed film Jaganmohini released in 1978 was a roaring success, letting loose a battalion of ghosts and demons on the screen. Subsequently, he directed many such films like Madanamanjari and Navamohini. Many ghost films were produced in Malayalam and Kannada as well. But they were not as well received as Jaganmohini. I. V. Sasi’s ‘Alauddinum Arputhavilakkum’, was a tad late.

A few films including Aayiram Janmangal and Neeya made the most of myths about Naga virgins’ vindictiveness.  These films, apart from their fantasy elements, reveled in the salacious. Nanjupuram, which was released a few years ago, recalled those fantasy films with dollops of eroticism.

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Goblins dominate
Jijo Punnoose’s  My Dear Kuttichathan, made in 1984,  was India’s first 3D film. The film inspired many copycats but none of them could succeed as much as Kuttichathan. The  Prabhudeva-starrer My Dear Bhootham, which released last year, had the same storyline.

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Vikram, produced and starred by Kamal Haasan, showcased the new world through science fiction that amazed the audience. This was the time the Indiana Jones series set the trend across the world. Karthick- starrer Mr Karthik was one of them.

Rajini’s film Adisaya Piravi and Karthik’s Lucky Man were some of the successful Telugu films remade in Tamil. Though these were fantasy stories, they had a mythological underpinning.

Typically, fantasy films are created with positive storylines. Black Rose written and directed by Aabaavaanan broke new ground.  Asuran directed by Velu Prabhakaran replicated the notorious sandalwood smuggler Veerappan’s life but had shades of Arnold-starrer Predator.

Director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao made some notable fantasy films in Telugu in the 80s and 90s. Little John was a fantasy film directed by him in Tamil with a screenplay that came across as a medley of successful English fantasy stories.

Vijay’s Puli, Selvaraghavan’s Aayirathil Oruvan, Ashwath Marimuthu’s  Oh My Kadavule and Lakshman’s Bogan were certainly outlandish, if not always fantastic

Genomic variations
For the past two decades, Director SS Rajamouli has been delivering a series of fantasy films in Telugu like Magadheera, Eega and Baahubali. Tamil films like Karthikeya and Virupaksha Vakaiyara have been successful too.

Some films have tried to go beyond the framework of gods, demons and aliens. Examples include Jithan based on the story of Mayamanithan, SJ Suryah’s Anbe Aaruyire, Jeeva’s 12B, which told the value of time, and Simbudevan’s film Kadavul in Room No. 305, which focused on the importance of labor.

Fantasy Films

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Films directed by Simbudevan including Oru Kanniyum Moonu Kalavanigalum and Kasadadapara belong to the fantasy genre. Balaji Dharanitharan has also made many fantasies. Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, OruPakkam Kathai and Seethakaathi are his three notable contributions to the fantasy genre in Tamil cinema.

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Creating an unnatural fantasy world ruled by action, adventure, comedy, romance and thrills is a surefire guarantee of excitement. Vijay’s Puli, Selvaraghavan’s Aayirathil Oruvan, Ashwath Marimuthu’s  Oh My Kadavule and Lakshman’s Bogan were certainly outlandish, if not always fantastic.

Of these, Aayirathil Oruvan merits a special mention, giving as it does an unexpected visual experience. Mixing history and science fiction, the film struck the viewers as an out-of-the-box creation that departed from the hero formula. Ayirathul Oruvan 2 is eagerly awaited.

Zero, Kashmora and Saithan did not quite measure up to expectations. In some films, the director himself makes it clear at the beginning itself that what follows is based on the axiom that there is a force beyond human power. Films like Yaanai  Mugathaan, Mudalum Nee Mudivum Nee have such storylines.

Maragatha Naanayam and Simmbha can be billed as different. A.R.K. Saravanan’s Maragatha Naanayam talks about a ghost guarding an ancient coin for hundreds of years. In Simmbha directed by Aravind Sridhar, in the eyes of the hero who smokes ganja, a dog looks like a man. The film starring Bharath and Premji would have scaled great heights if it had been couched in comedy. Ayalan by Ravikumar, who has already dished out sci-fi in Indru Netru Naalai, promises to give a new visual experience.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite a variety of fantasy stories, there is no superhero in Tamil. Since all our action heroes themselves are extraordinary, it looks like they don’t like to feature in a fantasy film. Breaking that tradition, A.R.K. Saravanan has now come up with Veeran, the first superhero film in Tamil. Though the trailer of the film looks like a copycat of Basil Joseph’s Minnal Murali, a Malayalam film, it seems that Veeran has roped in the folk deity of Ayyanar. It appears that Kantaara has inspired Tamil filmmakers to go folk. It may well be that Tamil superheroes can become believable if the stories are native and rooted.Now that fantasy films have been reinvented and are here to stay, it may well be time for a Tamil superhero. But that superhero may have to be native, not a clone of the Avengers.

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