Jigarthanda, the famous Madurai city beverage got its name because of its cooling attributes against the hottest temperature in the region. Director Karthik Subbaraj’s “Jigarthanda” (2014), similarly presents a blistering violent story on the outset and gradually cools it down with lot of twists and turns. For the past decade, the Temple City Madurai has been famously portrayed as a gangster paradise. There had been genuine, masterful movies set in the backdrop of Madurai like “Subramaniyapuram”, “Adukalam” and then there are trashy movies which alluded that most of city’s inhabitants traveled with a sickle or a knife. The Temple City denizens have got to be the ‘rednecks’ of Tamil Cinema. Karthik’s “Jigarthanda” doesn’t incorporate the usual cliches of Madurai-based movie. He has a great directorial vision, which draws inspiration from the violent imagery of Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino. However, the same cannot be said about the script, which lacks finesse.
Karthik Subramanian (Siddarth), an aspiring young film-maker gets a lucky chance (after a debacle in a TV show) to make his debut feature. But, the producer only wants a bloodcurdling gangster movie. Karthik, along with his reporter uncle, meets a police officer, who frustratingly says that one of a kind psychotic, blood-thirsty gangster rules in Madurai. Karthik travels to Madurai to team up with his old friend to write a script based on the life of notorious ‘Assault’ Sethu (Bobby Simha). But, the duo can’t reach him directly with a proposition, because only recently he has burnt alive a crime reporter, who wrote about him. So, Karthik tries to befriend the guys, who can chronicle the life events of Sethu.
Karthik’s flailing script-research methods comes to an end when a turn of events brings him closer to Sethu. But, from then on the narrative elegantly changes as it becomes a satirical take on the film-making system, where a director has to succumb to the request of outsiders, who doesn’t have an idea about film-making. As the reel Karthik starts his film with compromises, the real Karthik also does few compromises to give us a commercial cocktail of love, thrills, twists and action.
‘Jigarthanda’ was craftily directed as the mise-en-scene evokes the emotions that diffuse throughout the film. Each frame is fresh and cracklingly inventive. Director Karthik shows a penchant for details that looks very encouraging: a couple making out with Di Caprio and Kate Winslet masks in front of a LED TV telecasting ‘Titanic’ movie; the camera lingers on Sivjai’s ‘Pasamalar’ song played in the background, where a violent shootout takes place. The dark comedy elements were also well placed, that evokes laughter than disgust. Karthik also shatters the conventional way, a Tamil hero or heroine is defined. Siddarth’s Karthik isn’t regular hero who wants to mete out justice. He looks very happy to hear all the gruesome acts of Sethu, since he thinks of it as a fine material for cinema. Our protagonist is sometimes more selfish than the villain. Siddarth gradually befriends one of Sethu’s goons, but when that guy is in a deadly trouble, the hero proclaims that it is a ‘super twist’ in the story. So, he is always visualizing how the real violent acts could be transformed to a cinema.
Although, a love interest in totally unnecessary for such a fervent, selfish central character, Karthik Subbaraj has to make such compromise. The heroine also has something to do; in fact her act of vengeance on our hero totally changes everything. Clocking at 170 minutes, the film is certainly 20-25 minutes long. In the second half, the gangster story transforms and masquerades itself as a satirical tale. This change of tone was done with finesse, although it gradually affected Sethu’s characterization. The laugh-out-loud moments with a acting coach was totally unexpected and was executed perfectly, but it is jarringly out of character for Sethu to take all the abuses of acting coach. Even though the narrative takes strange turns in this part, it is a welcome relief for viewers, since they still get entertained.
The second act was also the part, where the director wants to portray how an artist’s vision gets corrupted by those who don’t recognize film as an art form. Glaring real-life examples could be drawn in the present Tamil-cinema scenario, where henchmen became helmer of cinema unit. Sethu is reduced to a clown in this part, but we don’t have a big issue as the director wants to expose these troubling scenarios. However, in the third act, the narrative fizzles out, giving us twists, just for the sake of it. We get a “Bowfinger” angle (or worse “Mr. Bean’s Holiday”), where a film is shot without the actor’s knowledge. If the twist’s aim is to reduce the fearful Sethu into a buffoon, then there are no problems. But, this twist also lays the path of redemption for the villain. The hero Karthik’s film becomes a commercial success as audience storm the theaters to watch the clown.
The film directed by protagonist ‘karthik’ only looks like a comedy with stupid, clownish jokes. It’s like a movie enacted by J.K. Ritheesh or ‘power star’ Srinivisan or T-Rajendar. Does Karthik Subbaraj say that Tamil or Indian audiences only favor such mind-less, insipid comedies? Or has he made a compromise to give out a happy ending? For the most part of the film, the director has depicted the villain Sethu with darker shades that makes his redemption so abrupt. Suddenly, you have mother sentiment, child sentiment and now Sethu is a transformed man. We could hail the director’s message about how laughter drives away fear and that the real-life gangsters are just clowns, waiting to be discovered. But, these ideas or messages don’t perfectly come out on the screen. At least, the director could have finished the film after the confrontation scene between ‘Karthik’ and ‘Sethu’.
The top class, fiery performance from Bobby Simhaa draws our total attention away from the movie’s flaws. Although, he has been recognized with comic roles, as Sethu he incites fear among the viewers. Siddarth goes through his usual emotions of frustration, fear and anger. Santosh Narayanan’s music elevates the movie-watching experience. The shades of Enrio Morricone found in his BGM’s are one of the best things in the movie. The sound-mixing and recording deserves a very special mention, especially in the assassination attempt scene on ‘Sethu’ in a toilet.
“Jigarthanda” comes with its own set of flaws and discrepancies, but those things can be overlooked to a certain extent, since this a very genuine and original attempt in Tamil Cinema. Now that he has given delightful ‘Pizza’ and ‘Jigarthanda’, Karthik Subbaraj makes us eagerly wait for the next sumptuous main course.