What makes Jigarthanda so special? Here are my thoughts about the recipe for the movie, penned down in chronological order as per the running structure of the film. (Contains Spoilers)
The magical intrigue
In one of the most enigmatic opening sequences ever in Indian cinema, Karthik Subbaraj gives us an audacious blend of contrasting antithetical emotions, when the camera follows a character into a make-shift bar in a closed warehouse setup, who eventually gets a ‘gift’ from someone called ‘Karthik’. The song ‘Malarndhum Malaradha’ from Paasamalar is being projected on a huge screen when the ‘act’ happens, and subsequently the camera lingers on the screen for a minute in a ‘divine moment of introspection’, as we see Sivaji on-screen epitomising ‘tender care’. The ‘unserene’ act of brutality has been rendered in an atmosphere of serenity. The character has been taken care of. Karthik Subbaraj’s magic of juxtaposition has started. The audience have been irreversibly intrigued.
Karthik Subbaraj and his able cinematographer Gavemic with the help of sound engineers Vishnu and Sree, take us through an exceptional audio-visual journey, as Siddarth is followed from the back-stage through dark alleys to emerge on the dais for the decisive judgement of a short-film competition. We get a brief, yet aesthetic glimpse of the film’s theme in an exceptional single shot. An ugly spat unfolds between an award-winning director and a pragmatic producer over the protagonist’s rejection, which is taken to the next level by Karthik’s clever injection of the film’s undertones into it. While Nasser, the director snubs the film as garbage, the producer sees it as a crowd-pleaser. When you scratch the surface, what you see is a heated argument, cut in stylish shots. Dig deeper and the subtext catches you grinning. The conflict has been established in style in probably the best thematic scene in recent years. The protagonist is not named ‘Karthik’ by routine or accident. Karthik Subbaraj wants us to take a cue from his protagonist on his burning desire to bridge art-house and mainstream cinema, even if it amounts to resorting to the extremes. Boy, are we in for the ride!
Setting up the catalyst
The protagonist’s dramatic need and the ensuing drama are delightfully set up by Karthik, when the producer throws up an exciting challenge on stage. He then proceeds to troll himself and the industry amusingly with a scene, where the producer asks Sid to just remake ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Pulp Fiction’. What follows is a witty tracing of the protagonist’s character arc, with Sid on the lookout for a blood-curdling gangster to base his film on. Sid’s meeting with the police officer Ajay Ratnam through his journalist uncle turns out to be the perfect catalyst scene, which teases us with disjointed horrific facts and vivid imagery about Sethu (Bobby Simha). The magician in Santhosh Narayanan (Background score) and the sorcerer in Gavemic (camera) together with the performer in Simha bring alive Karthik’s visualization of Sethu’s menacing ‘intro’ scene happening in a barren landscape. That’s some bewitching stuff! We are hooked and we are dazed. So, very much unlike Siddarth who is more vocal about it, we break into a silent whisper “Bring it on, man! Talk about effectual catalytic set-ups. We have just witnessed a live demo.
The hilarious debate
Karthik Subbaraj is not happy with anything that rhymes with the word ‘routine’. So even in an otherwise ordinary scene, he makes an attempt to escape the constraints of lazy screenwriting. So when he writes a scene where Sid has to land in Madurai in a bus, he gets us tensed and curious by having an auto driver nearly man-handling Sid to his auto, which has the poster of Sethu on its rear end. And the moment of reveal is staged in style, with the slowly emerging Bermuda pyjamas. Karunakaran as Oorani starts his riotous antics and smirk reactions without a moment’s delay. His initial interactions with Sid are cheery, but truly he brings the roof down with his brilliant overnight transformation. Karthik Subbaraj is spot on with his lively and witty dialogues in this segment, which travel seamlessly from grumbles to self-doubt to excitement and finally to inappropriate heroism. Gavery’s to and fro shots from Sid’s point of view on the wooden swing make this scene a memorable one.
Plot point – 1: The journey starts
In arguably the best character developments in recent Tamil cinema, we get to witness a multi-dimensional protagonist who goes about his goal of researching the life of Sethu, with the conviction of a real spy for his ‘based on a true story’ gangster movie. It takes a lot for a young actor to accept a role with grey shades all over, but you have to give it to Sid for his courage and vision. Sid plays the self-centred Karthik, who is ready to fake friendship, false-hopes and even love, in return for any reliable information about Sethu. Each of the three characters, Sid singles out to milk details about Sethu has been detailed to perfection by Karthik; while among them Sangili Murugan playing the unsuccessful director – turned shopkeeper impresses with veteran ease, narrating his hilarious ‘Sivanesan and Kuruvamma’ stories non-stop. The ‘hallucinating’ scene of Sid and Karan is definitely one of the better thought-out comic sketches in recent times. The adult film episode and the bar sequence have also been cleverly tapped for some worthy chuckles. And in the midst of all these light-hearted mayhem, Sethu (Simha) struts around in his red Mercedes with the air of a cold-blooded murderer. Santhosh Narayanan chips in brilliantly yet again here with his ‘Ding Dong’ rap number, which lifts the character establishment scenes of Sethu to a totally new level. That ‘gethu’ moment when Simha goes into the Mercedes wounded and comes out through the other end after one hell of a shoot-out, with the scorching sun and the lines “Villaadhi Villanendru Perudutha… Seiyaadha Paavam Ellam Serthu Veika!” in the background… Goosebumps! Karthik’s writing has no dull moments as he cleverly uses the backdrop of some genuine laughs to build up on the gruesome Sethu. Brilliant!
The B story
Karthik Subbaraj brings in the ‘B’ story or the love angle in yet another departure from the etched ‘hero’ standards. Having failed in all three attempts in getting to know Sethu’s journey, Sid targets the daughter of Sethu’s chief cook for source material (played by Lakshmi Menon). Lakshmi’s introduction is innovatively staged, and her subsequent encounters with Sid are tastefully done. But the love which Lakshmi seems to develop for Sid never gets justified. Lakshmi Menon also comes across as somewhat bland and one-dimensional in these episodes, though quite a lot is salvaged by some skillful cuts by Vivek Harshan (editor) who makes the transitions between the infiltration attempts and the romance smooth and offbeat. Karthik does away with dedicating a full song sequence to the couple at this time, and in good sense too, as he cuts the proceedings back to the gangster drama within a minute of the ‘Kannamma’ track. We second guess that the plot B might serve to bring in a pivotal twist at a later stage and keep watching in curiosity. Despite Lakshmi’s weak character sketch, Karthik Subbaraj does manage to hold on to our attention in probably the weakest segment of the film. And that’s a feat for sure.
To be continued…