jigarthanda double x poster

Jigarthanda DoubleX

You don’t choose art. Art chooses you.

Karthik Subbaraj begins with this grand, resounding quote, which will become the thesis for this new story of his. It is a spiritual sequel to the delightfully meta and memorably tasteful Jigarthanda (2014), which still stands as my most favourite film by him. The earlier film had its own flaws, but there was irresistible charm in all that it was reaching for. It’s going to be an uphill task to talk about this sequel without referring to it. Not to forget, it was also an undeniably fresh cinematic voice at the time of release. Here’s the same filmmaker who’s climbed up bigger budgets and bigger stars in the past 9 years, going back to his most memorable root, but this time he has bigger ideas to build upon his work from the past. The syntax sure doesn’t feel as new to Tamil cinema this time around, but it still has a lot going for it.

The scale is amped up at the story level itself. There are more players – all big entities like the government, the film industry, entire communities, and Nature itself – involved in the proceedings, with each of them having their own stakes. Cinema changes a single character in Sethu over there, but here, it changes an entire Makkal (people). DoubleX is thus, a bigger idea than its predecessor.

The bigness of the idea is translated onto the visual treatment as well. Thirru’s frames are loud and colourful, being almost maximal in nature, for the style of lighting that we get to see. It’s a sea of colours in most scenes, with a clear indication of coming from a larger-than-life world. The high production value is felt all across the narrative. Though the spirit of this story rightfully warrants this visual scaling up, I prefer the more relaxed, lived-in, live-location textures of the first film (I also feel this deeply-saturated-colours approach, serves better on film than on digital – case in point Pudhupettai – which is a debate for another day).

I am going to come across as a cynic with my overall reaction to this film. I found this idea to be a good followup to the first, in spirit. But it didn’t a generate the feeling of being something soulful in me. Again, as an idea, yes, there is a strong intention to be soulful, but I don’t think it translates in execution. It certainly is the most effective film of Karthik’s since Jigarthanda, but I’m still sensing a recurring problem – that his ideas are more discernible than the emotions they elicit. There’s a lot to be delighted about here, but there’s so much packed in, that important emotional beats go past like the sudden gush of wind that follows a speeding vehicle.

There are two major moments that feel loose for this reason. One, Kirubai’s introduction. The way we learn about him in a hasty monologue from himself, and the whole play with his partner, doesn’t feel like it belongs in this film. It partly feels like a ramble placed because SJ Suryah is known for it. And sure, we are being introduced to a naive character, but we have also definitely grown out of the sensibility that “naive character equals childish/playful”. The fact that he is a coward, needed at least another scene to register harder. We learn about his past, his present, and his conflict, all in a clumsy and forgettable dialogue exchange. A very low-effort setup. But I like how the incident that follows is brought back later on, designed to strengthen Ray Das’s internal conflict. That reveal of a past connect, makes for a momentary high, though in retrospect the story might work perfectly fine even without it.

This is what Karthik most seems excited to do – almost developing a rhyme scheme for the beats of his screenplay to read like a poem. But the problem is that it feels like the alliteration takes precedence over adding depth to the narrative. In my thoughts on Mahaan, I’d said that “Subbaraj tries a lot to impress the mind, but I feel he also needs to go after the heart.” I’m feeling the same problem here, thought not as much as that film. There’s a heftier subject here to speak to our hearts, but the most visible aspect is the efforts in appealing to our grey matter.

The second loose moment for me, is Alliyus Ceasar’s snapback against Chinna on the comment about his dark skin. The reaction doesn’t feel as dramatised, not even as much as his intro scene (which is its own fun, glorious excess altogether – with a secondary character within it getting his intro only to be killed in the next scene). This colourism bit is a pivotal moment in the story, but the buildup, the blocking and staging, all feel too mundane for the prominence it holds, and compared to the prominence given to other bits. Even Lawrence doesn’t deliver it with as much heft as it warrants, neither does the pacing of the scene help. I might be nitpicking, but this imbalance just didn’t sit right with me. It can be argued that why/how Alliyus is wanting to be an actor isn’t as important to this story as opposed to what he does after becoming one – but as a series of events, I wasn’t connecting with any of the decisions moving the story forward. I was accepting the film, more than being invested in it.

A couple more beats that just didn’t make sense to me for their pace – One is Ray Das speaking about feeling the aura of filmmaking for the first time ever – we don’t see get a moment of that feeling sinking into him, we just cut to a month later? Of course, that moment comes much later, but this jump without spending time with that internal change, does feel awkward. The other is Alliyus’ equation with the elephants, which is narrated too hastily. Thus, the big moments involving the animals don’t quite realise their mythic or emotional potential. The film thus proceeds as a string of very exciting ideas with multiple branches, rather than as a single cohesive narrative that progressively gains emotional heft with every beat. I do believe that on paper, this screenplay would’ve still looked like an achievement. I just wish Karthik had surrendered to the needs of the story’s core rather than to certain excesses for the mechanics of the plot.

There is also much clutter in the film – The lack of any screen presence in Settani’s hazy appearance, the Aadithya Bhaskar character, the Sanchana Natarajan character, the on-your-face reiterations of the DSP’s evil, etc. A good actor like Sanchana deserves roles far better than such perfunctory excuses of women representation. It read like “We need to show a female victim of abuse, and then a romantic interest for SJS, so let’s just bundle them into one”. We can get much better folks. We have gotten better in the past. Karthik’s women characters may appear strong here, but he doesn’t quite lend any sort of complexity to them (this is a problem across all of Tamil cinema). Also, showing an evil woman doesn’t equate strong representation, if that’s what you’re thinking. On that note, Lakshmi Menon’s Kayalvizi was far more intriguing than any woman character in this film.

At this point, the following might make me sound like a hater, but I got to say it. I found both the leads to be a bit dull for the kind of sparks flying in the story. Raghava Lawrence definitely looks the part, he’s fit for the myth-making that’s happening, but when it comes to shouldering the heavier bits, he doesn’t appear as convincing to me. It doesn’t help that Karthik predominantly stays away from closeups for him. Again, this could’ve also been addressed by letting his scenes breathe, but the film is so stuffed that the character doesn’t quite get a personal moment, a place where we spend time with his inner mind, like we got with Sethu. SJ Suryah too, is more than adequate, but his naivete isn’t too convincing, especially when the actor takes over the character at many points. The scene where he first transforms into Ray Das in front of Alliyus, is carried by him more than the writing itself. The role is also an interestingly subtle one, which he does pull off, but it’s the lighter bits that feel out of place, more often than not, making him a rather muddled personality in retrospect.

Coming to the subject of the film, I feel while the political game is neat and rounded, the tragedy in itself feels rather manufactured. It surely has an artificial texture to it, but I’m willing to ignore that for the sake of cinematic liberties and the superficial tone that the film otherwise operates in. The statement about art triumphing all, is delivered in a simplistic manner. But it also does feel sincere for that very same simplicity, in spite of carrying the risk of sounding naive. One of the off-notes here are how the scenes of crowd reactions towards the end are over-the-top, they don’t have the grounded sensibility of the ones in the previous film. But I’m sure the makers knew they’re entering melodramatic territory, and taking the risk of crossing that line for that idea to feel fuller within the over-the-top world of this film, is commendable.

The final chapter taking such a serious turn, and then ending with the frivolous connect to the earlier film, also didn’t quite sit well with me. I really wish the final takeaway, the final sign off from the film, remained about its politics – about cinema and its ability to bring about change to the status quo. But now, what questions are we leaving the audience with? What should they be thinking about when they leave the film? The sudden easter egg delivery business pulled me out of the seriousness of the questions posed before it. It almost made me question the heft in the film’s message, that it spends so much time delivering. This prologue also doesn’t look as organic, with the way supposedly dead characters are brought back for this reveal. Again, the idea of the connect is nice, it has a prophetic feel to it – Sethu eventually becomes what his father couldn’t – but where is the emotional resonance in this last minute name-drop? (I wonder if there are other easter eggs placed earlier, in that way this one might at least feel a tad more earned)

The finale action block inside the theatre is a scream for the sort of callback that it is. It’s a spicy scene, the kind that defines the aftertaste of this film. It feels like the right kind of depth for the director to operate in – a simple, but immensely creative ode to cinema – as opposed to all the politics he’s been trying to reach for, but only scratching the surface of, ever since Mercury, or even Iraivi.

The immortality of art and artists, is declared out loud in the climax, though I wished they could’ve reigned in on spelling it out like that. It reminded me of this deleted scene from the first, where Assalt Sethu talks about how it feels to be an artist. It was a very clever move to leave this out, so as to let the audiences feel everything he speaks about, by themselves. But in this sequel, Karthik seems to want to handhold the same audiences towards his thesis. I wonder if 9 odd years of mainstream filmmaking have driven him towards making more unsubtle choices.

Cinema has chosen Subbaraj to celebrate itself, and this is his biggest canvas yet. Even bigger than Pettai, for how it doesn’t just forefront a star, who is only an element of the medium, but the medium itself. (He even cheekily packs in a star here, in Clint Eastwood). I enjoyed how a faux-filmmaker is shown to be the scheming one again, but this time it’s both the artist and the criminal realising the power of the medium, together. That’s a fascinating narrative there. The very merit of this idea might make this film an easier recommendation over the years. For now, it’s an emotional miss for me, on multiple levels. The final flourish alone doesn’t quite do it for me, unfortunately. Between me and the film, it clearly is me who has the colder heart. But bring on another spiritual sequel as the next inventive ode to the medium, please?


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Recent Posts

You Might Also Like

Manjummel Boys
Ponniyin Selvan: II