Jigarthanda (2014) "The Cold-Hearted King of the Tamil New Wave"

Starring:- Siddharth, Bobby Simha, Karunakaran, Lakshmi Menon, Sangili Murugan, Ambika, Nassar, Ramachandran Durairaj, Kaalaiyan, Guru Somasundaram, Naren, Bagavathi Perumal, Thennavan, Delhi Ganesh.

Directed By:- Karthik Subbaraj

I decided to write about Jigarthanda after my seventh viewing. The first six viewings were useless as I was continuously distracted by the length of the movie. The seventh viewing blew me away immediately. Karthik Subbaraj, with his numerous short films, the fame of Naalaya Iyakkunar show and his first feature Pizza, which gave us a new perspective towards the horror genre and brought Santosh Narayanan to his peak after his excellent turn as music composer in Attakathi, has delivered stupendously in the form of Jigarthanda. The title and the posters (pieces of art in themselves) intrigued me beyond rescue and I should say that Jigarthanda replicated the effect I had when I was watching Jean Luc-Godard’s debut Breathless (1960). If I am allowed to paraphrase Pauline Kael, Jigarthanda has altered the body of an artform.

Karthik (Siddharth) is an amateur director, one of the finalists in a short film reality show. The celebrity judges are a popular producer (Naren) and a veteran filmmaker (Nasser). The latter dismisses Karthik’s movie as a trash movie. The zealous producer in a fit of rage against the director promises to produce Karthik’s first feature, leaving Karthik happy and anxious at the same time. 

At the script hearing, the producer dismisses Karthik’s script, calling it cliched. He yearns for a bloody gangster movie. He asks Karthik to rip off from popular gangster movies like Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, City of God and Scarface. Karthik decides to make a picture upon a fully functioning gangster. With the help of his journalist uncle’s help and resources, Karthik squares in on Madurai’s psychotic don, Assault Sethu (Simhaa).

With Oorani (Karunakaran), his childhood friend by his side, Karthik begins documenting Sethu’s life by inquiring about him. He falls in love with Kayal (Menon), the daughter of Sethu’s cook, to fish out information about him. It all leads to bar fights, a misplaced adult movie CD, a close escape from a mundane story-telling shopkeeper and witnessing the  killing of a mole by Sethu. Will Karthik be able to make his first feature, or will he bring in irreparable damages upon himself and those surrounding him?

Jigarthanda is the first script Subbaraj has ever written, though Pizza was made first. If you are making a movie as nuanced and long as Jigarthanda, you need to have a credible debut. Pizza is a lot more than a credible debut; and to follow it with Jigarthanda is a sign of a good directorial career (exception being M Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable). Subbaraj has crafted the character of Karthik based on himself, clearly visible by the character’s name Karthik Subramani. I don’t know whether it is true or ‘purely coincidental’, but that’s the impression anyone will get by watching the movie.

At the heart of the movie is the dominance of immorality and the selfishly inspired spree for achievement and respect. Revolving around the core is the characters’ arcs, flowing with unison, sometimes taking unexpected turns. All of the lead characters are immoral. Karthik doesn’t mind using others for his benefit. Kayal, when she learns that Karthik loved her only for the information, vows for vengeance. Oorani helps Karthik after being falsely promised a prominent role in the latter’s feature. Palani (Murugan) betrays people for money. Sethu is overexcited to spread his fame throughout the state by Karthik’s movie. You’ll be surprised by the turn of events and be divided, sometimes yearning for Sethu and playing host to hatred for Karthik. It’s in the end when everyone finds their righteous spot, now obstinate to follow that singular path for the rest of their life.

Siddharth is splendid as Karthik, this performance being only rivalled by his turn as Karan in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti (2006). It is real, unpredictable and diabolical at best. Lakshmi Menon has a short screen presence and is good in those minutes, her introduction being one of the plus points of the movie. Karunakaran is not having a meaty role like in Nalan Kumarasamy’s excellent Soodhu Kavvum, but his comical timing is unrivaled for now. Guru Somasundaram as Acting Coach Muthu is amazing, making the training montage the best scenes in the movie. His approach and acting is unforgettable. Ambika, Kaalaiyan, Durairaj and Murugan were perfectly cast and did justice to their roles.

Bobby Simhaa, the underdog-comic has transformed into the king of Madurai and has given the performance of his lifetime. According to Karthik Subbaraj, Vijay Sethupathy was his first choice for Sethu, which Subbaraj has curtly added in the end to complete the arc of Karthik and providing a cameo appearance for Sethupathy. Although it would’ve been another Das (Soodhu Kavvum) performace from Sethupathy, it is really hard to imagine him in this role after witnessing Simhaa. The laugh, the mannerisms, the anger and especially the dark tainted front teeth, all add to his masterful performance. The best scenes of the movie and Simhaa would be the long take from the small joint to the restaurant toilet, the Idli fiasco with Ambika and the Training Montage. Bobby Simhaa won the National Award for his performance in 2015. 

Karthik Subbaraj’s directorial style can be called irregular at best. He has to make a move which would make his movies quintessentially his. Like Kubrick has the stare and PT Anderson has the wonderful cinematography, Subbaraj has Santosh Narayanan and his director post as his savior angels. Iraivi has come out and I haven’t watched it till now. Undoubtedly, Jigarthanda is his best work to date. Gavemic U Ary’s cinematography is amazing. The movie has some really beautiful shots, like the intermission one. Santosh Narayanan’s background music is electrically amazing, Pandi Naatu Kodi being my favorite song from the movie. The setting, choreography and the underlying tones are breathtaking. Editing by Vivek Harshan is crisp and his National Award is the testament to his achievement.

You can see that I’ve mentioned something called Tamil New Wave in the title. Tamil Cinema is going through a ‘new’ renaissance era since 2011, right from the release of Thiagarajan Kumarirajan’s ecstatic Aaranya Kaandam. From then we have seen milestones of the new Tamil Cinema in the form of Balaji Tharaneetharan’s epic Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom (2012), Nalan Kumarasamy’s Soodhu Kavvum (2013), Vetrimaaran’s Aadukalam (2011) and the most recent ones include Thani Oruvan, Visaranai and Sathuranga Vettai. These are the years one was yearning for Tamil Cinema, to rescue itself from it’s stylish hell.  Jigarthanda is the loftiest of them all, closely rivaled by Vetrimaaran’s Visaranai.

Jigarthanda is Karthik Subbaraj’s statement for the cinematic world of his arrival, with a stringent approach towards changing Tamil Cinema forever, indirectly affecting Indian Cinema as a whole. A funny and stoic experience awaits you in the form of Jigarthanda, do watch it now.

Pro:- Everything except…
Con:- … the length of the movie.
Ratings:- 4.5/5

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