I was in college, second year BA English to be precise, when I was introduced to the concept of existentialism. The idea that god is dead (if at all you believed in such an entity) and that there is no pattern to our human lives which are but a series of random events. It's a difficult idea to accept because so much of the world is designed and organised around the thought that our actions will find logical ends, like well-aimed arrows finding their targets. Religion and its godchild morality certainly say so. But if we are to zoom out, observe our little, insignificant lives from a distance, the way the camera often behaves (PS Vinod, Nirav Shah) in Super Deluxe, letting us watch the drama unfold as mere spectators, the many tasks that we do with so much emotion end up looking funny and foolish.
Thiagarajan Kumararaja's Super Deluxe is super fun. But it also goes beyond just giving us entertaining stories with a motley cast of characters. There's Vembu (Samantha), quite literally a femme fatale, stuck in an extraordinary situation where she needs the help of her resentful husband Mugilan (Fahadh Faasil). There's a group of teenagers who're planning to bunk school and watch an adult film. There's a family eagerly waiting for the arrival of the man of the house who'd abandoned them nearly eight years ago. They are all obsessed with their own problems but life forces them to see the humour in it.
Or at least, Thiagarajan Kumararaja does. The film is filled with little moments of unexpected comedy, deliberately orchestrated to make us question age old wisdom that we substitute for the truth. For instance, the idea that a chaste woman's words will bear fruit. In the amoral landscape of Super Deluxe, it is those who are unafraid to confront the ugliness of what they've done, who are blessed with such powers. So, when a woman who has an extramarital fling says the electricity will be back before you know it, it does. The curses of those who consider themselves sinners come true. Or is that once again a mere string of coincidences where our human brain is desperately seeking patterns?
Do we need an all powerful god to find redemption? Or can the sound of the doorbell - ding dong - do the work of churchbells? Can you find 'real magic events' in narrow, grungy gullies? Can we find our freedom in embracing the life instinct, the libido, through a B grade porn film?
Even if you're not interested in looking closely at the philosophy anchoring Super Deluxe, it's still wildly paisa vasool. And this is true of not only the major characters but also the minor ones. The principal who just says "Go!" for minutes together. Or the gossipy old neighbour who drops in to offer a commentary on the return of the prodigal man of the house. Or the Brahmin family which is worried if there's any non-veg in the fridge of their hosts, not knowing what it actually has. Or the elaborate explanation that the character called "Muttapupps" offers to a nonchalant middle-aged woman at a DVD rental.
Among the different stories that make up Super Deluxe, Vijay Sethupathi's performance as trans woman Shilpa is the most heartbreaking. Along with her son, the adorable Rasukutty (Ashwanth Ashokkumar), Shilpa must make an ordinary journey that becomes unnecessarily complicated because of the twisted belief systems around them. From Shilpa's voice to her gait and the way she looks at herself appreciatively in the mirror, Vijay Sethupathi is all charm and grace. The Bagavathi Perumal and Vijay Sethupathi combination has always ensured laughs. But in Super Deluxe, where the director inverts the world to show it to us the right way up (and the shot before the interval is an affirmation of this), Bagavathi Perumal plays a sleazy, frightening cop. He won't hurt a worm, but he will do worse. The scenes between him and Shilpa make the skin crawl, with both actors working together to build up the tension without skipping a beat.
Ramya Krishnan plays Leela, a struggling mother married to a man who's discovered religion and is consumed by it. Discussing her character's trajectory would prove to be a spoiler, but enough to say that towards the end, she passes a comment which is strangely true of how she's approached her career. And why she still remains relevant in the film industry, refusing to be relegated to the mommy roles that many women actors her age have settled for.
Samantha and Fahadh don't exactly blend into the lower middle class home where they are placed. But they pull off the millennial relationship convincingly. I caught myself giggling at the incredulous look that Mugilan shoots Vembu when she discloses the number of boyfriends she's had. Their chemistry is somewhat uneven but I suspect that this has to do with the writing. Some scenes work really well while others look a tad forced. The scene when they are analysing their marriage in the car, for instance, is a brand of cutesy that doesn't sit well in a film like this.
The intelligent screenplay and the slick editing ensure that we never get bored all through the near 3 hour film. The camera does exactly what is required of it, providing us perspective and not just mere showy visual with fancy angles. And how wonderful it is to sit through a Tamil film with so many silent frames, and where there is background music/noise only when it is absolutely necessary and adds to what we're watching on screen. In fact, if you ignore it at some crucial junctures, you may even fail to make certain connections in the plot.
Super Deluxe, like Aaranya Kaandam, will open new doors of possibility for Tamil cinema. It may well be that the industry, which is already seeing quite a bit of successful experimentation, is stepping into the Deluxe age.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.