Super Deluxe

Super Deluxe

Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe is a significant step up from his previous film Aaranya Kaandam, aided by a sumptuous colour palette from P.S. Vinod and Nirav Shah, and the presence of a number of top actors from the South. Included are the likes of Vijay Sethupathi, Samantha, Fahadh Faasil, Ramya Krishnan and Mysskin but the newcomers are just as good and hold their own against the established stars. It’s an interesting story too, although after a good start the middle section does wander and become rather self-indulgent before ending with a stronger finale. It’s still a compelling watch, not just to discover what happens in the various threads, but also to spot influences, note the repeated motif’s and ultimately try to figure out just what Thiagarajan Kumararaja is trying to say. Super Deluxe isn’t for the faint-hearted – the language is strong and there are a number of confronting themes, but the juxtaposition of topical issues and out-and-out fantasy is intriguing even with a close to 3 hour run time.

The film consists of a number of different threads which don’t interconnect as such, but instead superficially intersect and occasionally influence each other. The first involves a cheating wife Vaembu (Samantha) and what happens when her husband Mugilan (Fahadh Faasil) discovers her infidelity when her lover has the bad taste to die during their lovemaking session. Next there are a group of schoolboys who arrange an elaborate plan to bunk school and watch porn movies. Their problems start when one of the four recognises his mother Leela (Ramya Krishnan) in the movie and the ripples from his subsequent actions have far-ranging consequences. Part of this sparks an existential crisis for Leela’s husband Dhanasekaran (Mysskin) who has become a faith healer after surviving the tsunami by holding on to a statue of Jesus. The other boys end up in trouble when they try to raise the funds to buy a new TV and end up in a truly out of this world experience. And then there is the story of Shilpa (Vijay Sethupathi), a transgender woman trying to reunite with the wife and young son she left behind many years before. It’s a fascinating blend of narratives and some of the stories work better than others. Or perhaps it’s more that some parts of each story are simply brilliant (and brilliantly simple), but then at times Thiagarajan Kumararaja and his co-writers seem to get carried away and try just that little too hard to be edgy and confrontational.

As well as a lot of swearing, there is a lot of sex in this film. Vaembu is first seen in bed with her lover, the teenage boys are obsessed with sex (although that’s not surprising) and there’s a creepy cop (Bagavathi Perumal) whose rapacious tendencies provide an important plot point in two of the stories. One of these is nasty but effective, while the other is too drawn out and staged to be convincing. In those parts where the film is subtle and suggests rather than shows, it is more chillingly real and packs more of a punch compared to the more filmi scenes with Vaembu, Mugilan and SI Berlin. Perhaps it’s a consequence of too many writers (Mysskin, Nalan Kumarasamy, Neelan K. Sekar and Thiagarajan Kumararaja are all credited with the screenplay), but Vaembu and Mugilan’s story is the least successful for me, despite fine performances from the two actors. Their relationship just doesn’t ring true and the characters are an odd mix of modern and traditional that doesn’t seem plausible. However, I appreciate that the fallen woman gets a shot at redemption and isn’t permanently tainted by her infidelity. Something which is also the case with Leela who is proud of her film achievements and sees no reason to disavow her presence in a porn movie. It is refreshingly different even if at times there is a feeling that some of the dialogue has been written by grubby little boys sitting and sniggering at the mere mention of sex. That may be more to do with the subtitles though as I have read a number of comments that some concepts weren’t translated accurately, particularly in respect to Ramya Krishnan’s character.

The most successful thread is that of Shilpa, and despite all the issues around a cis male actor playing a trans woman, Vijay Sethupathi is much more here than just a man in a wig. The issues here feel true to life, shocking as they are, as Shilpa tries to navigate a brief visit to her son’s school and faces prejudice and abuse at almost every turn. Ashwanth Ashokkumar is outstanding as her son Rasukutty and although Gayathrie has very little screen-time as the abandoned wife, she makes a strong impact as her facial expressions say so much more than any dialogue could possibly manage. Vijay transforms himself yet again and adds many layers and nuances to his character, alternating between comedy and tragedy but still providing a sense of the underlying weakness that drove Shilpa to abandon her family.

The first half has a lot of well-written comedy but immediately after the interval the film shifts into more serious territory. The pace is also more uneven in the second half, and the labyrinthine feeling of diving down a rabbit hole, so well done in the first half, falters as the frenetic pace slows. There is still a lot going on though, and with the richness of the visuals the film at times becomes almost overwhelming. There are close-ups of ants running up and down a door frame for example – the implication initially seems fairly straight forward, but is it really? There are so many questions and possible explanations for even the simplest shot and it seems that every single part of the set could have a secondary meaning. This is a film that I think does need multiple viewings, and I’m sure that I will see more detail each time.

There are plenty of film references here too – to both Indian and Western films and probably a lot more cultural references that completely passed me by. Despite the variability in the second half this is definitely a film that I’d recommend for the sumptuous visuals, excellent performances and intricate story. Thiagarajan Kumararaja has built a complex world that tries to encompass the natural, unnatural and everything in between. The best part about Super Deluxe is that he so very nearly succeeds.

 

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Aaranya Kaandam

Aaranya Kaandam should come with a warning – an excess of fake violence, actual real life violence against chickens and naked Jackie Shroff. Yes really! Jackie Shroff takes his clothes off in this film.  We have no idea why the organisers of the Indian Film Festival decided to choose this film over many other excellent Tamil releases this year. Perhaps they wanted to see Jackie with his kit off, but why we all had to suffer is a mystery!

The film is a long (too long) tale of double crosses by Pasupathy (Sampath Raj) when he is caught between two rival factions of gangsters. One gang is led by the aging Ayya (Jackie Shroff) and Pasupathy starts out as his more adventurous and able lieutenant. Ayya resents his younger henchman and when Pasupathy organises a drug deal through a corrupt cop to steal cocaine from a rival gang we know it’s all going to turn out badly. Adding to the mix are Ayya’s mistress Subbu who wants to escape, Kaalayan who manages to stumble across the drugs, his competent little son Kodukkapuli, and the other gang leaders Gajapathy (who has an impressive pair of ears) and his brother Gajendran.

Although the overall story is interesting there is too much time spent setting the scene and explaining exactly who is who.  First time writer and director Thiagarajan Kumararaja seems to have been heavily influenced by films such as Traffic and Pulp Fiction where there are a number of apparently unrelated threads which come together to form the climax of the film. But while he manages to  bring the various storylines to a more or less satisfactory conclusion, they don’t all work as well as each other. In addition to the pacing problems, there is a heavy reliance on gimmicky edits and lighting effects that lose their impact through over use. The actual cinematography was excellent, and the street and interior scenes were saturated with colour. Again, we suspect some of the highly stylised angles and use of colour filters was influenced by films like Traffic but it lacked structure so it looked a bit too try-hard.

The soundtrack is a mish mash of musical styles and sounds. We think this might have been meant to create an art house feel, but really it sounds more like someone bought a world music CD and used that instead of going to the trouble of composing anything special. Like the gimmicky editing the music became intrusive and sometimes detracted from the scenes, often simply because it was too loud.

The story of Kaalayan and his son is rather laboured and the inclusion of some rather nasty cock-fighting scenes with lots of lingering slow motion shots and buckets of gore was quite unnecessary. A lot of this could have been cut without losing any of the backstory in our opinion.  The child actor was fairly effective, and the audience certainly responded to his performance.

Sampath Raj puts in an impressive performance as the man trying to work his way out of a difficult situation. He has a good hero run, and puts it to use frequently throughout the film.

We know that traditionally anyone who is Jackie’s friend in a film seems to be marked for a horrible death or at least significant misfortune so we were expecting the wheels to fall off for Pasupathy. Jackie Shroff grunts his way through a series of inexplicable grimaces and as we mentioned decides to bare all. Thankfully there is pixilation but just not enough of it. Jackie Shroff himself may have preferred a larger area of pixilation as frankly it appears there was not all that much to be covered up! It’s not surprising that Subbu wants to escape from his early morning coughs and gurgles as well as the obvious horror of naked Jackie. Ravi Krishna is the gullible Loser who gets caught up in her plans for flight. Both he and Yasmin Ponnappa in her debut role turn in good performances despite a hackneyed plotline.

What does work is the dialogue, which seems snappy and funny despite the overuse of swearing in the subtitles. According to our Tamil language expert the characters weren’t actually swearing most of the time, so it seems strange that the subtitles decided to include as much profanity as they did. Especially when it seemed that every second word out of the kid’s mouth was something that our parents would still disapprove of. Maybe they knew there wasn’t enough plot to last the distance?

Temple says: This was a bore and a disappointment. The entertaining moments were few and far between, and the direction wasn’t focussed enough to make the incident heavy plot stay on track. I quite like Sampath Raj and if the story had been better balanced, this might have been a good gangland thriller. As it is, it’s a mess. I give it 2 stars – for Sampath Raj and so the torture of the poor roosters wasn’t in vain.

Heather says: While I didn’t find this film boring, it really wasn’t pleasant to sit through. There was a lot of really unnecessary violence of the gruesome and graphic kind, and the rooster fight scenes were totally unwarranted. Jackie Shroff was a real disappointment, although I didn’t have high expectations from him anyway. I can think of many actors who would have played this role much more convincingly – although all preferably without the nude scene! There were some good moments hidden amongst the carnage, some reasonable performances from a number of the actors, and even some good comedy. But not enough to save this film from collapsing under the weight of all the various plot threads. 2 stars from me.