Usually, when I watch a movie, I either like it or not. And over time, I may begin to not like something I loved, or the opposite. But with Jigarthanda, I am still unable to make up my mind.
So I thought I’ll simply list out stuff I liked and didn’t.
Gimmicks that did not work for me
1. Casting random known faces in dabba characters
The two guys from Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, TigerGarden Thangavelu (the Asatha Povadhu Yaaru comedian, not sure if that’s his name), Ajay Raj, Vetri Maaran etc. It seemed like a gimmick to me. Just to get audience to say, “Hey machi! Ivan da… dei avan da… andha padathula varuvaane…” Even Vijay Sethupathy’s guest appearance was underwhelming. This made the entire movie feel like the multi-starrer club song they had in Ko or the Maappilaikku Nichayadhartham song in Saroja. (Venkat Prabhu, can you please stop influencing other good filmmakers?)
I remember reading somewhere about Mani Ratnam saying why he casts popular actors in supporting roles (Eg: Khushbu in Alaipayuthey or Prabhu in Anjali). He said it gives him scope to not explain the character’s back story. The audience being familiar with the actor creates the entire back story in their minds already. So then, Mani can play with the characters and take them forward from there. That for me was an amazing idea. But, when I see casting being done for the heck of it, it feels like watching a priest chant mantras in a temple without batting an eyelid.
2. Acting teacher & his lessons
I did laugh for some of the gags. But when you think of it, that whole stretch seems pointless. And if I wanted pointless stuff, I’d rather watch Atlee’s films. (You know funny stuff like the karasev sticks getting animated)
3. Karthik fooling Sethu by making him a comedian in the film
Vellithirai-like stuff from you Karthik Subbaraj? Come on!
4. Siddharth’s phenomenally useless acting
Maybe there’s some prejudice here. But, as I walked into the theatre, I was telling myself that if at all this film fails, Siddharth will be the reason. (Such is my confidence in Subbaraj and Santhosh Narayan.) The film did not fail. But Siddarth was awful at several places.Siddharth as a film director?! Nope sorry. I still can’t buy it. The first scene in which he was on stage in a Naalaiya Iyakkunar-like program and the reactions he gave were pathetic. Then, he says he will study a don’s life first-hand in order to write a gangster story. Then, there’s a point where he tells his friend that filmmaking is about art and some bullshit like that. For Jigarthanda to work, especially the twist in the tale, you have to be convinced about Siddharth’s passion for direction and why he threw himself into the midst of a gang of rowdies for the sake of making a film. I did not feel that convinced and I think Subburaj is not at fault. It is this useless fellow Siddharth.
Gimmicks that worked for me
1. The self-reference by naming the hero Karthik
I got excited the moment I saw Siddharth walk into the studio with the Naalaiya Iyakkunar announcement going on in the background (after flicking the cigarette, of course!). Reason: He was putting on a black coat (or is it a sweater?) and I starkly remember seeing Karthik Subbaraj getting on stage in that attire in the Kalaignar TV program. Stylizing his own life on screen. I liked that!
2. Simha’s acting
No words. Hats off! He managed to scare me. Scare me, in the sense, I was always holding my breath to see what he’d do next. And I think the key reason I did not grow tired towards the end of the film is his visually arresting screen presence (and Santhosh’s bgm of course!). And that gibberish stuff in the climax 😀 Too good! Eager to see what he does next!
3. Pasamalar encounter turning out to be a filmed scene
The moment you get to know that the film is about making a film, you begin to expect a scene where you believe it’s happening for real and the director cries out “Cut!”. I was waiting for it and finally I got to see it in the scene where Sethu is shot down in an encounter. For a moment, I thought the film might end with Sethu’s death for real. But thankfully, it did not. I might have cried.
4. The rowdy not knowing how camera works
The gag where a rowdy, who is eager to do a sambavam, has no idea how a digital camera works was hilarious. I felt that here is a symbolism for what’s currently happening in Tamil cinema. There are these bunch of new fellows coming in, with fresh ideas and good grasp of technology and are able to create films that people love. And some directors and stars actually are struggling to understand it, I think. I remember a Shyam interview. He was particularly wonderstruck by Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom. He said something appreciative like, “Very simple storyline and they’ve managed to make it really well.” But, somehow it seemed to me that he’s terribly confused inside. “Naama kashta pattu 6 mezhuguvatthigal la ennamo laam pannom, aana ore dialogue vechukkittu epdi ivanga hit pannittaanga?”I am sure there are going to be several Jigarthanda-like films and they’re going to be horrible.
5. The conversation between Siddarth and the old man who wanted to be director
Sheer brilliance! Although the scene seemed to appear randomly out of nowhere, I loved it. The old man played it perfectly. There’s even a wooden toothpick or something that he has in his mouth, which he bites a bit and spits out casually, as he speaks some line. Nice! Added a natural touch to the entire scene.
6. “Nuantic” screenplay
There was one review I read and in the comments section there were some points raised about how there’s a meta story within Jigar’s story. And how this film pays tribute to a lot of other films (Eg: Sethu ending up marrying the wife of the man he killed is like Superstar Banumathy in Thalapathy etc). If it was intended, then very good!
7. The wife of the rowdy killed by Sethu
This lady acted in Engeyum Eppodhum and managed to play that role in a very casual manner. Little things like the way she talks over phone to Sharvanand, the way she asks Ananya to be careful with him, everything made it seem like she’s a lady you might see next door in Chennai. And in this movie, she plays a pivotal role. It is what she speaks to Sethu at the funeral that drives the nail in his heart and makes him change. And had that not been delivered sincerely, the film would have fallen flat. So, in this case, I would say an appropriate casting choice.
8. The background music
Oh man! There are 1001 ways in which a film can go wrong. And usually the culprit is a poor background score. Many dummy fellows will fill an already over-the-top scene with loud music and that immediately pushes the audience away. There was only one place in Jigarthanda where I felt, “Vo! Isn’t this music at this place inappropriate?” I think it was when Siddarth tells Lakshmi Menon he will somehow save her and walks off. But, otherwise Santhosh Narayan’s music is spot on! A big part of Sethu’s gethu and menacing stature came from the bgm. And whoever thought of a song in a well, how do you guys come up with such ideas?!
How Jigarthanda ends up being a short film
In short films, sometimes you have to whiz past the details and you try to come up with clever climax twists to make your storyline stick in the minds of people. Nalan did it in Soodhu Kavvum by making Vijay Sethupathy’s girl of imagination come up in front of him for real. Subbaraj did it in two short films, Thuru and Petti case and in Pizza too. Similarly, here he does a swapping of traits between Siddharth and Simha. And that feels very much like a short-film climax. I could accept Simha giving up rowdyism and acting in films. But, Siddharth taking up rowdyism to get actors to say yes, simply seemed odd.
Another short-filmism is buildup and then bulbu. The shot where Siddharth is shown running in slow motion with a tense expression. And then we’re shown that he is actually bowling to his friend in a cricket match. What is this Karthik? Venkat Prabhu has done all this in Chennai 28 itself… And then a scene in which Karuna first warns Siddharth about the danger involved in approaching Simha. In that scene, Siddharth will be on a swing (Btw, what’s the best English word for oonjal?) and Karuna will be sitting in front of a small table with a bottle of alcohol. Now any normal short-film watcher will immediately understand that there are going to be repetitive shots in which Karuna will progressively change his mind as he empties the bottle. Predictable staging.
I remember a few months ago, getting very excited about the fact that short film-makers are beginning to make feature films. Somehow they felt like “Namma pasanga” and there was a sense of pride when such a film succeeded. Every time I watched one of their films or shared something about it on social media, I felt like the squirrel helping Ram to build the bridge to Lanka. But, when I look back at the films that they’ve managed to produce, none of them seem to have a strong emotional core.
Pizza, Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Eppadi, Neram, Vaayai Moodi Pesavum, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanum, Soodhu Kavvum, Jigarthanda – all of these are films in which a string of events happen. There’s no proper building up of characters that the audience can feel for (Think Revathy in Mouna Raagam, Kamal in Indian, Bharath in Kadhal). These are films where you as audience will stand aside and watch the proceedings. You’re made to stand aside forcefully by the film, because the director is afraid of handling something emotional that’ll draw you in (Like Director Rajesh perhaps they also are thinking, “Audience ah tired aakka naanga virumbala”). Whenever something gets serious, it is broken down with a joke. Or else something serious is handed off in a light-hearted manner (Again maybe they got it from Venkat Prabhu. Eg: Vijay Vasanth’s love for his cricket bat in Chennai 28)
As a result, what we’re getting is “concept” films. It’s like watching Asatha Povadhu Yaaru on the silver screen. Two fellows wearing suit will come forth, hold the mike, say “Sir ippo concept ennenna…”, do the necessary motions and then Madhan Pop will laugh and give his comments.
But one thing for sure…
Jigarthanda is definitely a film to be taken note of. Karthik Subbaraj and Nalan are the two most exciting fellows for me amidst the bunch of recent new directors. Why not others? Balaji Mohan is just too sweet that I feel suffocated. Balaji Tharanitharan is just meek. M.Saravanan let me down in Ivan Vera Madhiri. Alphonse Putharen doesn’t seem like one who’ll make films (especially Tamil) consistently. Pa.Ranjith has cast Karthi as the lead in his 2nd film. Deepan Chakravarthy cast Ashok Selvan as lead in Villa. And Atlee wears braces.
For some reason, I seem to prefer Karthik Subbaraj and Nalan. They seem to stand out from the rest. Maybe cos both have a Hitchcockish body build (or atleast getting there).