The Jig


No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. …. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. -          Oscar Wilde (Preface to ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’)


This film is a hit or miss.

One ought not to talk about its sequences, references, camera, sound and what not,  on even terms without addressing the elephant in the room – the complete abandonment midway of what the central character was thus far. The film’s “descent” into the absurd, the farcical shift in tone – can make or break the film. It cannot be talked of as a minor point, say a mild niggle and shift over to appreciating some nuances in the film-making.

You either buy it as a deliberate choice of an artist or a facetious irresponsibility of an amateur, who is learning the ropes. And all evidence of the so-called ‘new wave’ of young filmmakers do urge one to side with the latter. However, I think there is reason enough to believe this is a case of the former. And just that opens up a whole new avenue of reading what the film was trying to do.

Thus, what follows may thus be an indulgent over-reading.  You have been warned:

First off, I am guilty of a high crime of art-appreciation: evaluating a work of art using a lot of evidence outside the work of art itself. 

MasterChef
Like the last half an hour of Manmadhan Ambu. The best screenwriter Tamil cinema ever produced, opens up the film there. He is actively planning on screen, how the denouement would play out. The characters creating along with him, strengthening the silly story being cooked up for a one-man audience. Questions are asked about ‘motivations’ of characters by other characters who will play the said characters, the ‘director’ is exasperated at unnecessary characters being introduced in the last moment.. and so on. For one to not have been put-off by the abrupt change in tone, required one to be able to hear Kamal saying, “stay with me here, I am on to something”

Baradwaj Rangan sighed on behalf of the audience and asked (sic) “what are we supposed to do with all the emotional investment we have made in the characters thus far?” Well, I feel that was a question the filmmaker himself was putting out there at that stage– and faith proceeds from his larger body of work. Methinks we should be less bashful about saying so.

To give a popular example: one does watch Chris Nolan film and see those probing questions about the nature of identity: Is it memory, is it what you are willing to mutilate yourself for, in to be perceived as, is it pain of what you can never been sure of chosen of what you are sure of is an illusion, albeit a comforting one? The context exists before you even watch the next film as you know these are his concerns.

Prior Art

While I haven’t seen KarthikSubbaraj’s Pizza, I’ve seen one shortfilm of his.
Tamil shortfilms are a largely exasperating subculture that sharpen the ability to create immediate payoffs – honing the craftsman while muffling the artist (says a T20 hater, so caveat emptor!). However this one, while still retaining the format of a ‘twist’ – seemed to have – to use a bombastic term: artistic ambition.

I see that it has been taken down and so I’ll have to give it away: a surreal story, where those who are captured by a photographer (played by Simha, who plays the gangster Sethu in this film) fall dead. Life material captured, reduced as per the artist’s vision and then ceasing to have any relevance (is how I capture and reduce the film in one sentence).

Which is what got me interested in watching this.

Material and Making

JigarthaNdA was about material and making.

The first half is obvious, well done and hardly in need of a defence. It has many delectable sequences that have unsurprisingly captured the interest of many viewers. The ubiquity of films, the amoral usage of anything and everything for creating the film and so on.

The telling line about what the second half is – is in the scene where in between takes – Sethu remarks to his underlings that “it is far more difficult acting as a rowdy, than being one”.

When saying this, he is dressed in the 80s retrowear – something that is authentic when Vijay Sethupathy wears it, when Karthi ‘conceptualizes’ the scene – and ridiculous when we see the scene being executed. Note: at this stage we don’t even know the mischief being planned. And it is not even about his lack of his histrionic prowess. Just how he does not look the part – his own part!

Now, that was what the film was about. One may get the best of source material, one may even write the most a riveting script out of it. But it still needs to be made. Something sorely sorely missed by many - including the Eureka brigade when they are dismissive of alleged copies/remakes they managed to spot and are thrilled to bits.

GoodBye Jews!
And every scene would feel like a ‘gag’. It is the audience who has to feel it emotionally. It is near impossible for the makers to feel it at the time of creation. Unlike any other work of art where one can be an artist and a craftsman, rather indistinguishably at a point in the performance, the very nature of filmmaking poses an incredible challenge to that. One HAS to rise above the material, have a near cynical dedication to creating the moment and communicating. One has to find an eight year old who can be convincingly horrible when screaming: GoodBye Jews! 

Most films about filmmaking seem to be utterly oblivious to this challenge. One can only hope it is not the filmmakers themselves who are oblivious but are catering to a presumption that we – the audience –think that the filmmaker is also only concerned with ‘what’ the film is about.

If anything, it is staggering to expect a filmmaker to be able dial out of pixels and sounds and see the film as the audience would! Yet he needs to - or atleast, wants to.

Gag and Meta
Sethu’s hero desire being kindled by his own sidekicks laughing at Kayal’s atrocious idea is justified by the ‘back-story’ that started it all (and eventually the same reason ends it all!) is what gets this ball rolling.

However, Sethu himself threatening Karthi into submission by reminding him (and us) that the ‘aura of fear’ ought not to disappear, is what seems like a desperate grasp (by the filmmaker Karthik Subburaj) to prop-up the internal logic of that universe/characters that has flagged significantly and is poised to nosedive at that juncture (that is, if one were to view it so). 

But that is something that simply needs to be done to move things forward. The film utterly abandons the integrity of characters. It is pointless, to try and justify it within the same framework.

The meta – let me go ahead and use word before it  is retired– is not just in the parallels drawn to thuggery and director taking control of the medium (which too is true and BRangan rightly points to it) – but also in the parallels between the films KarthikSubramani makes and the one KarthikSubbaraj has made.

In the latter too, from that point on, it is the evocation of emotions that matter, the movement of the plot that matters, the characters are no longer intrinsically authentic entities.

Pushing the envelope

“If you swallowed that Sethu wanted to become a hero – you needed to, for the film to work at any level – let us see how far you can go?” is what KarthikSubbaraj seems to be asking.

Can you see him getting slapped, can you see him cede to ‘love’, can you see him changing heart – in a decidedly ridiculous fashion, can you see the alleged reality of the movie’s story – following the convenient plotted course, that a puppeteer wanted it to take and finally, can you see him speaking ‘gibberish’ – even outside an acting exercise- a moment of unbridled randomness!

Implausibles

While the ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ protest they aren’t like film people, Sethu indeed imitates art in marrying his victim’s widow.

And its nods to film world as such are beyond measure. It is even in the stories we know all the time but purposed to counter a particular point – i.e. not a reference for its own sake. Karthi trying to lure OoraNi with ‘acting chance’ seems to be a joke between the audience and everyone else except him. But who is to question the plausibility when Pandiyan was working in a bangle shop outside the selfsame temple when Bharathiraja hired him for maNvAsanai. Can we really tell the implausible from the plausible?

The filmmaker’s purpose
He is not going for economy – KarthikSubburaj is never bashful about overexpositioning through dialogue. He pre-empted all criticism this may attract by simply taking a cognizance of it right in the very first scene. But the explanatory dialogues  here don’t always serve their usual purpose – of telling us the stated position of what we ‘ought’ to understand.

OoraNi says the film made was Sethu’s comeuppance for getting into films without knowing what films are - i.e. he is suddenly someone who is clued into the art any more than Sethu himself is!
 And Karthi says he set out to make a mockery, when we have been, all along, privy to his thoroughly amoral wide-eyed admiration (Sethu thaaNdA weight-u!  - in that hilariously macabre and thrilling spy sequence).

The purpose is an afterthought, which, I feel, is a dig at the unreliable takes that filmmakers have on their films and their works. In some ways they subsume and/or reflect the manner in which the audience, of whom they are perpetually aware at some level, have received the work.

Intent
All said, it is still fair to give it marks for intent and then evaluate it on whether the film indeed achieved it.

I’d say the shift isn’t an incidental faltering. Karthik Subburaj seems to have been acutely aware of the incongruity. Heck, the poster said ‘Musical Gangster Film.  He seems to have said “I will make a film I want, I will absurdly check all the boxes off ‘gangster film requirements. And show you how the actual process I have to contend with, is”.

Not sure where he will go from here. But I look forwarding to watching.

Comments

  1. Let me just respond to this point for now. Will respond to other points later (strongly disagree on quite a few points) and also try to expand further on my own thoughts if possible.

    "The meta – let me go ahead and use word before it is retired– is not just in the parallels drawn to thuggery and director taking control of the medium (which too is true and BRangan rightly points to it) – but also in the parallels between the films KarthikSubramani makes and the one KarthikSubbaraj has made."

    Hold on, this is simply false. There's no parallel between the 2 films. Karthik's film அ. குமார் within the film is just about a ridiculous wannabe-rowdy à la 'நாய்' Sekar, it's a spoof in the tradition of recent Tamil cinema comedians (except that instead of a comedy track, that's the whole film - he does ridiculous duets, cries like Vadivelu, gets thoroughly beaten up, etc.), or better yet a full-length லொள்ளு சபாesque film. And that's basically how Karthik works his way out of the mess and also gets his sweet revenge. The inner film has nothing of his struggle to play himself. Even further, the inner film is bereft of any of the sophistication Karthik Subbaraj's film so obviously has and in fact plays like some kind of a B-movie - look-wise and sound-wise.

    This is after all why many people have felt it reminded them of Power Star Srinivasan's films. The film in fact is primarily interested in their game of one-upmanship in these scenes. And portray it pretty well too. Like the wickedly composed manner in which Karthik answers the question about his search for the right actor.

    P.S.: I wonder if you're mixing up the flashback cuts to what happened during the shoot (in gray tone IIRC; which is not footage for the inner film) with the film the people in the theatre are watching (what the DOP actuallyshoots). The filmmaking dimension as a whole is never part of the inner film as far as I can recall.

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  2. Btw, just put together my brief impressions of the film (scattered tweets from multiple conversations) for now:
    ---
    ஜிகர்தண்டா: Certainly an entertaining film - coherent as a story only up to a point (including the interesting self-reflexive strains) and (but?) has that one uproarious sequence - the whole theatre was cheering - (and some more) after this point (of care for coherence).
    ---
    there is a larger meta angle but beyond a point it was like being in a room of randomly angled mirrors, every bit opens up something about the process of making a film itself but often quickly abandoned as one looks aside at another adjacent mirror.
    ---
    Talking about intermission reminds me of the teasing line about "next one hour," which I loved. But film goes somewhere else. Many such wink-wink moments, mostly teasing some tantalising too, all abandoned as soon as they're registered. That's about what I thought the film's meta treatment was.
    ---
    I totally share the overall feeling of finding it pretty entertaining but not sure what (else) to make of it given some of its tantalizing "meta" twists (the fascinating gaze on gangster dissolving when the vantage point is short-circuited, anyone?). And IMO a lot of analyses seem to try hard to give a semblance of sophistication/coherence as to why it was all enjoyable. In that sense, think your Singeetam quote is spot on.

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    Replies
    1. . @equanimus

      responding to the comments on the blog. Will post there too.



      The first half was about the meticulous and carefully built preparation to create.
      And the second half was - I thought - about how, you have to physically get around to creating it. And that process is so much work and as far removed from the final 'effect' purported to create on screen.

      No other art seems even remotely close in terms of the emotional distance between the moment of creation and the final output. Once you have collected the material and gotteன் started, it is all 'work'.

      i.e. it is not just the cynicism of the material collector, second guessing of the reactions of the audience etc. Even the more earnest 'artist' just HAS to remove himself from the material to be able to create what he wants.

      He has to see everything, including his own characters, as just that. Props that serve his purpose.

      And the way the second half unravels is that. He wants the gibberish to be in your face. He doesn't care if the character is making sense. He wants them to do something, change around in ways he wants.

      Ultimately a filmmaker can collect material but will then go about deciding the fate of the characters the way HE wants.

      While the director - Karthik Subramani- asserting his rightful ownership of the medium in practical terms is apparent. Karthik Subburaj refusing to play ball, in all of the second half, seemed to be an assertion - not a failure - on its own.

      Not a failure because, it is not as if what he chose to do was a convenient - in the sense that it was 'easy' was it? It was 'convenient' only to the extent that the characters change absurdly to service the plot. And then some more. But the changes still aren't conventional, in any sense, are they?

      Which, IMO, makes the film highly likeable.

      In fact I'd go a step further and say, it can be liked be ONLY this way.
      To be clear, which is not making a case for liking it. As you put it well, one could very well see it as 'randomly arranged mirrors' and disconnect. I can understand that.

      But what seems egregious to me, is to treat this as a benign violation which does not mar the movie - as so many reviews out there seem to be doing. Midly niggled that Sethu's character turned that way, but the audiography is super-deluxe etc.

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  3. Excellent thoughts! I too watched last weekend and liked it a lot. Reading your viewpoints after watching the movie makes it more interesting.

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