There is something deeply fascinating about parallel interconnected storylines in a narrative; it is confounding at first, to find oneself at sea in the middle of several different fictional spaces, but it is the hallmark of a good narrative when one is led safely to a single satisfying ending, all the stories wrapped and neatly presented to the audience with a bow on top. The idea that a single chance action can affect the universe in irreversible ways, is at once both frightening and intoxicating in its power. It is terrifying to realize that our unthinking actions might have consequences beyond our control, but it is infinitely more so to know that our actions do not matter at all. We are all Sisyphus eternally and meaninglessly pushing our burden up a steep hill, but sometimes there is the realisation that the butterfly effects of our actions have an inherent ability to affect the universe. Sometimes that inarticulable existential dread is taken and replaced with the knowledge of being part of something bigger than oneself. Sometimes we are told that there is maybe, just maybe, some order in the terrifying, random, chaos we find ourselves in daily. Sometimes along comes a movie like Super Deluxe.
Super Deluxe feels like a short story collection by four different writers, each with their own sense of tone, their own thematic elements, their own different sympathies for their characters. Despite that, the clarity of the plot makes it not a jarring experience to suddenly find oneself in a surreal absurdist narrative involving four teenagers on a quest to earn enough money to buy a television, spliced together with the story of an unhappily married young couple who find themselves plotting to dispose of a dead body. All of it exists in the same universe, each of the characters inhabits their own spaces, but they are also just cogs in the giant churning wheel of reality.
Super Deluxe is an exploration of the idea that all our lives are interconnected in mysterious and unknown ways, that there is a pattern to our existence, and it is filled with intricate, cleverly placed little details that demand watching and re-watching. The most recognizable out of the four different plotlines is, of course, the one with Vijay Sethupathi, playing a transgender woman coming back to her young son, who has been desperately longing for a father. While the politics of a cis-hetero male actor playing the transgender Shilpa are dubious, it is still delightful to watch little Rasukutty accepting and cherishing his long lost parent. In another story, the religious fanatic Arputham will not trust modern medicine to save his dying son, but a chance remark made by Shilpa about religion leads him to question the faith he has put in the statue of Jesus that saved his life in the 2004 tsunami. Arputham's son is in the hospital, having injured himself after having flown into a blind rage at seeing his mother appear in the pornographic movie that his teenage friends have snuck out to see. He also breaks the television they are watching the movie on, forcing his friends to go on a path to earn money to buy a new television, a story that starts like a comic caper movie but then gradually turns delightfully surreal. One of the teenagers wears a t-shirt with a picture of half a cat, which becomes whole in a single frame, when he is cloned by a female alien they meet (and lust after) at the house they attempt to burgle, and it is still not disconcerting to see absurdist Murakamian cats existing in the same universe as powerful stories of corrupt officials abusing their power to harass trans women. The teenagers throw the broken television from their terrace, which lands smack dab on top of Berlin, the corrupt policeman, getting the unhappy couple out of the dead-body pickle they have worked themselves into.
Super Deluxe sometimes feels like a lot, a Pandora's box filled to bursting with ideas, but the message is clear. Every action we take inexorably alters multiple infinite lifelines, and we have a responsibility to act not only for ourselves, but for everything we find ourselves sharing our reality with. While it may sometimes seem like the filmmakers unnecessarily put all their ideological eggs into one basket (like Mugil's misplaced monologues on communism and masculinity to a dead body and Leela's questions on religion), Super Deluxe still serves up an impactful, watchable mix of characters and stories. Watching it is like experiencing all of Tollywood at once, ranging from the familiar narrative of an attractive couple falling in love to the discomforting social reality of watching a trans woman being humiliated and molested. It is far away from the melodrama and excess of mainstream Tamil cinema, but it still manages to keep some of the elements that make Tamil films entertaining and unique. In doing so, it proves its own point: Super Deluxe is a mini-universe where romance, surrealism, comedy, and complex questions on philosophy and religion co-exist, just like in Tamil cinema of today. It is an important film not only for regional cinema, but for Indian cinema as a whole, and it proves to be a brilliant showcase of the vast body of films that lies beyond Bollywood.