Jigarthanda DoubleX Review: Karthik Subbaraj’s Powerful Paean To Cinema Comes Alive In The Second Half

The surprisingly strong political film co-stars Raghava Lawrence and SJ Suryah as men who find greater purpose in cinema
Jigarthanda DoubleX Review
Jigarthanda DoubleX Review

Written and directed by: Karthik Subbaraj

Cast: Raghava Lawrence, SJ Suryah, Nimisha Sajayan, Naveen Chandra, Shine Tom Chacko

Runtime: 172 minutes

Available in: Theatres

The ‘DoubleX’ in Karthik Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda DoubleX unexpectedly dawns on you once the film’s credits roll. The spiritual successor shares the same bones that made the director’s clever action film Jigarthanda (2014) stand tall. Like Jigarthanda, the sequel too follows a familiar yet inadvertent intertwining of two lives — a filmmaker (SJ Suryah) is forced to make a sour-faced Madurai rowdy (Raghava Lawrence) a venerated Tamil film hero of the 70s. The only difference here is that if Jigarthanda used cinema as a tool to express ideas of acceptance and second chances, Jigarthanda DoubleX, doubles down on the idea and goes a step further by making cinema a tool for revolt. 

Laced With Cool Setups And Cooler Payoffs

Jigarthanda DoubleX is a goldmine of ironies — a playground that Subbaraj is more than familiar with. The first time we see Allius Caesar (Lawrence) explain his name to SJ Suryah’s Ray, we see him recount an absolutely ridiculous (or plausible? We’ll leave that for you to decide) memory: the time when Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood (and Allius’ idol) shot one of his spaghetti westerns at the Melakuyilkudi village of Madurai, and presented him with a new name and a handgun. But we soon realise that the gun isn’t a firearm, but actually a 8mm vintage handheld camera — a detail that gets a terrific payoff in the second half. Similarly, Subbaraj opens the film by showing us a power-hungry actor-politician (Shine Tom Chacko) in whose eyes, every film ticket counts as a vote. This gets a brilliant juxtaposition in the climax, when the actor’s same film has a radically different impact.

Subbaraj strews such tiny throwaway details for us to connect the dots in its first half, which eventually get their intended meaning in the last act. Much of its first half  involves a whole lot of empty yet full-throttle fights and a comedic track with Sathyan and SJ Suryah (who call each other anna-maama and machaan-thambi for some reason). But what it ultimately achieves is pretty bare minimum as far as efficient world-building goes. 

Raghava Lawrence in a still from Jigarthanda DoubleX
Raghava Lawrence in a still from Jigarthanda DoubleX

Perhaps Subbaraj intended it to be that way — with the first half being a metaphor for empty action film fluff (the kind of cinema that Ray detests) and the second half being the “Oscar” equivalent of a film that Ray aspires to make. But either way, it is in its second act that we actually see Subbaraj’s ideas come to spectacular fruition.

If the first half merely teased the plight of the Kanakal forest tribe of Madurai flanked by brutal police treatment and an even brutal ivory poacher (Shattani), the feeling and empathy for this universe and the gorgeous elephants they worship is felt only in the second half. Subbaraj offhandedly tells us the story of a human-animal friendship early on in the film. But we truly see the beauty of this moment (in a stunning exchange of gratitude and friendship between the two species) only later when the film shifts to the Kombai vanapagudhi. Things like this make us wish the film didn’t waste time setting up its first act in urban Madurai and Ray’s milieu and instead moved on to the forests and its people (Nimisha Sajayan as Malaiarasi is particularly breathtaking) that form the heart of Jigarthanda DoubleX.

Raghava Lawrence and SJ Suryah in Jigarthanda DoubleX
Raghava Lawrence and SJ Suryah in Jigarthanda DoubleX

Karthik Subbaraj's Most Political Work So Far

Santhosh Narayanan and Subbaraj go back more than a decade, but it is in Jigarthanda DoubleX that their collaboration feels the most raw and personal. Santhosh’s score in the film — particularly in its last 30 minutes — moves us to tears. Their association in Jigarthanda DoubleX feels extra special because his music’s well-documented raw magnetism is finally given the chance to run limitlessly wild for it is now coupled with politics in what is Subbaraj’s most political film. The film’s last act, which plays out with a sort of fervent passion in the forests, is one of those rare moments when cinema makes us take a look inward. If this is where Subbaraj wants to head with his films, we cannot wait. We’re here for it.

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