The Amateurishness of Super Deluxe

After watching Super Deluxe, there were only two words I wanted to tell Thiagarajan Kumararaja, “Grow up.” Here’s why.

Amateur Writing

When you face a writer’s block or when you can’t think of how to move your story forward, there’s a writing technique that usually helps. Think of the most random thing that can happen to your character at that moment. This is the rule Super Deluxe adopts.

Married woman is having an affair with her ex-lover. What’s the most random thing that can happen? He dies while they have sex. A family is eagerly awaiting the return of a father, a husband and what’s the most random thing that can happen? He returns with his gender changed. Three boys go back to a house to steal money for a second time. What’s the most random thing you can think of? An alien lives in the house.

There are two major issues with this kind of writing. One — it utterly lacks motivation. Why are these things happening? Simply to illustrate, underline, re-underline and highlight the point that life is random and absurd? Then why not make everything random? Why should a film have a semblance of a plot or screenplay? Why don’t we show that the tsunami actually happened because Samantha did not marry the guy she loved? Why don’t we make the aliens want a copy of Mallu Uncut and make it their mission for coming to Earth? All of these would gel with the film’s “zany” nature you see. (That’s the word a friend used to describe the film.)

Two — This kind of writing is actually quite easy to do and there’s nothing groundbreaking or fresh about it. This is a very convenient method of writing, in which you use events to keep building the conflict, keep pushing the characters to a corner and then finally use something random to resolve everything in a jiffy (like the television that kills the sleazy cop). This is similar to television serial writing in which over 300 episodes a ton of problems will pile up on the protagonist and then in one final episode everything magically gets resolved. If we question this approach, then we’ll receive the convenient answer, “Life is random. Life throws bricks at you when you least expect it.” I would recommend Vivek to write additional screenplay for Kumararaja’s next film. His idea of Mangala getting hit by a lorry on the National Highways sits well in this random universe.

The only writing in this film that seemed to be mature was the moment in the subway when Mysskin realises that he is not the only who was saved in the tsunami — what he considers to be God is simply a stone for someone else. But this moment was spoiled with some very explicit tubelight sputtering that was so irksome. I wished someone would break that tubelight so I could at least hear the scene in darkness.

Don’t you have mother and sisters?

There’s a common tantrum that’s thrown at men who misbehave with women on screen. “Nee ellam akka thangachi oda porakkala?” A similar thing happens in Super Deluxe. Teenagers gather to watch a porn film and one of them realises it’s his mother in the film. This line of “what if” thinking is very amateurish. It’s apparent that as a writer, Kumararaja (or whoever wrote this portion) wanted to throw a character who watches porn into a conflict. And he wants the conflict to be “huge” and “crazy” and therefore chooses this route. My doubt is do you need a conflict so direct to create a bang?

Let me give you a real life example. After high school biology classes on the human reproductive system, one of my friends confessed that he couldn’t see girls the same way again. Whenever he saw a girl he got reminded of the diagrams from the textbook. He couldn’t stop himself from seeing them as vulvas and vaginas floating around. It took him quite a while to get over it. Isn’t there conflict here? It’s an amateur writer who leaps and snatches at extreme situations to create conflicts.

Oh and what a pathetic resolution this portion of the plot received. The boy grows angry, wants to kill his mother, hurts himself, gets admitted to the hospital after swearing at her. Once he is fine mother speaks a few lines about how porn is a job too and then everything’s fine. Oh yeah and we had to be reminded that Ramya Krishnan has played godly roles too. We didn’t know that you see. We didn’t know that our actresses have to straddle these two kind of roles in our cinema. We didn’t know that our society is riddled with such contradictions. By pointing this out the film has raised some very deep questions for which it will receive odes in newspaper columns. It was a huge eye-opener. Thank you. Applause.

Butterfly Effect

As I walked out of the cinema hall one of my friends remarked, “It’s called Butterfly effect, isn’t it?” I felt like Kamal in Hey Ram climax scene, “Innuma?” How long are we going to use Butterfly Effect as an excuse for writing stories with multiple intersecting characters? How long are we going to make a mishmash of films that Guy Ritchie and Inarritu have already made? And made so well! (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Babel)

Super Long Deluxe

To be honest, the first half of the film was quite engaging. But the moment the character of the sleazy sub-inspector made an entry, the film became draggy as hell. The moment this inspector begins talking to Vijay Sethupathi we know what he intends. That portion simply dragged on and on. Likewise the moment he begins to threaten Samantha and Fahad we know what he wants is not going to happen. We know he’s going to meet with an end because Vijay Sethupathi has cursed him earlier. And yet the scene in which he handcuffs Fahad drags on and on and on. Likewise the whole door knocking sequence to get the bleeding boy from Mysskin, the pleading with the doctor to get the boy treated were all super draggy. It’s shocking how this can happen in a film that claims to have three people credited for “Additional Screenplay”.

The acting was a big let down too. There were hardly any frames in which we got to see Vijay Sethupathi’s face. We hardly got the screen time to feel what his character is going through. The longest duration for which a reasonable close-up stayed on his face was just before he says “Ding Dong”. That was the only moment when I got a sense of what his character might be feeling. The rest of the time he’s just pleading or being sorry. And the whole idea of “look how I have cast a comedian in the role of an eerie villain” was irritating to say the least. The sub-inspector’s acting was the worst of the lot. The point when he bends down in front of the child and asks him to have biscuits at the tea shop is right out of a Perarasu film.

I notice few people are delighted by some parts of the film which they claim has never been seen before in Tamil cinema. To me if the parts of a movie don’t add up to anything or if there’s no solid core then the whole exercise is pointless. When I mean parts don’t add up, I don’t mean movies with flaws. For example, Kaala has its flaws but as a movie things add up to make a nice whole with a clear core. But Super Deluxe is filled with frivolities like the upside down camera angle that reveals the upside down text on a fellow’s shirt or the Schrodinger’s cat reference in the doppelganger’s shirt. These things just don’t add up to anything and stick out as interesting ideas that could have been more impactful had there been a core.

Empty Irreverence

A friend mentioned that despite the backyard humour of the film, it has an irreverence and irreverence is a powerful force in art. Well, the irreverence in Super Deluxe is completely hollow. It’s irreverence for the sake of it. Bala’s Naan Kadavul and Puthumaipithan’s short story Kadavulum Kandasamy Pillaiyum have an irreverence that’s powerful, they can shake the foundation of your beliefs. In Super Deluxe there’s nothing. Super Deluxe is like the brat in class who simply throws paper balls at everyone for no apparent reason. It may be funny to a few but overall there’s nothing fruitful out of it and a robot can do the same.

Cooking Your Own Super Deluxe

A screenplay with multiple characters gives the impression of awesomeness because you can cut from one story to another at critical moments. This again is very ordinary stuff. You try doing it, I’m sure you can do it better. Pick a random trait for your character, pick a random physical appearance, pick a random goal. Now create a for loop to do this x number of times. Write down all of these and do some match the following you have a pretty good template screenplay for Super Deluxe kind of movies. Next cast one or two top-billed stars and you’re done.

Another sign of amateur writing — when you contrive events in a screenplay just to have one line of dialogue that you think is impressive. In the Samantha-Fahad storyline, the encounter with the sleazy inspector exists only for the purpose of Samantha telling Fahad, “I should be a whore whenever you want me to be.” It’s a good line, no doubt but in that entire stretch there’s absolutely nothing else of interest, so this line alone sticks out.

The needs of each character are so simple and direct, which is yet another cliche of this genre of films. Someone wants money, someone wants to save someone else’s life, someone wants a TV. Now screenplay “experts” will tell you that if you have multiple characters in the film this is the only plausible approach. Not true. Watch Kumbalangi Nights, so many characters yet such layered characterisation for each. The only layered narrative in this film is the Vijay Sethupathi Rasukkutti storyline. It’s the only mature portion of this film.

Another done-to-death cliche in such films is having a gangster don who threatens one or more characters. Why do we always see this character in such films? The answer is simple. Gangsters make it easy for screenwriters to create threats to other characters. Once you have a gangster in the story you can easily threaten another character for money or life. It raises the stakes instantly. But isn’t there any other way to do this? To rephrase a quote from the Tamil film Guru — “Kaiyalaagadha writers dhaan gangster ah kaithadiya use pannuvanga.”

So let’s hold our horses (the same horses that Kamal Haasan asked us to hold for Bahubali) and not praise Thiagarajan Kumararaja to the skies. He is just another Tamil film director who has made two films and yet to emerge from amateurishness. Let us wait for his next film and see.

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