One way to sit through Jagame Thandhiram is by putting on your movie-geek glasses and spotting various connections and interconnections in the film. For instance, notice how the colour red highlights a turning point or a significant event. Inside a club, when Suruli (Dhanush) falls for Attila (Aishwarya Lekshmi), she is shown wearing a red dress, and the lights, too, are tinted with the same colour. When Suruli and Sivadoss (Joju George) come face to face, once again you see shades of red. And then comes the peace meeting between Sivadoss’s and Peter’s (James Cosmo) gang where the room is completely drenched in – you guessed it – red. Alternatively, one could also say that this colour slowly enters the frame like a cautionary tale for bloody mayhem.
On the other hand, the viewer could engage in a trivia game involving drawing parallels between two scenes. At the start of the film, a man is rebuked for indulging in songs during the mission. Near the finale, another man is chided when he demands a Rajinikanth song to be played. When one of the thugs kills someone, Peter complains that blood is spilled on his “pure cashmere”. Similarly, Suruli complains as his shirt gets stained when one of his associates runs his blade on a victim’s skin inside a train. It establishes a link between Suruli and Peter even before they share the same frame.
There are many more references in here that could satisfy the decoder within you. But a film needs more than these “connecting the dots” bits. And once you examine the nuts and bolts of Jagame Thandhiram, you find it to be yet another basic “mass movie” complete with an over-the-top hero and a forgettable villain. The antagonists in these movies could be replaced with a mannequin holding an “I am a bad guy” placard. Peter is no exception. He is a racist, a fact this film keeps bringing up so that you don’t forget it. After all, it runs for 2 hours and 38 minutes. The racism gives way to the immigrant thread of the film. Peter wants to banish outsiders from his country or put them in jail. Sivadoss opposes him by fighting for the rights of the foreigners. It’s not just a gang war; it’s a clash of ideologies. After a chain of events (or plot conveniences, if you like), Suruli finds himself at the intersection point of all this in the UK.
Director Karthik Subbaraj has an important message to deliver about the immigrant situation, but its weight is lost in his crowd-pleasing approach. The attention is given more to hero-worship than the issue itself. In short, old bullets are fired with a new gun. There is a reason why such a film termed a “crowd-pleaser”. You want the viewer to be satisfied and not worried about the reality. The problems, the hurdles, the obstacles: these setbacks turn into an upward-facing ramp that throws the hero up in the air. The societal troubles transform into a redemptive path for the main actor. “Their” struggle becomes “his” road to absolution. It doesn’t matter how big your misfortune is. The protagonist remains the Sun, around which you rotate like tiny planets. Therefore, the “social message” never hits us hard while watching a masala film. Subbaraj is not here to change the flow of the stream. His Suruli is unabashedly bold, audacious and self-assertive. In an early song sequence, he sings lyrics that declare him his own king and that only he can defeat himself.
If you want to watch an art house-style immigrant film, turn towards Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan. Perhaps, Subbaraj too wants to reference this film as he names one of the characters in Jagame Thandhiram Dheepan (Kalaiyarasan). Still, you wish certain characters were properly fleshed out, like Murugesan, an old acquaintance of Suruli and a dishwasher by profession. Or Attila, whose character is too thin to hold the weight of the backstory provided to her. The film even refrains from effectively milking the mother sentiment. What you see here is half-baked and devoid of gravity. These characters could have really amplified the emotional quotient and tugged the heartstrings. But the movie is in love with Dhanush, and it shows throughout. The swagger remains in place even when bullets are fired in snowy weather. Jagame Thandhiram is a vehicle for Dhanush to shine, and you should not expect otherwise.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.