Thiagarajan Kumararaja creates a hyper-realist epic in Super Deluxe which helps Tamil cinema break out its soulless razzmatazz and faux drama
In her last interview, Agnes Varda, arguably the most important filmmaker of French New Wave who passed away on March 29, said of the way she behaves as an artist: “Sometimes I do things that are not really the right way, because I’m daring in a way.” In Super Deluxe, watching which many would have thought of films made by the likes of Varda, Woody Allen, Michael Haneke and many others, director Thiagarajan Kumararaja makes a daring attempt at deconstructing existing paradigms of cinema in this part of the world and creates what can be easily billed as a befitting sequel to his 2010 cult movie Aaranya Kaandam.
At the outset, Super Deluxe is not a single movie; it has multiple stories which can stand on their own and each story can be approached laterally or linearly. And the director does not make any conscious efforts to pontificate to the viewers which approach is the best in understanding the film. It seems he doesn’t want you to ‘understand’ the film in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, the viewer is introduced, jolted into rather, a cinematic rollercoaster ride at the end of which he has to gasp for breath before he settles down to figure out the experience.
For the sake of a synopsis — and to tell the story sans spoilers — one can say that Super Deluxe has four key stories. In one, a young father comes back to his family — to his little son and wife — only to give the family the shock of their life with his new life and character. Vijay Sethupathi is impeccable as Manikam-Shilpa, the father who has become a transgender individual after he had left the home some years ago, and Gayathrie delivers a blemishless performance as his wife. No doubt, the story is a mirror held against contemporary Indian society, which is atrociously prejudiced against people of the Third Gender and those who belong to the LGBTQ community. Thiagarajan Kumararaja exposes and skins the inherent hypocrisy in the way we look at family life, women, marriage, parenting and even property relations especially when a trans-person is involved in the whole ballgame. Sethupathi’s character is rejected outrightly by her own system and she has to undergo traumatic cycles of torture — physical and mental — before she finally has her moment of tranquility.
In another story, which reminds one of Amédée, or How to Get Rid of It, the 1954 play by Eugène Ionesco, a man and his frustrated partner end up with a corpse and their efforts to get rid of it without casualties trigger a bizarre chain reaction of events that unearth emotions that are as strange as the flatus from the dead body — a scene that can disturb the puritans as well as the progressives for the sheer sense of shock it delivers. Malayalam star Fahadh Faasil is brilliant as the shocked spouse while Samantha, even though she struggles under the weight of the character Kumararaja has placed on her, does a good job given the nuanced histrionics the character is expected to manifest. The story is a meticulous case study of human relations, touch both the extremes of the mundane and the macabre. It’s Fargo-isk eerie charm, blended in black comedy and carefully crafted anti-systemic gibberish, is worth a study of its own.
In a third story, a group of teenagers who venture out to watch a porn film encounters a shocking revelation and resultantly enters a world of alien realities, literally and philosophically. Fans are still discussing the significance and the relevance of the alien that appears in the film and one plausible explanation lies in the way Kumararaja looks at the influence of digital technology, social media and artificial intelligence on human life. In fact, it is here Kumararaja’s film becomes an antithesis to cinema. It creates a counter reality that is potent enough to make even the average viewer sit back and take a serious note of the absurd events unravelling in front of him. And he will in all likelihood try to cobble up an inference that will eventually end up forcing him to deconstruct the existing experiences of movie viewing. In that process, he starts the experience all afresh and starts to understand cinema as a product of certain social realities that most of the time make no sense to the participants of it but only to those who possess a holistic and philosophical outlook who can derive myriad meanings out of the experience.
And this idea in a way sets the stage for the next story, in which a godman-by-fluke, a byproduct of the devastating tsunami that (also) struck Tamil Nadu’s coasts in 2004, has his inevitable by serendipitous tryst with reality when his son meets with an accident and he realises his hapless powers are not enough to move the mountains, only to be shaken and to discard his closely-held beliefs. And this is where Super Deluxe becomes a philosophical spoof of our wicked times. It reconstructs many alien lives (if you look closely every character is an alien in this film. While Shilpa the Queer is an alien to her society, the de facto godman is a stranger to his own being, and the three teens are alienated from their environments in ways more than one; and then you have the real alien!) only to deliver us a testament of trauma and trepidation.
This experience is not real; of course it is imagined. The viewer will keep reminding himself just that as the movie progresses, but soon he loses the sense of judgement and stops differentiating between the real and imagined and gets trapped in the movie’s gory grandeur — a classic sign of great radical cinema, the kind film makers like Agnes Varda espoused.
Picasso said, “Everything you can imagine is real.” On that cue, Super Deluxe is a product of an imagination that leapfrogs into the future and hence is realistic cinema at its best.