The magician of storytelling and master of sentiment, Mani Ratnam has given the Tamil movie industry some of its most compelling and thought-provoking films especially in the 20 years between 1980 and 2000. His exploration of human emotion and its subtle complexities laid the foundation for a new wave of cinema. What better way to spend your days at home than to catch some of his best work! Here are seven of his greatest Tamil films currently streaming online.

Mouna Ragam [1986]

Forced into an arranged marriage, a bold independent girl played by Revathi, tries to put the traumatic death of her lover (Karthik) behind and struggles to connect with her new husband played by Mohan. Hailed by many as Mani Ratnam’s breakthrough film, Mouna Ragam sensitively explores the concept of love and its vagaries. The filmmaker invests in characters who are flawed yet genuine and hence entirely relatable. It is also a story about finding love, hope and acceptance in the most unexpected places. With wonderful performances all around, Mouna Ragam is a movie worthy of a revisit anytime.

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Nayakan [1987]

In the penultimate scene of Nayakan, the protagonist’s grandson asks him “Neenga nallavara illa kettavara”(are you a good person or a bad person). Indeed, the profundity of the seemingly straightforward query hits you directly in the gut and forms the backbone of a story that could easily be termed as a directorial magnum opus. Loosely inspired by the life of mafia don Varadaraja Mudaliar, Nayakan is a hard-hitting account of a young man in the slums of Dharavi who grows up to become boss of the underworld, taking law into his own hands to fight crime and injustice. It is no surprise that Kamal Haasan received the National Award for what would be the most challenging and nuanced role of his career. Nayakan is that rare film which stays with you for hours every single time you watch it.

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Iruvar [1997]

Iruvar is a brave political drama based on the relationship and subsequent rivalry of two of Tamil Nadu’s greatest political icons, MG Ramachandran and Karunanidhi. It is an adventurous depiction of their checkered friendship leading to the split of the Dravidian party and their influence in the film world that changed the face of Tamil cinema. It is a credit to the director that he pushed through with his desire to present this contentious narrative to the audience despite the film attracting many controversies. Mohan Lal and Prakash Raj are brilliant as the protagonists and Aishwarya Rai, who subsequently became a favorite of Manirathnam in future films, makes her debut. While not commercially successful, Iruvar received positive critical acclaim.

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Roja [1992]

Set against the backdrop of war-affected Kashmir, Roja stars Madhubala in the titular role, an innocent yet determined woman who wages a lone battle to get back her husband (Aravind Swamy) who has been kidnapped by the Kashmiri militants. Stunningly picturised and sensitively written, Roja beautifully captures patriotism without being jingoistic whilst depicting an endearing love story at the core. The flavor of the different milieus from the earthy villages to the snow-capped landscapes, are charmingly depicted. Roja is also the first musical of A R Rahman and the beginning of many future winning partnerships between him and Mani Ratnam. In fact, this album has been lauded by many as his best work.

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Thalapathi [1991]

Mani Ratnam returns to blur the lines between right and wrong in one of his best directorial ventures. Interestingly, Thalapathi, a cult classic, is the first and only collaboration of Rajnikanth and Mani Ratnam. Said to be inspired by the relationship of Karna and Duryodhana in the Mahabharatha, Thalapathi is a pithy tale about the tenacious friendship of a dogged slum dweller and a don who defy the law to avenge the helpless. It is a bold departure of a role for Rajnikanth in his most versatile performance to date. Mammootty’s depiction of the tough boss with a heart of gold is pitch-perfect. With wonderful actors like Srividya, Shobana, Banupriya, and Jaishankar completing the cast, Thalapathi offers different shades with every viewing. The music by Ilaiyaraaja, especially the haunting Sundari Kannal Oru Sedhi is sure to bring on the goosebumps every time.

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Alaipaayudhey [2002]

The world of Tamil cinema was introduced to “chocolate hero” R. Madhavan in 2002 in Alaipaayudhey, a story about two young lovers who elope against their family’s wishes only to discover that marriage isn’t a bed of roses. Alaipaayudhey is a beautiful exploration of idealistic love and its harsh realities that resonate with the viewers. With its non-linear form of storytelling, the film keeps the audience invested in its characters, screenplay and dialogues. The movie catapulted Madhavan to stardom and was a stepping stone for the actor to develop into a versatile artist.

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Kannathil Muthamittal [2002]

Kannathil Muthamittal is a soul-stirring drama about a young girl adopted by a loving couple but yearns to reconnect with her biological family. The quest takes them to Srilanka where religious and political turmoil is at its peak. “Kannathil Muthamittal” is an inspiring story about the resilience and goodness of the human spirit in the face of grave adversities and the unconditional love of a father and mother who put their lives on the line for their daughter. Simran and Madhavan display wonderful maturity and depth in their respective roles. Baby Keertana is a revelation as little angst-ridden Amudha. Nanditha Das shines in the gut-wrenching climax that leaves a lump in the throat every time-a Mani Ratnam “piece de resistance” that deservedly won National honors.

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Be sure to check out our other movie recommendations here.