It isn't a coincidence that the widely and wildly successful Hollywood semi-indie film Pulp Fiction hit the screens 25 years ago. Or in other words, 25 years before another widely and wildly loved Tamil film from a similarly maverick filmmaker released in the screens. Just stop there! The similarities don't mean the latter film, Super Deluxe, has anything to do with that Quentin Tarantino masterpiece.
Thiagarajan Kumararaja is not the ordinary filmmaker you encounter every other weekend (of course, extended weekends)coming up with a film made to make his/her presence felt. He is not even among the greatest filmmakers we have seen. All we have seen before Super Deluxe was Aaranya Kaandam, the book of Jungle! Aaranya Kaandam was a commercial failure. Before that, it faced the snub of the censor board which despite giving the film an A rating asked the makers for a small matter of 52 cuts. Remember this number.
Thiagarajan Kumararaja is not a director where his films are separate from him. They are just an extension of his personality. It is not his vision that we get to watch. We watch what he wanted us to follow from his stream of consciousness. That is the reason many who don't like his films take offense from his subjects. After all, who doesn't? All his stories are about sex and violence. Drugs and crimes. Or both. Or even sexuality.
Acharya Rajneesh who later became Osho says that if you can extend the pleasure you get at the climax of lovemaking from a few seconds to minutes and later to hours, it is the Samaadhi sthiti or the state of superconsciousness. Sometimes, it is the basest of the emotions that relieve us of our pain. Or teach us the meaning of life. Like that porn film, in this movie, Super Deluxe, is titled Vaazhvin Ragasiyam. The secret of life.
Kumararaja has come up with a host of not just interesting but piercing characters in these Aneethi Kathaigal. Just like the rainbow, we have seven main characters to observe and get acquainted with. First, there is Vembu. Cast against type with Samantha Akkineni. Then there is her husband Mugil. Remember him. He is going to be us. Next comes Arputham. Played by the man Mysskin himself. The biggest mythmaker. Both literally and figuratively.
Ramya Krishnan's Leela who is stressing herself beyond permissible limits to save her son who is in danger of his life and the police officer Inspector Berlin (like in the Berlin Wall) who is lust personified. And finally the unlikely pair of Shilpa and her wife, Jyothi. All seven characters. Representing the seven colors of the Rainbow. But this rainbow is not made of light but darkness. Dark alleys of the human soul. But even at the endless tunnel of darkness, there could be light. Like the great Stephen Hawking said, even Black Holes emit radiation. I mean to say light.
Let's take a look at the Rainbow created by Thiagarajan Kumararaja.
1. Vijay Sethupathi as Shilpa
Vijay Sethupathi had literally begged the director Kumararaja to let him play the role of Shilpa. True. Shilpa is a manickam of a role any actor could play in their career, and for a master actor like Vijay Sethupathi, it's a Godsend tribute to his career. Who in their right mind believes any other actor than Vijay Sethupathi could do justice for this role? Thiagarajan Kumararaja allowed the actor to become Shilpa. I mean Manickam. I mean both.
Vijay Sethupathi nailed the role is an understatement. Shilpa is a transgender woman whom we generally refer not with his/her but with it. Like the It from the Stephen King novel. Are we afraid of something we perceive as unnatural? Shilpa is the best portrayal and creation of a transgender character in Tamil Cinema till now.
She comes from Mumbai to meet her or his wife played by Gayathrie. Jyothi. To meet the light of his/her life. And to see his/her son. Rasukutty. Still can't get it right? Before she was Shilpa, he was Manickam. See, the transgressive reference and tribute to superstar Rajinikanth's defining role. Manickam aka Bassha.
2 and 3. Ramya Krishnan's Leela and her son
We meet a few random youngsters who are deprived of sex like many of us in the teenage. We want to know the secret of life but are not allowed to. Their plan is to watch a pornographic film to satisfy their lust. As in the classic and b-grade horror films, just beside the pleasure is the evil/ghost. A ghost of past in the case of one of these boys.
They join hands in finding a pornographic film (in the chapter Mallu Uncut?) and roll it to watch. All hell breaks loose. The object of lust in the video is the mother of one of the boys. Imagine the trauma he could have gone through! Are you shivering? Losing your thoughts? The capacity to think? As a side note before continuing, let me tell you of a real-life incident reported in an online magazine. Okay. Let's leave it here. Okay? Say, all right!
She is Leela. The boy out of rage goes to kill his mother, why? Why should he judge his mother based on a video? Is it because of the pain she had given him? Why pain in the first place? Is it because he thought his friends would make fun of him because his mother was a porn star? Or is it because of the perceived insults he would receive if the news goes out? All related to others. Not in his hands.
But in that rage, nevertheless, he rushes out but accidentally stabs himself with the screwdriver. Now, the pain is transferred to his mother who is now desperate to save her son. A mother man! Whatever you do, all she wants is your safety. She runs from pillar to post to save... her... son... who in reality wanted to kill her because of the perceived pain she had caused him. Thiagarajan Kumararaja laid to bare the basest of the emotions in Super Deluxe.
4. Ashwanth Ashokkumar as Rasukutty
Wunderkind Master Ashwanth Ashokkumar who played the aptly named Rasukutty in Super Deluxe is the only Neethiman in the entire story just like every one of us at the beginning of our lives. He is the personification of innocence, purity of thought and action, and the light at the end of the tunnel. Raasukutty asks questions that keep rolling in our heads but with so much innocence that we don't even want to know the answers but just appreciate his thought process.
It is no small feat for so young an actor to stand his ground against a master like Vijay Sethupathi, and to go toe to toe is something made out of the stuff of dreams. Saying Master Ashwanth did well or stole the show whenever appeared on the screen is an understatement. Awards must be excited to get honored by being conferred upon this boy.
5. Samantha as Vembu
The movie, Aneethi Kathaigal which later became Super Deluxe starts with the scene where we meet Vembu sharing the bed with her lover who is not her husband. We get to see everything with the camera's point of view. We get every detail of what is happening including the sounds of pleasure from Vembu and the man. It is the director Thiagarajan Kumararaja who takes us forcefully into the world of all these people, the dark rainbow, and then for a ride of a lifetime.
Vembu has an extra-marital relationship with this person. One fine moment, having the pleasure of making love to her, this man dies just like that. Vembu is in a fix. Don't judge Vembu guys! We are quick to judge other people. Don't even use the word immoral just like Vembu's husband at one point of time uses. She is in a fix. She asks her husband Mugil to help dispose of the body. And he comes up with a condition. That she must sign the divorce papers post this heinous act and vanish from his life.
People like Vembu are quickly judged by society. Which is us. She is in an arranged marriage without love. When there is no love, nothing works. Not even money. Not even wealth. It is love which binds this world and keeps it from disintegrating. It was the love of Leela for her son which helped her keep moving in life. Despite many... And it is the same love which made Shilpa return to this place to meet her wife and son. Or maybe not.
6. Arputham and Anjathey Nanbu
Dhanasekaran was Leela's husband. He wanted to commit suicide but somehow escapes. He thinks of himself as the right-hand man of God. Reason? While hundreds of thousands of people died in the Tsunami, he escaped from death. Mysskin's Arputham is a real Arputham of a character study. Of all the religious people to some extent. Dhanasekharan becomes Aarputham and comes up with the new holy book, Anjathey Nanbu. This is a clear reference to this maverick writer-director's one of the best films, Anjaathey.
Mysskin and Nalan Kumarasamy wrote part of the film. The deft and idiosyncratic touches of each of these two are visible all over the narration. Those who are fans of these two guys can get them which makes for even more intriguing experience with Super Deluxe.
7. Fahaadh Faasil as Mugil
The everyone of us. Or the representation of society. He was judgmental in the beginning. Like every one of us. He demands his wife or begs his wife to leave him once they dispose of the body of her lover. Theirs is a marriage of convenience. No love. Only a union thrust upon them by society. He at one point even tries to brand Vembu a slut just like society slut shames women who go off their marital relationships. Nobody wants to know what that particular person is going through. A satire on all of us.
But his character arc is very much the representation of every one of us and how we all react when we get to know the other persons and try to show empathy. His interactions with Vembu during the trying times and the way he reacts at the end all make for an intriguing character story. Only an actor of the caliber of Fahaadh could pull off such a complex and layered character which on the surface appears like a simple one.
And Bhagavathy Perumal as the Evilest Cop
He is the evilest of all evils in the film. The evilest villain we have encountered in a long long time. He would do anything for his lust. He is the villain we ourselves want to jump into the screen and kill with our bare hands. Super Deluxe which is an anthology film has 5 separate threads.
But they don't merge together like in many other films of this structure but just have undercurrent darkness to bring them together at one point only to disperse away after that fateful moment. This cop plays the thread which keeps everything tight together without anyone knowing about it. He is the dark energy that is keeping the colors of the Rainbow hidden from the light.
Just like the binding force in a chemical bond, Thiagarajan Kumararaja keeps everything tick. Super Deluxe is not an ordinary film. It touches the deepest alleys of the human souls which are dark tunnels. But there's always a possibility for light at their end. Aneethi Kathaigal doesn't always mean immoral stories. These stories make us understand what life is just like all these seven characters in Super Deluxe understand within the span of a day in the film's run time.