Director: Thiagarajan Kumararaja
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, Samantha Akkineni
Thiagarajan Kumararaja creates a frenetic, surreal world in Super Deluxe, a color-graded world of dilapidated buildings and dystopian relationships and magical realism; where existential crises merge seamlessly into teenage angst, where otherworldly women talk about the oneness of being and the distance between electrons to get into young men’s pants, a world of sex and infidelity and getting drunk on water.
But in truth, what Kumararaja creates is one of the best films ever made in Tamil.
Vembu (Samantha Akkineni) invites her distressed old boyfriend over to her house when her husband (Fahadh Faasil) is away taking acting lessons. Shilpa (Vijay Sethupathi) comes back home a changed person after a six year hiatus. A man saved by a statue of Jesus during the Tsunami believes he is the right hand of God. And meanwhile, a group of young boys just want to watch some quality three-dimensional porn.
Written in trippy, irreverent tones – directors Mysskin, Nalan Kumarasamy and Neelan K Sarkar are credited with additional screenplay – Super Deluxe brilliantly brings the disparate threads together. Doors close on one thread to open in another, and you are left pondering important questions like what happened to the refrigerated corpse while the boys were buying Indian porn to watch on a 3D television set. And if the viewer thought that the happenings on screen are strange enough, Kumararaja introduces a twist that is almost too magical to be real.
Through all the mayhem, Vijay Sethupathi comes up with the performance of his life as a trans woman and a parent. The entire thread – with Sethupathi, the expressive Gayathrie Shankar and a young child actor (Ashwanth Ashokkumar) – is one of the most sensitive portrayals of a trans person in Indian cinema. Written with empathy and directed with care, it almost deserves to be a movie on its own. Kumararaja, in typical understated fashion, does not shy away from the reality of what trans people experience in India, but moors the experience to an accepting family. Ashwanth hits the perfect notes in one of the best written roles for a child actor in Tamil, acting his age and effectively conveying the emotional turmoil of a young boy whose father has been yanked out of his life.
Then the casting. Mysskin, the stereotypical angry creator in real-life, playing a doubting Godman in the movie. He still yells and screams, but the screams are laced with doubt; the sanctimony gets deflated quickly.
Fahadh Faasil aces his role as a wounded husband, but the surprise package is Samantha Akkineni. In a wonderfully written role, she shines, emoting beautifully. In a scene with Faasil in a car, her subtle reactions while he rambles on about the unfairness of life while drunk on some quality water are a treat. Special props to Lata Karthikeyan, whose subtitles during this scene (”Star Whores”) are almost more fun than the actual dialogues. Samantha follows up with a layered performance – shorn of melodrama – towards the end of the movie.
And finally, Manushya Puthiran, acclaimed poet and writer. In Super Deluxe, he is a sex doctor in a soft porn movie within the movie, blathering on about life, self-awarely setting things up for the main course. The conceit is hilarious – and all too real, for anyone familiar with the Malayalam soft-porn genre – and doubly so when it is a well known writer. And the movie within a movie,? It is called Vaazhvin Ragasiyam (The Secret of Life).
The cinematographer Nirav Shah, speaking to Anand Pandian for his book ‘Reel World’, stated blandly that he is a “storyteller, who will react to the story.” Bookended by Ilaiyaraaja songs from the past (”Andhiyila Vaanam” and “Maasi Masam”), the story of Super Deluxe unfolds in serpentine markets and broken down buildings, and Shah and PS Vinod react brilliantly, creating a palette dominated by oranges and blues (and the rare green), snaking their cameras through the markets and buildings. The consistency of the palette – each frame seems washed in orange and blue, and almost everyone’s clothes are shades of the same colour – is striking, adding to the surrealism of the movie. So much so, that when the script takes an unexpected turn in a pawnshop, one almost expects it.
A large part of the movie is shot without a background score – choosing instead to use ambient sounds and voices in the background. The background voices are often expository or seem to be snippets from the other threads happening in parallel. But when given the space, Yuvan Shankar Raja comes up with a clever background score to match, blending the smart use of his dad’s songs with his own score. When Vembu and Mugil throw a mattress down from their flat, Yuvan uses the Star Wars theme played using a nadaswaram and thavil, adding to the incongruity of the scene.
The casual, unashamed use of sex – to move the plot forward and for laughs – is a landmark for Tamil movies. Kumararaja – who will probably deny any such thing – also weaves in messages throughout the movie. Vembu’s distress when asked to forcibly do something she did by choice, and Shilpa’s realisation at the end that the opinions of society and conforming to someone else’s ideals do not matter much.
The vividity of the colors draws a sharp contrast to the theme of the movie. Life is not cold and hot, it is not blue and orange. The actress who does porn in one movie and portrays a goddess in another – she is neither. She is just a normal woman, a mother. The woman who cheated brazenly on her husband, was she all bad? The rock is just a rock, it is only God to those who think it is. The “it is just what it is” is a running theme in Kumararaja’s work and interviews; his Twitter handle is @itisthatis and in an interview with Silverscreen before the release of this movie, he insisted that he be taken for who he is. There is no backstory to his life or his writing, it is just what it is.
What it is is a good movie. A really good one.
The Super Deluxe review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.