Director : Karthik Subbaraj Stars : Siddharth, Lakshmi Menon, Bobby Simha,Nassar, Karunakaran


There is a trend in Tamil cinema. An upcoming director makes an excellent gangster film and that makes it a turning point in his career. Mani Ratnam- Nayagan, Selva Raghavan- Pudhupettai, Vishnu Vardhan- Pattiyal.

The new addition to the list is Karthik Subbaraj-Jigarthanda.
The success of Jigarthanda lies in its elegance and aesthetics that keeps the audience glued to the screen the entire 170 minutes. This requires intense hard work and detailing. Cinema is a visual medium. Jigarthanda is one of those very few films in Tamil that has perfectly used all the qualities of a “film”.

Every character in the film makes an impact in us, not just the lead characters but every single one of them has been created with excessive care- Assault Sethu, Karthi, Oorani, the funny looking but grim producer, Sethu’s gang- the one who keeps boozing every night, the one who is so addicted to porn films, the saree-thief heroine, Ambika who boldly places an ‘Idli’ on Sethu’s plate, the old lady who wanders around Sethu’s house caring about no body, ‘Petti kadai’ Pazhani, the one who keeps warning Sethu about his possible enemies, the acting teacher, Sounder who eagerly awaits the day to commit a ‘Sambavam’, even the open ground where Sethu kills the betrayers, the red car, the fuel can, the red sofa.

Jigarthanda is not just a film that narrates a story. It is an experience. We interact with everyone and ‘everything’ mentioned above. The audience feels to be a part of the film. So at no point the 170 minute duration of the film is a problem.
At the same time this is not ‘exactly’ a gangster film, at least not the conventional ones we have seen so far. It starts off as a gangster film, travels into a different dimension, and then ends once again as a gangster film. The grammar of a usual gangster film is ‘The Rise & Fall of a gangster’. A petty rogue becomes a gangster, lives like a king and finally collapses when he tries to claim monopoly by killing all his enemies.

But Jigarthanda does not fully follow this convention.
“Sethu, a cruel and psychotic gangster in Madurai is being stalked by a wannabe filmmaker Karthi. Sethu’s rise as a gangster is not given importance. At the same time, Sethu neither gets killed nor does he become a good man. He turns his interests to acting in films! (Now, how often do you see that…!) The film ends with the hero Karthi turning into an intimidating film director- the rise of a gangster in the film industry.

The first half of the film shows Sethu as an extremely terrorizing gangster. Karthik Subbaraj takes extreme care to create such a character and then breaks it to pieces in the second half. Sethu remains the same terrorizing villain, but we start laughing at the things he does and we never expected to do that after that splendid scene at the interval block. Things change drastically in less than 10 minutes. It requires a lot of courage from a film maker to make of fun a terrorizing character created by him. It is not so easy to create such a character.”
In fact, we love the antagonist Sethu the most in the film- just as we did for the ‘Joker’ of the ‘The Dark Knight’. It is one of the important reasons for the success of the film. This breaks the convention. The style, punch dialogues, extreme characterization and screen presence that the heroes enjoyed so far in Tamil films have been given to the villain in Jigarthanda. Karthik Subbaraj plays a brilliant move there!

You can pick any department in the film and start researching on it- the screenplay, characterizations, cinematography, the music. Each department has deeper details than what we see at the first sight. Especially the background music, is a marvel by Santhosh Narayanan. It is so pleasing and versatile starting from the regional music of Madurai to the western classical music, strings, piano, sax, a few more entirely innovative styles and it just goes on and on and on. The way the visuals and music support each other (or can we say compete each other) is just amazing. You should say the music and visuals have an intercourse, and become one. You can conduct a research on how Santhosh Narayanan has used different styles of music to give different colours to the scenes in the movie. World class.

Gavemic’s cinematography is another marvel in the film. The film has some visuals that take us into an entirely new world from what we have been seeing in Tamil cinema so far. The visual beauty and the poetic handling are so mesmerizing. There are scenes that do or do not have any major influence to the story but you can just watch those scenes a hundred times just for the mesmerizing visual- a red car that just glides through the roads of Madurai on a heavily raining night, the same red car that glides through the curvy, deserted roads amidst the wind mills, the part where Karthi is held and doused with petrol, the opening scene when a man enters a shed and is suddenly surrounded by a group, shot and killed as the song from “Pasamalar” plays on the screen behind, the part when Sethu slowly walks into the rain holding a plate to his head and enters a toilet where he encounters a killer, the scene where Sethu sits on the Sofa in his house surrounded by his goons and starts narrating his history to the camera. As said already you can never separate the visuals and the music.

The best example is the song inside the dry well. The conventional Kuthu song ingredients in Tamil cinema- a gang of 25-30 men wearing Lungi, an awkward dance step that is repeated every 30 seconds, a mid-age woman who suddenly jumps into the party and starts dancing, a place lit with yellow lights at night, few local drums. The irony is the song in Jigarthanda has also been made only with these conventional ingredients. What makes it special is the unique style in making, the eccentric music and dance, its mesmerizing beauty. All these, place it above all the usual ‘Kuthu’ songs. Every dance step and the band music- it is definitely a cult ‘kuthu’ song! (The only doubt is about why the well is so dry when it rains so much in the movie. Maybe, it is being maintained as a setup for such parties of the gang).

“The film takes us into a travel like a ‘cult classic’ but it does get lost for a period of 15-20 minutes. It is when the villain gains sudden interest in acting, acts in a film and there is a ‘twist’ when the film releases in theatres. Later Sethu gets redemption, marries a widow. Just when you start feeling like the film is getting lost, the film takes a sharp turn, the hero Karthi turns villainy, and a ‘cinema gangster’ is on the rise. Before you even realize the magic, the film has ended and you are left with that ‘magical hangover’ for even hours after the film ends.”
A few unwanted comical and romantic scenes do not really fit into the mesmerizing flow of the film. ‘Jigarthanda’ could’ve still been complete without the heroine’s portion. Karthik Subbaraj could’ve well broken that convention too. It might not be so disturbing as long as it blends well into the film. But a film that glides with a ‘magical feel’ right from the start to the end just loses itself in these portions.

You just cannot stop with watching the film only once. Watch it once for the entertainment, once for its music, once like watching a world classic, once for travelling into the film with the camera, once for its sarcastic style, once to explore its heavy, detailed script- every time you would get a different experience. Every scene, expression, conflict, dialogue has a lot of inner meanings. There are way too many layers.
Vijay Sethupathi, the magnet, has been used exactly the way people would love him! We lose ourselves inside the ‘other’ film that Karthi plans in his mind with Vijay Sethupathi in the lead. What amazes us throughout the film is the amount of ‘visual content’. The amount of shooting that would’ve taken place is just stunning. If it had been shot in ‘film’ one wonders how many thousands of feet of film would’ve been used. So much detailing and so much visual. A film which is so rich in visuals also needed some real hard work in sound designing. One could imagine how tedious it would have been. In fact, such realistic and accurate sound designing is one of the important reasons for the audience to get lost into the film. Grandeur at its best!

If you’re aspiring to be part of the film industry or learning its technical aspects, Jigarthanda is like an important book that you shouldn’t miss reading. If you are a film buff who keeps searching for versatile films from all over the world, Jigarthanda is one hell of a ‘feast’ for you. Of course, the film also offers pure entertainment for 170 minutes to the audience who expect nothing more than that!
Another important thing to be noted is that what we see is only the censored version of the film. It is amazing to imagine what kind of an experience the ‘Uncut’ version of the film would be. It would be great for Karthik Subbaraj to release a “Director’s cut” in future. That will be Jigarthanda at its purest form!

Note- There is a ‘created’ controversy that Jigarthanda is a rip-off of the Korean film ‘The Dirty Carnival’. It is purely the work of a bunch of people desperately waiting for an opportunity to show-off their non-existing intellect. There is not much resemblance between the two movies. Comparing two movies that have a small common element in their stories will only shed light on your stupidity. In fact, Jigarthanda only made us remember films like City of God, Cinema Paradiso, The Good, Bad and the Ugly, Old Boy, Casino. Not to start with the ‘copy’ game once again, it only means that we have another film in Tamil that we can proudly place on the universal stage.

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About Author

Mahesh Raghavan

Mahesh Raghavan is a film buff and independent short filmmaker from Chennai. His interest for films of all genres and languages has grown over the years. One film a day is his thumb rule.

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One Response to “Jigarthanda”

  1. Prasanna R says:

    Appreciate such a detailed review. The twist in the second half which many people look in awe, is not well registered in the movie, in my opinion.

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