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Jigarthanda: Where Madurai gangster meets Mario Puzo

A still from Jigarthanda (source: internet)

“Tarantino, Godfather, Scarface… make a movie modelled on those lines; if possible, rip-off from them totally. Also, get loads of violence, blood…” a movie producer tells an aspiring director as he hurls in front of him a bunch of Hollywood CDs and DVDs rather dismissively. Chastened, and desirous of an authentic debut, the director seeks a real-life don for a muse that leads him to Madurai. Thus begins Jigarthanda, Karthik Subburaj’s second venture (after Pizza) -- an absolute entertainer that could, in all probability, turn out to be the movie of the year.
By straddling various genres with utmost ease – comedy, gangster and romance -- not to mention the gamut of cleverly-placed twists in a near-flawless plot, Jigarthanda leaves the audience yearning for more, as if after an orgasm. As far as flicks set in Madurai go, Subramaniapuram may finally have a contender.

The first half proceeds at break-neck speed, thanks to slick editing, as Karthik (Sidharth) comes to Madurai and meets his friend (Karunakaran, who excels in yet another comic role). From then on, it is all about his tailing the members of Assault Sethu’s (Bobby Simha) gang with absolute determination – even if it means ignoring a receptive Kayal (Lakshmi Menon), who is a compulsive shop-lifter, and "using" his friend to the hilt. Throughout its running length, Jigarthanda elicits gags as well as shivers in equal measure. The thriller quotient gradually gives way to humour when Karthik, on the verge of being murdered by Sethu, tells him he is not a police source and gets him to speak about his life. Characters with unique traits – the gang member addicted to porn, another in an early love marriage, the mobster’s mother who refuses to speak to her son for 12 years – lend to the narrative. The odd swipe at stereotypes of Tamil cinema aside (the preference for machetes and knives over guns is attributed to “Combeny rules”), sub-plots develop gradually and do not slow down the narrative – the traditional bane of many a movie. 

The bedrock for Jigarthanda, undoubtedly, is the character of Assault Sethu; the movie to fire needed a power-packed performance from Bobby Simha, and boy, he does deliver. He dishes out a range of expressions effortlessly – from spine-chill inducing laughter, his humorous fetish for the cult classics Thalapathy, Nayagan or Annamalai, to his spiritual call before embarking on a murder – such that viewers can be excused if they relegate the hero to the background. The autobiographical touch in Jigarthanda is hard to miss: the hero (Sidharth) is named Karthik, his exchanges with producers and directors who failed to make it give the impression that these could have been incidents in his real-life. Anymore, and only a disclaimer would suffice. The scene where Karthik mentally interprets a conversation into a filming sequence (starring Vijay Sethupathi, in a cameo) is a piece of genius, as does another where he sits gloomily in a road at night and receives encouragement to go on with his endeavour at the stroke of dawn.

Chinks, if it can be called that, appear in the latter half, primarily in the transformation and denouement of Sethu’s character. Unsettling but not implausible, given the levels of perfection in most departments of the movie, this tends to stick out like a sore thumb. One gets the impression that Sethu’s sudden change in emotions towards Karthik seems predictable and hastily paced. Nevertheless the director packs a power punch with a Pizza-esque climax (or climaxes; think the neo-noir flick Aranya Kandam).

The icing on the cake has to be Santhosh Narayanan’s delightful music score and songs, which seems to be maturing, like wine, movie after movie. Special mention also needs to be made of the film's cinematography which manifests itself in the movie's critical scenes or its portrayal of Madurai's landscape. Case in point: the scenes where Sethu's gang arrive in front of Karthik's house or the one in which he bumps off a rival.
Not watched Jigarthanda yet? What are you waiting for?

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