Readers Write In #619: Jailer: A perfect Rajini film for the TikTok age

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Readers Write In #619: Jailer: A perfect Rajini film for the TikTok age


(Spoilers Included)
engga naa than king(u)
naa vechathuthan rules(u)
Antha rules eh ye istathukku apo apo mathitae eruppean
Atha kabchipunu kettuttu follow pannanum
Atha vettuttu ethavathu adavadithano pannanum nu nenacha
Unna kandathundama vetti kalachi pottuduvea

Tiger Ka Hukum

This is Rajini’s punch line from “Jailer,” this could also be Director Nelson’s Hukumwarningthreat to the audience who are entering the theaters to watch “Jailer.” The film is not made according to the classical rules of commercial cinema, it follows its own rules and as and when they become inconvenient Nelson changes the rules to suit his agenda for the film. But one can forgive him, because it’s all for a noble cause: to deliver the ultimate “Rajini-film” for the TikTok age and pull Rajini out of the BO slump. The film is not concerned about overarching themes, narratives or character progressions , it’s only concerned with delivering the moment-to-moment punches without ever bothering about the big picture. The film is a series of Youtube shorts that are tied together by the magnificent screen presence of unquestionably the most popular Mass hero in Indian film history- to bolster him further , Nelson has added popular stars from other industries as well: Mohanlal Shivrajkumar,… ( since he couldn’t get Chiranjeevi, he has gone for Chiru’s brother). What Nelson has created here is not necessarily a film but a series of “Thug life” videos: 

Lalettan Thug life: Lalettan as Mathew beats the pulp out of his henchmen in “Gabbar Singh” fashion and walks out in slow motion. Lalettan, coolly smoking a cigar, intercept a row trucks that takes a tumble 

Sivanna Thug life : Ditto, but in a different way, he strings his henchman on to a fan and keep rotating. Sivanna coolly hands a box of tissue paper to Ramya to wipe off the blood while his men kill the badguys.

(all this underscored by Anirudh’s pulsating (but quickly forgettable after you leave the theatres) score.

Of course Rajini Thug life: too many to list but mainly this songBGM (Anirudh’s score and singing elevates most of the mass the moments to pure hysteria in a packed house)

Result: people are not looking at their mobile phones, they are looking at the screen (standing and screaming at the screen throughout) because what’s happening on screen is more addictive – story arcs be damned.

And to this end, Nelson ignores every Rajini film (or rather every film featuring Rajni) made in the last 25 years and goes straight to “Padayappa” for inspiration (guess, the reason why RamyaKrishnan is cast as heroine) . Padayappa may not be the best Rajini-film, but it’s the best Rajini-film that thrived on adapting this sort of scattershot format; it was a kind of a TikTok movie long before TikTok , it had a conventional plot and character progression and all that but that was not the film’s focus, it was again constructed as scene to scene image boost and fan service vehicle. Take the scene where the old Rajini visits his nemesis Neelambari’s (Ramyakrishnan) house to discuss his daughter’s marriage. Neelambari has the entire room emptied and when Rajini walks in there are no chars to sit on, while her servants brings a chair for her to sit. Padayappa has no other option but to either sit on the floor or stand. But from this down and out situation , he improvises as he pulls out his shawl and stylishly brings down the rolled up swing. He sits and gives her his trademark salute; he’s now occupying the higher ground. The film is full of such scenes, the character progression does not take place over the course of the film, but happen repeatedly over the course of each scene; Rajini has lost everything before the vetrikodi Kattu song, by the end of the song he’s the Lord of the Manor again, that’s all it takes to succeed in a Rajini-film, a song. But keeping in with the time it was made, Padayappa has a story that organically progresses from A to Z, though it’s oft-repeated story of Father & son, succession etc., with Sivaji Ganesan playing the same role he played in “Tevar Magan”.

With “Jailer,” Nelson has done away with any such plausible plot conventions or story progressions. The story moves forward, backward twists and turns completely depending on whether the next scene is going to give the star a new punch scene and the audience a new thrill. So when Rajini’s son is considered missing, Rajini, instead of going searching for his son, immediately deducts that he has been killed and goes on a killing spree. Why?, because Rajini searching for his son doesn’t pack of punch, Rajini instantly dishing out justice does (Nelson amplifying the punch quotient by delivering this with a mixture of violence and humor). Then we get the introduction of the real villain who’s behind his son’s death and a cat and mouse game between them follows (interspersed by charactersscenes that reveal bit by bit (or punch by punch by star cameo after cameo) what a great powerful man Rajini was in his past life. And when Rajini is ready to kill the villain, the next reveal comes, the son is not dead, he’s only abducted. and so it goes .. and finally when the villain is destroyed, et Voila! the next punch, the son is a bigger villain than the villain. In between there is a flashback as well (a self-reflexive throwback to “Moondru Mugham” and “Baasha”), which doesn’t add anything to the story but it’s necessary to complete a Rajini film. So, Rajini sets out to avenge his son, kills a lot of people, then finds out that his son is alive and is forced to do a heist job to release his son, then stages a mock heist in true film style, by using a film shooting as cover (a section created specifically to appeal to Telugu audiences with plot points taken from Mahesh Babu’s megahit “Dookhudu”) and then once his son is released he ends up killing his son in ThangapathakkamIndian style. It makes absolutely no sense. 

And to give the devil his due , Nelson makes it work , at least for most part. I mean this is the most fun I had watching a Rajini film since Padayappa. I actually felt guilty later on for feeling so good while watching it, but I still feel like watching it again. It’s a mad , mesmerizing instance of star worship that works like gangbangers on the big screen with a packed audience, especially if you are a mad Rajini fan boy like me. I will not accept this film with any other hero , only with Rajini. While watching the film, none of these above mentioned absurdities spoils the fun (only later one is left scratching the head).

I give Nelson full credit for this. He knows the Rajinisms, what a Rajini-film means for the audience in a packed theatre, it’s a genre on its own. This is something a lot directors failed to understand in the last 20 years. “Jailer” is a terrific “RAJINI-FILM” or rather a terrific Big Screen “RAJINI-FILM” for this age. this will not work with any other star and this will not work outside the movie theaters. Nelson knows how to use the 72 year old superstar, who cannot fight, dance or romance anymore, to deliver a ‘Rajini-film’ that satisfies his die-hard fans as well as the general audiences. He substitutes shock violence, humor and Anirudh’s score for the elaborate stunts and song & dance sequences. Instead of Rajini punchlines, we have his deafening silences. Rajini , as always, delivers in spades. From this film alone you can see why he is a such a great screen mass hero and why the likes of Vijay and Ajith cannot come anywhere near him. Nobody can hold the screen like him, nobody can convey more about such a thinly written character than him. He fills up every pothole, every absurd twist with his sheer magnetic charisma (at least for me he does, while watching the film anyway).

And I think that’s the key in understanding this film and it’s unprecedented success. I don’t disagree with a lot of points that Brangan made in his review regarding the structure of the screenplay, but I think a lot of it is by design. This sort of postmodern deconstruction of the formal structure (and not content ) is the only way you can make an entertaining and highly profitable Rajini film today. The film is designed in such a way as to remain alive and give pleasure to audiences moment by moment without bothering about what all this add upto. So Nelson has nothing to defend here, The BO numbers (going to hit 400 Cr. in 6 days, on its way to be the biggest hit in Tamil film history) will do the talking.

P.S.: this was originally written as a comment in “Jailer” thread, but it became too big so I’m making it a separate post. So forgive the formatting mistakes.

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