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Notes on Super Deluxe

(Recommend reading after watching the film)

One of the most heartwarming lines in the neo-noir Aaranya Kaandam from Thiagarajan Kumararaja arrives during the closing scenes of the film. Pasupathy asks Kodukkapuli a question. Is his father, a wastrel of a man, so dear to him? Kodukkapuli replies,”No, but he is my father”. The line hits you at warm and colder places like an arrow piercing flesh. The Kodukkapuli-Kaalayan story is not only the most entertaining thread of the film but also one that packs the maximum emotional heft. In Thiagarajan’s second film Super Deluxe there are several threads and these threads spawn their own threads. And every thread, as wicked as they are, carry an underlying sensitive layer similar to what we saw in Kodukkapuli’s. A father reinvents himself only for the son, like Kodukkapuli, to rediscover his father. Adolescence goes through several motions in the span of a day. A volatile marriage finds its feet amidst gruesome lows. A man questions his god while his son is forced to confront his mother. Humanity is reduced to dust and then rises like a phoenix to a newer, more beautiful form.

Who would have thought that after a gangster saga with blood, gore and nudity Thiagarajan Kumararaja would turn to something at the core of life and relationships. That isn’t to say there is no violence here. It is present in several other, more lurid forms. It is no wonder that the initial title for this film was Aneethi Kathaigal or Unjust Tales. Super Deluxe looks and feels like a polished B-movie, with moralities hanging on a loose thread, sometimes gently tapped with Thiagarajan’s lone finger and allowed to fall into the abyss. A son fighting for his life calls his mother in the most despicable way possible, a police officer sexually harasses a trans woman, relishing it as if his tongue reaches his cheekbones. Pornography turns into an eye-opening life lesson for a bunch of teenagers and an extramarital affair first turns violent then becomes cathartic. There are frames and sequences rarely ever seen in Tamil cinema, or even Indian cinema and never in something as loaded with star power as Super Deluxe is. The film also marks a return to one of Thiagarajan’s themes from Aaranya Kaandam – masculinity and how easily can it be punctured. Cuckolded Mugil, deluded and delinquent Dhanashekar and his son, a world unable to reconcile with a trans woman as a father figure.

Thiagarajan Kumararaja picks the choicest of places to position his camera. The camera is always in a closed space eavesdropping on the action outside. Like us, in a closed cinema hall watching these characters doing what they believe they are doing in secret. In private. He places it on the backseat of a car while two characters mull their situation outside. It is on the edge of a doorway tracking ants crawling up a wall as we witness an event in the household that’s doing the same to everyone’s skin. The camera sits on a table in a tiny room with a kid watching in darkness while all the action takes place on the road, in daylight, as characters run away from each other, auto rickshaw following auto rickshaw. This is a pattern, Super Deluxe moves like a relay race, a character hands over the reins of the screenplay to another and moves on, the film’s inspiration – Jafar Panahi’s The Circle – coming through. Thiagarajan’s long take moves through a claustrophobic flea market, giving the impression of a maze mirroring the psychology of the character. Two films old and Thiagarajan possesses a singular film grammar, his colours light up a day in Madras like nothing and no one has done before and a filmy graininess adds to the authenticity, not to mention the B-movie feel. The frames are busy with detail as are the lines and characters. It’s hard to tell how he achieves the effect but they look at once natural and painfully designed. Along with his familiar affectations – Bappi Lahiri and Ilaiyaraja, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan (years have passed therefore A.R Rahman makes a fleeting appearance). A character, erstwhile christened Manickam is asked what he was doing in Bombay. There is Star Wars theme on nadaswaram that works like a charm while there are also charms that don’t have the same impact. The third act goes for batshit crazy turns in which some work, some don’t but the film is never less than enchanting, the unnecessary philosophical exposition notwithstanding. Super Deluxe also shares its universe with Aaranya Kaandam – a corrupt cop has a phone conversation with his counterpart – Mayilvaganam – from the earlier film.

Questions must rightly be raised about casting a cis male in the role of a trans woman. The trans woman character Shilpa is unlike the few we’ve seen in Tamil cinema. So far we’ve seen trans women characters (in honest, dignified portrayals) who play the friend, the supporting shoulder or at times the savior. Super Deluxe goes for something tiny bit revolutionary, the trans woman as a lapsed parent. And maybe this radical choice needed a familiar cushioning in the form of a star to make its point. Thankfully there are no red flags for the most part and Vijay Sethupathi’s thread comes off as the most poignant and tender stories in the vast world of Super Deluxe.

7 Comments

  1. Manikandan Manikandan

    For me movie is a travel from self pity to Oneness of all(Advaita), Four purusharthas namely Kama,artha,dharma & moksha are fitted against Shilpa,Dhanasekar,Mugil & Thooyavan(kaaji) respectively. Traditionally adolescence is attributed to Kama, youth to artha, middle aged to dharma & old age to moksha. Director has cleverly shuffled the end goals , adolescent thooyavan getting the bliss of moksha, youthful mugil ranting about dharma , middle aged shilpa getting the love she longed for & Elderly dhanasekar getting the wealth. This shuffling is directors s way of questioning the Order or Tradition on the Whole

    Further , there are numerous acts which happens twice 1)Mugil & Vembu Visit the rail track twice, 2) Berlin’s Standoff with Shilpa twice in Police Station 3) Boys gang visit Settu house twice 4) Dhanam comes back to his Sabha twice 5) Shilpa deciding to leave again but stopped,6) plane seen through the roof, this makes a curious case of repeatedness of events possibly hinting at rebirth or second chance

    Further, there are various clues in the background as the movie moves on indicating for things about to happen (Vazhvin Ragasiyam & Alien movie posters) a touchy crafty way of hinting at the role of Intuition

    Further, most touchy of them all is how Thooyavan is split into Two indicating the first cell splitting into two a revelation most needed to understand the oneness of all

    Further, heady cocktail editing, music, old songs timelessness of the visuals makes viewers lose their time orientation, possibly indicating eternity of Time

    Further, Director reposes his faith on Karma & Morality unstatedly , Berlin s end may be a work of Chance but director punishes the most evil , for other characters have their redemptive moments despite all their faults perhaps second coming of everyone of them is their chance for redemption which they grab on to, all except, Berlin. In him we watch excruciatingly helplessly the unfolding evil.

    Full hundred marks for those two pickle jars as installations

    What a Fine Film !

  2. Manikandan V Manikandan V

    For me movie is a travel from self pity to Oneness of all(Advaita), Four purusharthas namely Kama,artha,dharma & moksha are fitted against Shilpa,Dhanasekar,Mugil & Thooyavan(kaaji) respectively. Traditionally adolescence is attributed to Kama, youth to artha, middle aged to dharma & old age to moksha. Director has cleverly shuffled the end goals , adolescent thooyavan getting the bliss of moksha, youthful mugil ranting about dharma , middle aged shilpa getting the love she longed for & Elderly dhanasekar getting the wealth. This shuffling is directors s way of questioning the Order or Tradition on the Whole

    Further , there are numerous acts which happens twice 1)Mugil & Vembu Visit the rail track twice, 2) Berlin’s Standoff with Shilpa twice in Police Station 3) Boys gang visit Settu house twice 4) Dhanam comes back to his Sabha twice 5) Shilpa deciding to leave again but stopped,6) plane seen through the roof, this makes a curious case of repeatedness of events possibly hinting at rebirth or second chance

    Further, there are various clues in the background as the movie moves on indicating for things about to happen (Vazhvin Ragasiyam & Alien movie posters) a touchy crafty way of hinting at the role of Intuition

    Further, most touchy of them all is how Thooyavan is split into Two indicating the first cell splitting into two a revelation most needed to understand the oneness of all

    Further, heady cocktail editing, music, old songs timelessness of the visuals makes viewers lose their time orientation, possibly indicating eternity of Time

    Further, Director reposes his faith on Karma & Morality unstatedly , Berlin s end may be a work of Chance but director punishes the most evil , for other characters have their redemptive moments despite all their faults perhaps second coming of everyone of them is their chance for redemption which they grab on to, all except, Berlin. In him we watch excruciatingly helplessly the unfolding evil.

    Full hundred marks for those two pickle jars as installations

    What a Fine Film !

    • tlc_admin tlc_admin

      Manikandan – Thanks for sharing! Great reading.

      A minor nit – Thooyavan is the one who wears glasses in the Wild Bunch, Gaaji is a different character.

      • Manikandan Manikandan

        Yes Thooyavan is the one with specs – found it in subsequent viewing s -Thooyavan says directly to vasanth & Gaaji “Our Motcham Lies there” on going back to Settu House. Far earlier gaaji says ‘ its as difficult as sliding on razor edge invoking —–“The Razor’s Edge is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. … The novel’s title comes from a translation of a verse in the Katha Upanishad, given in the book’s epigraph as: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to ‘enlightenment’ is hard.”

        How Great is Myskin s Acting , cannot take the movie outside of my head, with all IR Songs playing in the background, one liner dialogues echoing now and then, it s been such a immersive experience watching and speaking about this movie.

  3. Ghanashyam Ghanashyam

    Waiting for a podcast on this movie 😊

    • tlc_admin tlc_admin

      We’re planning one. Hopefully we can get one recorded soon!

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