Since its release, Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan has swept most SRK fans of their feet and has become a major topic of discussion on social media. With multiple people sharing their opinions and experiences with the film, director Atlee’s name has been frequently thrown around. So, if you’ve watched Jawan and are curious about the director’s filmography or want to go on an Atlee binge-watch before you book your tickets, this list should help.
1. Theri (2016)
While Mersal might be one of Atlee’s most popular films when we think about mass cinema, there is something delightfully entertaining about Theri. The film introduces a kind, genial man Joseph Kuruvilla – he holds love and family above all else. Right as you let yourself be sucked into this world, Atlee and Vijay take the character in a whole different direction. It is not that the screenplay is unpredictable – like a lot of Atlee’s films, there’s not much new at the table. Instead, the film mixes technical prowess (credits to DOP George C. Williams)with massy cinema bolstered expertly by a beloved lead. There is also an easygoing chemistry between Vijay and Samantha Ruth that adds to the film’s charm.
2. Mersal (2017)
Vijay in a triple role in a film directed by a filmmaker who loves convoluted plots could either have gone very right or very wrong. Surprisingly, Mersal’s twists and turns work to make a film that keeps you invested till the end. Vijay plays a village wrestler Vetrimaaran, a magician Vetri, and Dr V Maaran. The film explores corruption in the medical sector (a plot that Jawan also echoes) but the real winner is Vetrimaaran’s characterization and a humane twist to Vijay’s usual star power while still milking all the charisma the actor possesses. Mersal is one of the best examples of Atlee’s ability to create a mass, masala flick.
3. Raja Rani (2013)
Considering how Theri and Mersal have panned out, it’s difficult to believe that Raja Rani, a comparatively serene film comes from the same director. Atlee’s debut film Raja Rani focuses on the way humans deal with love and loss – both feelings often explored in cinema. Through Arya’s character John and Nayanthara’s character Regina’s lens, we see how complicated human desire and affection can often be because of the way we’re shaped by our experiences. Noticeably, the film’s second half threatens to lose the audience with lags in pacing and often the characters come across as caricatures (even though Nayanthara is a scene-stealer) but for a debut feature, Raja Rani has a lot to offer.
4. Mugaputhagam (2011)
Even though Raja Rani is Atlee’s feature debut, there is another project worthy of note – his 2011 short film Mugaputhagam. This film is truly a snapshot into tropes that have made their way into most Atlee’s films – most notably, the crime drama genre being used for a social message and the understanding of mass cinema. While the film’s opening is somber, it cuts to the fast-paced life of some teenagers while exploring a catfishing network. It’s not his best film by miles but there is a specific Atlee touch to the film that makes it watchable.
5. Bigil (2019)
Atlee’s third collaboration with superstar Vijay, Bigil, opened to mixed reviews but is still one of the highest grossing Tamil films. The film was appreciated for its novel treatment but was extensively compared to Shah Rukh Khan's Chak De! India. While Vijay’s star power is still firing on all cylinders, making the film entertaining, it would’ve benefitted from a tighter and more original screenplay. For a film that claims to make a message about female empowerment with a gangster-turned-coach Michael leading the Tamil Nadu women's football team, it relies heavily on the male savior complex. Other than these issues, the film’s biggest folly is that it tries to do much and ends up tripping on its own strings in the process. The film does, however, deserve credit for its well-orchestrated and beautifully shot closing match.
Beyond this list, Atlee has worked as an assistant director for S. Shankar for Enthiran and Nanban; the latter’s influence on the former’s work is clear as day. Shankar’s work might also be a good starting point to get into Atlee’s oeuvre. The filmmaker’s latest, Jawan, hit theatres on 7 September.