Many thanks to Behindwood’s list of top 150 cult Tamil movies to watch consolidated due to the lockdown in India, I found a real gem in these 2 movies – Aaranya Kaandam (2010) and Super Deluxe (2019). Both written and directed by the brilliant Thiagarajan Kumararaja. Image source: The Hindu
When it comes to watching a movie, I would also check on who is the director of the movie.
Personally, I have some preferences as I know that their movies have been brilliant (maybe 1-2 screw-ups like Myskkin’s Physco) – directors like David Lean (his 1962 Lawrence of Arabia is still my top epic movie in my collections), Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan for Hollywood movies and K Balachander, Mani Ratnam, Myskkin, Cheran and to some extent, Selvaraghavan & Vetrimaaran for Tamil movies.
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And now, I definitely need to add Thiagarajan Kumararaja into my must-watch movie directors. Interestingly Thiagarajan Kumararaja wrote and directed only 2 movies todate – Aaranya Kaandam in 2010 and Super Deluxe (2019) – both award-winning, both ended as cult movies and both artful & creative.
That is a 9 years gap in between the two movies!
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And yet, both of the movies were brilliantly written and directed and starred by an ensemble cast. Perhaps it is a Thiagarajan Kumararaja trademark but both movies involve a neo-noir style of storytelling (or should it be considered as hyperlink cinemas) where there are sub-stories in the movie. At first, these sub-stories are independent of each other but in the end, all these sub-stories connects to each other and all makes sense.
Some of the famous Hollywood neo-noir movies that I have watched in the past include Crash, Sin City, Babel, City of Gods, Pulp Fiction, Traffic, Cloud Atlas and in the era of coronavirus, Contagion. In Tamil movie, the more famous one is Mani Ratnam’s 2004 movie Aayutha Ezhuthu starring Suriya, Madhavan and Siddharth and Krish’s 2011 movie Vaanam starring Simbu (another Yuvan’s masterpiece here).
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Aaranya Kaandam was Thiagarajan Kumararaja first movie that he directed and it immediately won the Best Editing and Best First Film of a Director award at the 2011 National Films Award. I got a shock seeing the more glamour, high profile Bollywood veteran actor Jackie Shroff (voice dubbed by the legendary SP Bala) as an elderly man with a tummy and a bad attitude.
Interestingly it was stated that Jackie Shroff was picked after several other Tamil actors had declined the offer fearing of their “image” if they played the role in the movie. Even Jackie Shroff remarked that he had done things in the film that he hadn’t dared to do in the past 30 years of his career, quoting “I am literally a monster in the film.
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And after this movie, he went quiet working on Gautham Menon’s Yennai Arindhaal starring Ajith Kumar as the police officer and Arun Vijay as the criminal kidnapping unsuspected victims for illegal body organs. It is still one of the best movies of Ajith and Arun Vijay.
And then after 9 years, Thiagarajan Kumararaja came out with Super Deluxe starring Vijay Sethupathi (one of his best acting todate), beautiful Samantha, Ramya Krishnan (yes, you last saw her in Bahubali), and also Mysskin (my A-list director). The music is by Yuvan Shankar Raja was also handled the music for Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s first movie.
Interestingly directors Nalan Kumarasamy, Neelan K. Sekar and Mysskin have also assisted in writing some portions of the screenplay for this film. Watch this interview with all the writers in Super Deluxe on how they added their portion and the overall story in the synced with each other.
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In the 2020 Critics Choice Film Awards- this movie won the Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Writing awards. It also won a number of awards in other film ceremonies.
By the way, spoilers ahead!!
The plot resolves on 4 sub-stories:-
1. A married couple Vaembu (Samantha) and Mugil, and a cop named Berlin.
Vaembu’s ex-boyfriend dies of heart attack during sexual intercourse with Vaembu, while her husband Mugil was away. Mugil returns home, and is requested by the neighbors to accommodate some guests.
During this ordeal Mugil finds out about the dead body, Vaembu confesses the affair and the eventual death of the ex-boyfriend, and tells her husband she will surrender to the police and accept her punishment
This subplot is probably had some of the funniest & wittiest scenes ever in this movie!!
2. Shilpa (previously Manickam), her wife Jyothi, their son Rasukutty, and Berlin the cop.
The story starts with the whole family eagerly expecting the return of Jyothi’s husband Manickam (Vijay Sethupathi), who absconded the family seven years ago.
To their shock, Manickam arrives back from Mumbai as a trans woman named Shilpa. The family reacts in various ways to her transition.
Watch out for the old man who walks in after the whole family stunned seeing the transformation of Manickam. The old man thinking Manickam had married again, casually remarks that the 2nd bride looks like a man not knowing that the lady in front of him is actually Manickam.
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3. Leela (Ramya Krishnan), her husband Dhanasekaran alias Arputham (Mysskin) and their son Soori, and Mohan.
Soori, angrily is running towards her with a screwdriver upon finding out she was in a porn film. As he is climbing the stairs to reach Leela, he trips and he stabs himself in the abdomen. He is taken to the hospital, and his father Arputham is informed about this accident.
Mysskin informed in many interviews that because of the close shots for his scenes, they could not fake the slaps that he supposes to get from his wife character. So to make it real, Mysskin asked Ramya Krishnan to actually slap him hard so that the shot would be realistic. In total Mysskin was slapped 160 times just to get the shot perfect and to the satisfaction of the director.
4. Five friends: Balaji (Gaaji), Soori, Mohan, Vasanth (Mutta Puffs) and Thuyavan.
The boys’ plot starts with all boys skipping school and gathering to watch pornographic film at Thuyavan’s home. As soon as the porn film starts, Soori is left in shock and anger upon seeing his mother Leela in the movie.
He breaks the TV in anger and runs away crying, Mohan follows to console him. Thuyavan, afraid of his father finding out about the broken TV, asks help of remaining two friends, Balaji and Vasanth, to find money to buy a new TV to replace the broken one.
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Watch out the scene where the boys go to the cinema to buy the DVD to watch at one of the boys’ house – it is funny on how they push one of them to the front to do the talking with the old lady at the counter.
One of the best surprises in this movie – Star Wars background score from Yuvan Shankar Raja when the characters Vaembu and Mugil throwing the bed with the dead body down their apartment. You have to see the scene before this – it is downright hilarious.
It is a must-watch cult Tamil movie!