Review | 'Jagame Thandhiram': Dhanush and Karthik Subbaraj's new film on Netflix is very stylish
Dhanush's infectious energy, Shreyaas Krishna's excellent cinematography, killer music, armed ambushes and a body count that pays homage to all gangster films before it - 'Jagame Thandhiram' has a few things going for it.
Dhanush plays Suruli, a rowdy-turned-saviour of immigrants in 'Jagame Thandhiram' (screen shot).
You won’t see this song on Netflix, but Dhanush’s infectious energy will make you get off that sofa to ‘where-u bujji naalu vacchi’ dance, as you stream Jagame Thandhiram.
And that’s the trouble with Dhanush: he’s super likeable. Whether he’s dancing with the villagers after slicing a big fat fish mid-air clean into two (Karnan) or he’s stepping out of an Ikea cupboard thousands of miles away from home (The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir). He even stalks a girl in Raanjhanaa, and makes his toxic crush seem all right. And even when you don’t understand a word of the rest of the song, you find yourself singing the refrain to ‘why this Kolaveri di?’
Pair him with the man who shot to fame with his short films Karthik Subbaraj, and you have one incredible, moral question-laced journey of Suruli - the rowdy turned saviour of immigrants.
Jagame Thandhiram translated means ‘World of Tricks’. And as the audience you realise that the director is offering a very different southern spice. It's stylish, very stylish. Gang war and murders like something Tarantino or Guy Ritchie might dream up. And if the story hobbles a bit, and preaches at you, then Dhanush makes up for it with his energy.
We see Suruli (Dhanush) orchestrating a murder at the restaurant (remember the hiding of a gun in a restaurant restroom for Michael Corleone in The Godfather?). The café is all red and leather sofas, there are two bosses of rival gangs, and a gun... The body count in the scene is an homage to all gangster films.
Suruli is a gangster from Madurai taking care of business even on the day of his engagement. He tries hard to stay true to his culinary skills (he owns a parotta restaurant) but rivals wouldn’t let him. His friend Vicky (Sharath Ravi) brings along a ‘friend’ from London who witnesses one of the coolest restaurant fights. The friend recruits Suruli to work for his boss.
What you saw in The Family Man 2 was not even the tip of the iceberg. The ‘what kind of Tamilian’ are you question has a deeper, more significant meaning in the film. A couple of Bollywood movies barely touch upon the question of Tamil refugees (or any refugees) as if it weren’t our problem. As the filmmaker makes clear, ‘India doesn’t want refugees, does not recognise people as refugees’ and a part of me is embarrassed that for many of us (as Dhanush says in the movie) the Tamil ‘problem’ belonged to our neighbour, Sri Lanka.
So Suruli goes over to London to kill for a lot of money, and the promise of owning a restaurant. He does not realise that he’s about to kill someone who’s a hero. Sivadoss is that gangster who’s smuggling guns and gold. The man who’s given that contract is someone you have seen in Sons Of Anarchy and more popularly as Jeor Mormont, the ‘Old Bear’ in Game of Thrones. He’s James Cosmo, and he plays the part of an evil gang boss rather well. His plans for Suruli are so nasty that you’d think twice before wanting to spend your hard-earned money at a London store... Villainy in 2021 is all racism and xenophobia.
If you get past the heroine being named Atilla, you will see Aishwarya Lekshmi offer a very emotional reason to care about those who don’t have a country to call their own. In fact, Suruli’s mother, played by Vadivukkarasi, is convinced that we should care indeed and that when children start on the wrong path, mothers too should own up and correct the mistakes if they can.
Will Suruli be able to correct his life path? Du-uh! He’s the hero, is he not? The final encounter with machine guns spewing endless bullets seems to be like any other gangster movie. But wait. A shoutout to the excellent cinematography by Shreyaas Krishna. His mid-movie gun ambush in the park is brilliant.
The movie feels heavy because it takes on immigration, and any kind of solution offered today by any movie will seem hollow. But beyond that, there’s Dhanush who makes you smile because he’s not going to say ‘I love you’ without being wary...
The joy of seeing this film (cutouts standing tall outside the theatre) on the big screen is somewhat lost, and I do enjoy the mad dancing to ‘mass songs’. But we live in hope because we love cinema. Our hearts go, ‘Rakita rakita, rakita!’ with every movie we get to see...
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.