All individual stories in Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe begin with a confrontation: the confrontation of transwoman Shilpa/Manickam with her estranged family, the confrontation of adultery in the Vembu/Mugil story, and the mother/son confrontation in Leela’s household.
My focus here is the sequence where Soori is distraught after sighting his mother Leela (Ramya Krishnan) in a porn film he’s watching with his friends. He runs in a fit of rage to confront her, with the intention of harming her.
Consider yourself in Kumararaja’s shoes. (1) You have to make this moment of confrontation interesting/exciting. (2) You also have to introduce Leela through this scene. (3) Finally, Soori has to burn bridges with his mother and call her a ‘whore’.
The simplest way to do that is to have Soori reach her and call her a whore. But that would be a bland closure to this sequence. There would be no “surprise”. We’ve all heard the phrase: “story is about how things happen”. In other words, the essence of good drama (in visual, aural or written form) is surprise.
So, at the expected point of confrontation, Kumararaja twists the sequence into entirely another direction. Instead of harming Leela, Soori trips on the staircase and hurts himself with the screwdriver that he intended to hurt his mother with. This move works wonderfully on multiple levels.
Until now, the sequence was entirely from Soori’s point of view. With this one move, we have shifted gears to Leela’s perspective. After all, we don’t know Leela at all in the film until now, and without her perspective, the confrontation would not have the desired dramatic weight.
Through this move, we are aligned with Leela now, and the confrontation is delayed. Like a classical musician, Kumararaja refuses us the climax at the peak of his build-up, and the sequence begins to build and swell with energy all over again.
This delay in climax is pure screenplay magic for another reason – because, there is an emotional need for Leela’s perspective. If Soori, the son, has to burn his bridges with Leela, the mother, the latter’s “motherhood” needs to be established before it can be assaulted.
Through this twist, we see a panicked Leela with a mortally injured son to be taken to hospital. What better way can there be to establish motherhood than to show someone caring for, worrying for her child?
From a son raging to attack his mother, this sequence has now become about a mother trying to save her son. The auto-rickshaw driver who helps them take Soori to a hospital even addresses Leela as ‘divine’.
We’re in the auto-rickshaw next. Kumararaja has elevated Leela to the peak of her motherhood. She addresses the barely conscious Soori as ‘baby’. She becomes the quintessential mother with a child in her arms. Surely the bridges can’t be burnt now!
No, this is exactly the time for the bridges to burn in a good screenplay. Leela washes Soori’s face with water to bring him back to consciousness. The Son wakes up in his Mother’s arms, in tears, and says: “You fucking whore”.
The bridge is burnt. Motherhood collapses. The frantic sequence drops to a halt. That is how you write a confrontation! We finally have our climax, and what’s also noteworthy is the location.
This dreaded domestic confrontation takes place in the auto-rickshaw instead of within the confines of a home. The auto-rickshaw becomes a replica of society, with the presence of family (Soori, Leela), neighbourhood (Meenal, Mohan) and society (the auto-rickshaw driver). All their heads turn as the domestic bridge is burnt, they all become witness to it.
In an overarching level of the story, this event begins the eventual reconstruction of Leela’s household. The small wound in the son’s gut opens up the bigger, unseen wounds of Leela’s family, so they can be cleansed and healed.
This is how good writing works, a single domino setting off a chain of domino reactions.