Cheran (director)

Cheran is an Indian film director and actor known for his works in Tamil cinema. He is a three time National Film Award winner for Vetri Kodi Kattu (2000), Autograph (2004) and Thavamai Thavamirundhu (2005). He has also won five Tamil Nadu State Film Awards and six South Filmfare Awards.

Cheran
Born
Cheran

Pazhaiyurpatty, Melur, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Occupationfilm director, film producer, actor
Years active1997–present
Parent(s)Pandian, Kamala

Cheran initially made a breakthrough as a director by making village-based drama films focusing on human relationships, and achieved critical acclaim for his work in Bharathi Kannamma (1997) and Porkkaalam (1997). He later moved on to work on themes exploring how globalisation affects the Indian middle class, and told the story of scam job offers in Vetri Kodi Kattu (2000) and village-to-city emigration in Pandavar Bhoomi (2001).[1] His most renowned film till date, Autograph (2004), is a semi-autobiographical tale of a man at four stage of his life. He later also experienced success with the family drama film Thavamai Thavamirundhu (2005) and as an actor in films such as Pirivom Santhippom (2008) and Yuddham Sei (2011).

Early life

Cheran was born in Pazhaiyurpatty village near Madurai. His father Pandian was a film projector operator in Vellalur's touring theatre. His mother Kamala was a primary school teacher, and he has two sisters.

He came to Chennai to pursue a career in films, and was keen to become an actor. Initially, he started career as a production manager in some films. In the film Puriyaadha Pudhir (1990), he worked as an assistant director K. S. Ravikumar, and was later promoted to an associate director from Cheran Pandiyan (1992) to Nattamai (1994).

Career

1997–2002: Breakthrough and early success

Cheran made his directorial debut through Bharathi Kannamma (1997), a village drama narrating the relationship between the daughter of a rich family and their retainer, starring Parthiban and Meena in the lead roles. During its release, the film ran into trouble as Thevar community who almost imposed a ban of the film due to its content. However the film won good reviews and performed well at the box office.[2] In spite of controversies, the film became successful at box-office.[3] His second film, Porkkaalam (1997) was in the same genre, and also performed well commercially as well as winning favourable reviews from critics. The film, which explored the life of a hard-working potter and his poor family, earned Cheran an award for best director from the Tamil Nadu State.

Unlike his first two films, his third film did not fare well at the box office despite winning positive reviews.[4] Desiya Geetham (1998) told the story of a Chief Minister being kidnapped and taken to a remote village, and it subsequently met with a controversial response from politicians. Despite Cheran's intervention and explanation of the script to senior political figures, the film was quickly removed from cinema halls, much to the director's dismay.[5] However, the film won good reviews and a critic noted it was "a rare, good movie with a message" and added that Cheran "deserves credit for making a movie that tries to tell something and keeping away from the usual, commercial add-ons".[6][7] Following the film's failure, Cheran announced several projects before opting not to continue with them. He initially considered making another film with Murali and Shammi Kapoor titled Paraseega Mannan, but the film did not progress.[8] Cheran then moved on make an urban love story titled Inniya Kaadalargale starring Prashanth, Shivani and himself in the lead roles, but the film was also later dropped.[9] Another light-hearted film was planned with Arunkumar, Suriya and Raju Sundaram, but it did not start production.[10]

He later worked again with Parthiban and Murali for the social comedy drama, Vetri Kodi Kattu (2000), which focused on scams committed by agents who promised lavish jobs and salaries abroad, and in the process swindling the money of innocent people. The film won critical acclaim upon release, and Cheran won a National Film Award for his work in the film.[11] Cheran then made Pandavar Bhoomi (2001) with actors Arunkumar and Rajkiran, which explored themes of wholesale emigration of villagers to the city and the loss of good, solid agricultural lands, culture and solidarity.[12] The film performed well at the box office and garnered mixed reviews from critics. A reviewer from Sify.com stated the film was "typical overdose of Cheran melodrama masala".[13] Cheran then turned actor in director Thangar Bachan's romantic drama film Solla Marandha Kadhai (2002). The film garnered mixed review but performed well at the box office.[14]

2003–2006: Autograph and national recognition

Cheran first began work on Autograph in 2001 with Vikram, though the actor later opted out as a result of schedule clashes.[15] In early 2002, Cheran announced that he was going to instead make a film titled Pokkisham and Kanika would star alongside him. However he failed to find a financier and moved back to making Autograph.[16] As producers were unwilling to finance the film, Cheran opted to produce and star in the film himself and the film consequently took over a year to make. Autograph told the story of a man named Senthil, presented in four stages of his life – at school, college, work and during his marriage, and Cheran called the film "semi-autobiographical".[17] The film starred him alongside Sneha, Gopika, Mallika and Kanika, and had a popular soundtrack composed by Bharathwaj. Four different cinematographers worked on the film; Ravi Varman had shot the school episode in Senthil's early life with a 35 mm lens, Vijay Milton shot the Kerala scenes, Dwaraknath shot the Chennai episode with a steady cam and Shanky Mahendran shot the "'live' part" of the film when the camera uses the point of view of Senthil's character.[17]

Made at a budget of ₹2 crore rupees, the film garnered over ₹10 crores at the box office and became one of the most profitable Tamil films of the year. The film benefited from positive word-of-mouth and Cheran subsequently increased the number of prints from sixty five to eighty five for the second week, a rarity in Tamil cinema.[17][18] The film won positive reviews from film critics, with Sify.com writing that "Cheran has used all his artists to perfection to make this love story with polish and panache".[19] Dennis Harvey of Variety wrote it was a "well-mounted production has too much familiar melodrama, and few real highlights (notably one delightful homage to ’70s Tamil musicals), but remains an easy watch".[20] For the film, Cheran won a National Award for Best Popular Film, along with two Filmfare Awards and two Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, for Best Film and Best Director.[21] The film became renowned as a "cult classic" and spawned several other inspirations and remakes in the Indian film industry.[22]

Cheran then restarted work Pokkisham in 2004 but postponed the film after falling out with the new lead actress Meera Jasmine. He then the drama film Thavamai Thavamirundhu (2005) focused on family relationships and Tamil culture, and cast himself in the lead role, alongside Rajkiran, Saranya and Padmapriya. During production, the film went over budget and took nearly 145 days of shoot in Karaikudi, Madurai and Chennai. The film was made at a budget of ₹2 crore rupees, and went on to make profits for the producers.[23] The film also won positive reviews, with a critic from Sify.com noting that "Cheran has kept the flag of uncompromised cinema flying and is one of the handful of directors, whose calling card remain his artistry over the medium", adding that the film is "brilliant and appeals as much to the mind as the heart".[24] Upon release, the film won several awards including the another National Award for best film on family welfare.[25]

2007–2013: Focus on acting assignments

He restarted work on Pokkisham for the third time in December 2005, after completing Thavamai Thavamirundhu (2005), and approached Sandhya to play the lead role.[26] The film did not take off so he moved on to make Maya Kannadi (2007) starring himself and Navya Nair in the lead roles. Mayakannadi was based on the concept of middle class dreams turning sour due to lack of commitment and created attention prior to release owing to Cheran's recent success. However, the film fared poorly at the box office and lost money for distributors.[27] It received mixed reviews and a critic noted "after seeing the film, we hope that the director applies this message in his life by sticking to his core strength of direction rather than dabble in roles that just do not suit him".[28] Another reviewer from Rediff.com stated it was a "brave, real film" and that "Cheran has done a superb job directing as well as acting".[29] After the film's release, Cheran suggested that he regretted not thinking about letting someone else play the lead role instead of himself.[30]

Cheran subsequently chose to prioritise acting commitments in order to raise finances for his subsequent film. He starred in T. V. Chandran's award-winning Aadum Koothu (2008), Karu Pazhaniappan's Pirivom Santhippom (2008) and Raman Thediya Seethai (2009). In his films, he often portrayed meek and mellow roles as a family-orientated man. The films all performed well commercially, and won good reviews for Cheran as an actor.[31][32] For the fourth time, Cheran finally moved on to make Pokkisham (2009) and cast Padmapriya alongside himself in the lead role during 2008. Set in the 1970s, the story revolved around two lovers – a Muslim Tamil literature student and a Hindu marine engineer working in Calcutta. Pokkisham opened to mixed reviews from critics, with many reviewers calling the screenplay too slow. The film subsequently fared poorly at the box office.[33]

Following the commercial failure of Pokkisham, Cheran actively chose to prioritise acting commitments. He appeared in Mysskin's thriller Yuddham Sei as a detective agent, and in Rajan Madhav's mystery drama Muran during 2011. In 2013, he featured in Vasanth's Moondru Per Moondru Kaadhal and in the anthology film Chennaiyil Oru Naal. In general, all four films won positive reviews from critics and performed well commercially.[34][35][36]

2014—present: Career decline

Following successive failures as a director, Cheran had trouble attracting producers for his next directorial projects. He also revealed his intentions of making bigger budget films to cater to modern audiences and expressed that village-based films would be difficult, as the setting had changed considerably since the start of his career. He subsequently launched a film titled JK Enum Nanbanin Vaazhkai in 2013 starring Sharwanand and Nithya Menen in the lead roles. However, the film languished in development hell and later had a straight-to-DVD release via Cheran's C2H platform.[37][38] The period marked a difficult stage for the director, with the lack of directing and acting offers, complemented by family trouble, financial problems owing to C2H, and negative press for controversial statements.[39]

After an extended break, Cheran made a return to direction with the family drama Thirumanam (2019) starring himself alongside Sukanya, Umapathi Ramaiah and Kavya Shetty. The film focused on marriage between young people, and Cheran suggested that the film would urge the youth to consider some of the societal factors before entering into wedlock.[40] The film opened to negative reviews, and fared poorly at the box office. A critic noted "the basic problem with Thirumanam is the preachy tone of the film" and that "Cheran uses lengthy dialogues and songs to convey his thoughts, which often tests our patience", concluding that the film "is certainly not for audiences who like modern dramas".[41][42][43]

Other ventures

Cinema2Home

In 2014, Cheran founded a new cinema distribution platform known as "C2H" (Cinema2Home) in an attempt to curb out copyright infringement in the Tamil film industry.[44][45] He also launched his own music company 'Dream Sounds' in 2013, which released the soundtrack album of JK Enum Nanbanin Vaazhkai (2015) and Thirumanam (2019). C2H was expected to deliver official original DVDs on the day of a film's theatrical release to homes, for which C2H signed an agreement with DVD maker Moser Baer.[46] Around 150 distributors and 3000 dealers were said to be involved in the process of bringing the DVDs to households across Tamil Nadu.[47] He had chosen to launch the platform after his film JK Enum Nanbanin Vaazhkai failed to attract distributors for a theatrical release and intended on it becoming the first film of the platform. He later convinced producers who were struggling to find distributors to also put their films forward for a C2H release. Other films which joined included Thangasamy's Ettuthikkum Madhayaanai, Rohini's Appavin Meesai, Parthi Bhaskar's Arjunan Kadhali, Sashidharan's Vaaraayo Vennilaave, Mahesh Periyasamy's Hockey and Balan's Koditta Idangalai Nirappuga. Films such as Kandeepan's Aavi Kumar were briefly attached to C2H before opting out.[48]

In March 2015, Cheran released his own film JK Enum Nanbanin Vaazhkai through the platform and opted against giving the film a theatrical release.[46][49] The C2H initiative was later dropped as the platform did not garner support, and the remainder of the films except Ettuthikkum Madhayaanai remain unreleased.[50][40] An arrest warrant was issued by a court against Cheran and his daughter Nivedha, after he did not respond to a bounced cheque following the failure of the venture in March 2016.[51][52]

Writing

Cheran shared his life experiences and was published as a serial article in the Tamil Weekly Magazine Ananda Vikatan. Later, it was published as a book titled Touring Talkies, ISBN 81-89780-18-2. He later turned publisher with the Tamil novel Porum Valiyum (War & Pain), a novel on an emotional account of a war-torn Sri Lanka by author Savitri Advithanandhan. As a first step, he launched the publishing house "Cheran Noolagam".[53]

Bigg Boss

In 2019, Cheran entered the third season of the popular reality show Bigg Boss Tamil. He got evicted after 90 days. He also received the "Most Disciplined" housemate award from Kamal Hasan.

Controversies

Cheran has often had a difficult relationship with producers and has made controversial statements, which have elicited discussion. In 2008, during the audio release of Raman Thediya Seethai, he made a derogatory statement against press for writing rumours about him.[54][55] In 2013, he held a press conference asking parents to strictly oppose love marriages, despite having written many love stories in films. The conversation arose when he appealed to the media for assistance after his daughter had briefly run away from home with her boyfriend.[56]

In late 2015, prior to the Nadigar Sangam elections, Cheran publicly criticised the leadership potential and acting ability of actors Vishal and Karthi.[57] Cheran criticised actor Sharwanand in July 2016 for not cooperating with the promotion of Rajathi Raja, the Telugu version of JK Enum Nanbanin Vaazhkai (2016). In return, Sharwanand stated that Cheran was in the wrong, was sour because of the failure of the Tamil film and had failed to pay him his salary.[58] In 2016, Cheran blamed Sri Lankan Tamils for being the cause of video piracy in the Tamil film industry and expressed his regret for his support of their political independence movement. His remarks were met with outrage from the Tamil diaspora.[39]

In March 2017, Cheran launched another scathing attack against Vishal and produced a seven-page letter accusing the actor of being "selfish, power hungry and insensitive". In his letter, Cheran also criticised Vishal for not lending him support during the failed C2H venture. Vishal later suggested that he respected but felt pity for Cheran for his false allegations.[59][60]

Personal life

Cheran is married to Selvarani and has two daughters, Nivedha Priyadarshini and Damini.[61][62][63][64]

Filmography

Films
Year Title Role Credited as Notes
Director Actor Writer Producer
1997Bharathi KannammaYY
PorkkaalamStill photographerYYY
1998Desiya GeethamYY
2000Vetri Kodi KattuYY
2001Pandavar BhoomiYY
2002Solla Marandha KadhaiSivadhanuY
2004AutographSenthilYYYY
2005Thavamai ThavamirundhuRamalingam MuthiahYYY
2006Azhagai Irukkirai Bayamai IrukkirathuY
2007Maya KannadiKumarYYY
Aadum KoothuGnanasekaranYY
2008Pirivom SanthippomNadesanY
Raman Thediya SeethaiVenugopalY
2009PokkishamLeninYYY
2011Yuddham SeiJ. KrishnamoorthiY
MuranNandaYY
2013Chennaiyil Oru NaalSatyamoorthyY
Moondru Per Moondru KaadhalGunasekarY
2014Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam IyakkamHimselfY
2015JK Enum Nanbanin VaazhkaiYYY
2016Rajadhi RajaYYYTelugu film
2019ThirumanamArivudainambiYYY
2020Rajavukku CheckRajaYFilming
Television
YearProgramme / ShowRoleChannelLanguageNotes
2019Bigg Boss Tamil 3ContestantVijay TVTamilEvicted Day 91

Awards and honours

National Film Awards

Tamil Nadu State Film Awards

Filmfare Awards

Other awards

  • 2004 – Dinakaran-Medimix Awards for Best Film Autograph
  • 2004 – Dinakaran-Medimix Awards for Best Director Autograph
  • 2005 – Tamil Nadu progressive writers association awards for Best Writer and Director Thavamai Thavamirundhu
  • 2011 – Jaya TV Award for Best Actor Yuddham Sei
  • 2011 - Norway international Tamil film festival awards - Kalaichigaram Award

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