Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Yogi Babu, Sayyeshaa, Saranya Ponvannan, Madonna Sebastian, Radha Ravi
At a purely conceptual level, “a Vijay Sethupathi film” is a byword for the most interesting star outing in Tamil cinema today. He seems to genuinely seek out something different each time. I did not care for Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren, which came earlier this year, but who else is capable of committing to such a wacky mix of stoner comedy and love triangle? But the actor has to realise that there’s a difference between the “one line” that’s narrated and the finished product on screen. In other words, the director matters. As long as he’s working with a good filmmaker (say, Nalan Kumarasamy), the offbeat concept translates to an engrossing movie, at least to some extent. Otherwise, he is just squandering the goodwill he’s built up by being “different.” Plus, his performance really suffers. As the titular don of Junga, he isn’t even trying. He’s going through the motions of going through the motions.
The narrative goes through the motions, too. The last time Vijay Sethupathi and Gokul came together, we got Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara, a film that wanted to be zany and was filled with “humour” that seemed to have been made up as they went along. The actor and director reunite in Junga, which is more of the same. Only, the hero worship we saw in the earlier film is much more in your face. Junga gets a Rajinikanth-like intro (with Baasha music in the background, plus he’s a bus conductor), two heroines (Sayyeshaa as Yazhini, and a ridiculously underused Madonna Sebastian), French locations, and massive car chases featuring the French police and the Italian drug mafia. The only thing more bloated is the running time: 157 minutes.
At first, it looks like we are in for a spoofy variation on the gangster dramas our filmmakers are so fond of. A police encounter turns into a flashback-dispensing device. A song sequence is shot in a style that targets Telugu-film music videos (apart from Vijay Sethupathi’s multi-coloured clothes, even the extras aren’t in uniform but attired in different shades). Then, we get a spoof on Mouna Raagam, with Ilayaraja’s score in the background. When we finally get to the plot, it turns out to be one of those family-honour affairs, where a son swears revenge on the villain (Suresh Chandra Menon as Yazhini’s father, Kumarasamy Chettiar). But the tone is still lighthearted: Junga’s father and grandfather were known as dons but were really dunces. Et cetera.
Yogi Babu lands up, as does a French bodyguard named John Woo (for some reason, this is meant to be automatically funny). The most amusing (but wasted) idea is that Junga is a penny pincher. He lands up at a convention of dons (with Radharavi doing his best Marlon Brando imitation) and demands why all four fans are on when there are so few people in the room. But like always in Gokul’s films, it all sounds funnier than it actually is on screen. I grinned a little when Junga tells a wannabe rapper, “Namma kooda irukkaravan quiet-a irukkanum. Poet-a irukka koodadhu.” Now, writing this line, it doesn’t seem all that funny. Maybe, inside the theatre, I was just a drowning man clutching at straws. By the time Yazhini gets all “bubbly,” squealing with delight after shoplifting, drowning began to look like the less painful prospect.