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)
Plot point 2: shock it up!
As I stressed earlier, the director is not about half measures. If you want to shoot a scene in a bus, better make it engaging. If you want to record an interview, have it brimming with nervous energy. If you want to stage a spirited folk song, better put it inside a goddamned empty well! Simha taps the raw performer inside him as he gyrates wildly to the delightful beats of “Puzhudi Parakadhu”, clad in a dhoti! The tempo rises slowly and we are literally on our feet. This to me, is a perfect example of intelligent film making – having only one full track in your script right at the 100 minute mark. Myshkin did it in style in his ‘Yudham Sei’ and here Karthik repeats the trick. At a moment of heightened spirits, Karthik brings in plot point two through Lakshmi Menon, who is hungry for revenge against Sid for having used her just for gathering information about Sethu. In a fit of contempt, she suggests Sethu to play himself in the movie based on him. And that’s it! We laugh with Sid. But after a minute, we smile. Wow, here is a leading lady who doesn’t behave like one! When Simha gets obsessed about it, we know all hell is about to break loose. The mood is further intensified by Simha’s ‘maranakuthu’ right after his revelation – something I would cherish for long! Watch out for a follow-up scene where Sethu proceeds to give a taste of fear to Sid, where the proceedings are intelligently interwoven with the screening of ‘Thalapathi’ on television. The whole of this segment truly belongs to Simha, who has a field day with his punny punches and dialogue delivery, keeping us right at the edge of our seats.
All is lost. Or is it?
The moment a battered Sid is joined by shop vendor Palani in the streets, we know we are in to witness an epic scene. Karthik weaves some pure emotional magic as Palani starts recounting his early days as an assistant director, with dialogues like “The thing about opportunity is that it mostly strikes only once. A lot depends on how you choose to treat it!” Piloerection stuff, again. And as the scene progressed, I was wondering at the screen writer’s skill at inciting his protagonist and the audience using the power of words. Here was a scene, where a character spoke a few lines, but conveyed a lot of unspoken emotions. Karthik has managed to charge us up for the last act.
The knight rises
In what pans out as a separate film altogether, Sethu and his henchmen are directed to take acting classes for the film by Sid. But I also had a feeling that this transition in mood was intentional. This segment of the movie has perhaps the best moments of the film humour-wise, but it’s also true that the character arc of Sethu doesn’t sync with this kind of a drastic transformation. True that Sethu has seen the potential for fame, and will go to any lengths for the sake of it. But the kind of abuse he withstands from his acting teacher, though hilarious, kind of undermines the character. But Karthik knows this and hits gold with casting Simha as Sethu. Simha’s ease at both ruthlessness and comedy comes to his rescue, as he along with Karan and his gang take us through an insanely funny ride, so intense that our stomachs hurt. Karan in fact tries to steal the thunder right under the nose of Simha with his Silambattam practise, while Simha hits back by bringing the roof down with his attempts at romance.
Lights. Camera. Laughter!
Enter ‘Aaranya Kandam’ fame Guru Somasundaram as the acting guru, and what had already been a laugh riot, just turns totally explosive. Still trying to make sense of the bizarre con-job that had been played on us, we laugh our guts out at Simha and Karan explaining parotta and mutton sukka in ‘gibberish’. In an extremely manipulative move, Sid returns the favour to Lakshmi by hooking her to Sethu, and the dialogues here like ‘Ivaru periya Virgin Rowdy!’ at unexpected times work really well. Karunakaran’s emotive brilliance shadows all others in an extremely well executed scene, where Guru shortlists the actors. We are still caught between getting lured into this and asking “Why the hell then did Karthik build up Sethu’s character so much in the first half?” But before we start looking for answers, the atrociously hilarious ‘shooting sequence’ starts in the background of Santhosh’s inventive ‘Baby’ soundtrack. Despite the characterisation going for a toss, Karthik Subbaraj does sell off his deception pretty well, mainly because of some smart writing and non-stop black comedy sketches. Take Simha off from the equation, and this part of the film might fall flat. Every movie will have a line which defines it. You would know when you hear it! Here, it comes from Simha in a moment of mismatched sentiments. The way he mouths the “Acting the part of a gangster is tougher than being one!” line is enough to identify the real protagonist of the movie. Though the director is able to extract what he wants for his storyline, it’s also true that some of the sequences feel like a stage drama. But we don’t care. We have been sucked into the con-labyrinthine with a confidence and freshness that couldn’t be debated.
As the film featuring Sethu is completed, curiosity about the consequences starts getting the best of us. Karthik deftly builds up the suspense here by including some tongue-in-cheek scenes, showing Sethu’s ‘heights of power’ techniques to bring in the audience to the theatres. As Sid waits outside and the first show is screened, Karthik takes the final plunge. I found the reveal perfectly timed (literally, with a countdown!), logically quite well-explained and skilfully orchestrated. Though it reminded me of quite a few earlier films, I found Karthik’s version different. My greater concern was in fact the way he was going to plot Sethu’s character arc and take the story forward from here. Sethu had been royally transformed from an arrogant fearsome gangster to something very polar, without his knowledge. Would that mean something? We can’t take our eyes from the screen. We are glued waiting for answers.
The final showdown
The beauty of the final showdown is that it is shown as repeating jump cuts of events occurring in three contrasting places – A beautiful landscape, a house with an ongoing funeral and a theatre. That’s certainly a award-deserving, phenomenal show by the editor Vivek Harshan, who silently proves his brilliance with every opportunity he gets. Cinematographer Gavemic brings in frames which seem straight out of a big budget Hollywood movie. The final confrontation in the open fields in particular is so well conceived and crafted that along with Santhosh Narayanan’s soulful background score, it becomes an instant classic! There is a particular long shot where Sethu opens the tall doors of the theater and walks in, the sole window lighting casting a long shadow behind him, which slowly reduces in length as he walks into the theater until it becomes the same as the man. Talk about similes! Having wondered about the significance of Sethu’s mother in this story, I was literally moved to tears when the scene involving her unfolded. Sethu realizing the fact that spreading happiness is much tougher and more rewarding than demanding fear has been brought out exceptionally well by Karthik by staging some well-planned and written sequences. We have been just treated to a stunner!
Stunning closing images
In arguably the best resolving sequence in recent Indian cinema, we cross-cut between the first scene we were introduced to at the beginning and another scene involving Sid narrating the story of his next film to Vijay Sethupathi. The first scene is played from the front this time, and Santosh again grabs the opportunity to show why he is such a talented musician. The scene involving Sid and Vijay Sethupathi amused me to the core, especially for the subtext in it. Does Karthik Subbaraj convey a subtle message, to be picked up only by the discerning eye? Was it an indirect reference to the plight of directors who want to stay true to their script? Is this the only way, a filmmaker today can pursue the film of his dreams today? As Sethu started falling off the chair in slow motion, and Sid began walking back from Vijay’s office, I was smiling uncontrollably. And as the screen turned black, the theater rose for a standing ovation. I had just witnessed a beautiful work of art, which was perhaps one of the best genre defying efforts in contemporary Indian cinema. Hats off, Karthik Subburaj for giving us an entertaining film, where art and commerce make a cheerful pact!