Director: Kartik Subaraj
Starring: Danush, Aishwarya Lekshmi, George George, James Cosmo, Kalayarasan
Jagame Tandhiram begins with the image of a boat in the English canal with refugees approached by an English patrol boat. If you look at the career of Karthik Subbaraj, you will find a very similar scenario in Down where three Indian fishermen (Vijay Setupati play one of them) are attacked by a patrol boat from Sri Lanka. There are similarities between refugees and Indian fishermen because they both travel in waters that are not their own country. Now the question is: what is your land and where do you belong?
This question seems to be of interest to Karthik Subbaraj, especially in the context of the Eelam movement. The last scene from Karthik Subbaraj’s short film Upload Pajamas is related to war-torn Sri Lanka. IN Jigartanda, there is a reporter who says it reflects Arabic and Ilam. IN Iraivi, SJ Suryah is directing a film called “May 17”, which is a very important day in the history of the Eelam movement. IN Jagame Tandhiram, he delves into this interest in detail. And this is not particularly the issue of Eelam, but also the wider global refugee crisis. Karthik Subbaraj addresses the problem through the lives of several displaced Tamils from Sri Lanka who live in London. There is even a line that reads: Our payloads are pulsating (our boys are tigers).
Suruli (Danush), a gangster from Madurai, does not even know that refugees from Sri Lanka live in Tamil Nadu. Perhaps this is the way Kartik Subaraj says that the younger generation has slowly forgotten what happened. The first half of the film (although it’s hard to tell on the OTT platform, where you cut it in two) is about the rivalry between two gangsters: Sivados (Joju George) and Peter (James Cosmo). Both are involved in illegal activities and set foot on the other’s territory. Peter is a white superior who wants England to be filled only with white people. Sivados, on the other hand, is a humanist who is open to all people. Through a series of events, Suruli finds himself in the middle of a clash of ideologies between the two.
Joju George is excellent, although his character is written in general. Its size and warmth (you can also see it in the Malayalam movie June) compensates a lot. James Cosmo plays Peter perfectly; many foreign characters in our movies are played by bad actors. Besides, what surprised me was that his remarks were like what a real Englishman could say. They do not sound like the lines that an Indian imagines an Englishman saying. They really fit into Peter’s world. He even received a great blow for Lord Ganesha. After a long time we get a worthy opponent for the hero.
This is a lavishly made film. There is an important meeting and Santhosh Narayanan creates a sound that sounds like a comb moving through the teeth. In combination with a symphony orchestra it sounds ominous. And some of the settings work great. Similar to the scene where a car is lying on the rail as the train approaches (operator of Shreyaas Krishna). The way it plays out, especially after Suruli got on the train, is fantastic. There is a battle scene in a mess, where the narrowness of the place lends itself to a kind of battle choreography that we have not seen long before. The most interesting frame of the film is a 360-degree frame of about four people, where every time the camera approaches, the equations of power between them change. This could be shown by direct cuts, but the 360-degree shot gives some intrusiveness.
As for writing, however, Karthik Subbaraj was not so confident for some reason. Many of the last Tamil films are rewritten, and when they are edited to a certain length, there are sudden pulls and the film disappears: there is no rhythm and the scenes do not lock organically together. There is a beautifully set stage for the performance of Attila (Aishwarya Lekshmi), who is a singer in a nightclub. She sings “Kaathoduthaan” from Veli Vija and her voice shifts to the original of LR Eswari after Suruli becomes interested in her. But for some reason the song has to stop abruptly and there is another abrupt switch to a romantic scene between Suruli and Attila. There is also a strange section where we cut from a funeral dance Suruli as a captured person (however we do not see him being captured); there is something that feels missing in all this.
I also wish they had gotten rid of the bigger immigrant story and just kept it to the Sri Lankan Tamils. The smaller the range, the bigger points you can make. The film also tries to put forward a larger thesis on a bill that suppresses immigration. This feels strange because so much of it has already been told in the lives of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Since it’s hard to feel like a problem in a movie, you have to customize the problem through the characters. So when people dealing with a problem die, we really have to feel for them. As you feel about them, you also feel about the problem as a whole. But this does not happen here, except for one sign (although it is very effective and moves in this case).
Danush does not play the usual character in the film. Although this is not a stretch for him, the character is brand new to him because he is an unrepentant mercenary for two-thirds of the film. I was really impressed because the leading man did not have redemptive qualities. He is ready to sell to anyone without worrying about the consequences. Even in the small part of Madurai, Kartik Subaraj manages to raise the issue of territory and property: there is a North Indian that Suruli cannot tolerate. We are already seeing a kind of territorial war.
I felt that this must be Suruli’s story of coming of age. It has a great line: thanakkunnu vandhadhaan oraikkum valikkum. We must feel his pain. The film was supposed to be about him wrapping his head around the refugee problem. The same issue is marked by the excellent economy of Murugesan (Gadjarajan). All he wants is his own piece of land, and when he finally gets it, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of the film (he also gets a great line about what the first date is).
Things improve in the last third of the film because it’s more emotional and we’re invested in the procedure. But even these scenes are hastily written and made. In general, you have the feeling of watching a good family drama. I stay with the same question every time I see a big star in a movie that discusses an issue, as opposed to a movie like Pariyerum Perumal with a smaller hero.
To be honest with Karthik Subbaraj, there are heroic moments, slo-mo moments, sunglasses moments, big BGM moments – but they are kept to a minimum. And yet there is a feeling that a person uses his heroism to cope and even solve a very, very complex problem. One of the best lines of the films is Attila’s: you can start a war, but not end it. But, obviously, if you’re a hero, you can. This sometimes proves to be a bad service. You are torn between the fact that someone has made a film on an important issue and that the film is not as perfect as it could be.