Super Deluxe may not be the greatest Tamil movie of all time, but an argument can be made that it’s the most unique. It follows a few sets of unrelated characters over the span of a few hours — some of them interlock directly, others don’t — yet the different threads interweave seamlessly to form a magnificent tapestry. What happens to one character dealing with his/her own problems affects another character who’s on a completely separate track. This isn’t just a storytelling gimmick, it’s tied to one of the central themes of the film: Like the millions of microscopic cells that make up our body, we (along with the stars in the sky and the centipedes on the ground) are tiny interconnected specs that make up this vast universe.
It’s also a very ballsy film. Despite starring one of the biggest stars in Tamil cinema, Vijay Sethupathi, this is not your standard affair, simplistic, morally black and white star vehicle. Oh, not at all. Super Deluxe begins with a voiceover phone conversation as the film’s opening credits flashes on screen. At first, it appears to be relatively harmless banter between two former college lovers. The guy says he misses her and the girl, Vaembu (Samantha), mentions that she was forced into an arranged marriage. They then talk about random stuff and Vaembu invites him over. When the first frame fades in, we see Vaembu on top of the guy riding him like a jockey at a ranch on a Sunday afternoon. Suddenly, he dies (not a bad way to go out, if you ask me). Her husband’s on the way home, so what will she do?
Before that, we cut to a group of boys who have all agreed to skip school, gather at a friend’s place and watch porn… with 3D glasses. But the hilariousness of this coming-of-age comedy segment is pierced by an unexpected turn of events — the revelation that the pornstar is one of the boys’ mom (Ramya Krishnan). At a different side of town, we meet a nuclear family, the kind where everyone is either gossiping in a corner or has a stupid opinion on why Jyothi’s husband left her and their little boy a few years ago. Jyothi doesn’t know too, but as the kid excitedly notes: Daddy is coming home today! Except when the cab door opens, it’s not a man who steps out of the vehicle, but a woman (Vijay Sethupathi in his best performance to date). It looks like daddy has become a mommy. Next, we’re introduced to a religious fanatic who has started a new religion. He believes that his God can heal all wounds, provide mutes with the ability to speak and paraplegics the strength to walk.
Human beings are egoistic. We’re also often judgemental hypocrites who live in our own bubble and think that the other way is wrong. And we do so while hiding under the veil of righteousness. In Super Deluxe writer-director Thiagarajan Kumararaja takes all these characters, puts them in very sticky situations, strips them of their veils and observes how they would react. How would the religious zealot whose almighty can heal all wounds react when his own flesh and blood gets stabbed with a screwdriver and is on his deathbed? We all love watching porn, we can’t imagine a world without porn (when I was in high school, everybody used to flock around that one guy who had porn stored in his phone and beg him to transfer it to our phones via Bluetooth. It was like we were stuck in prison and there was only one inmate with a pack of cigarettes stashed under his bed). Yet, if there’s a woman in our family who happens to be a pornstar, we ostracise them, disown them.
Thiagarajan’s writing is excellent. Super Deluxe is less about the plot (rarely does it inorganically push certain pieces around so that it can get to its designated end) and more of an examination and commentary of human behaviour. How we humans know so little about the world around us yet judge so much. I love the way Thiagarajan pens characters and dialogue. Characters don’t just speak in exposition, they don’t just say stuff that will further the plot. Yet, everything they say is entertaining and reveals a little something about the characters, even during the comedic moments (this is one of the funniest Tamil films I’ve seen in a while).
Vaembu’s husband Mugil (Fahadh Faasil) has an extended conversation with his wife’s ex-boyfriend’s corpse. Of course, he wonders if the reason why his wife cheated on him with her ex is because he has a big dick and contemplates looking what lies within the corpse’s pants. It’s a chuckle-inducing, absurd sequence that also tells us Mugil is both insecure and oblivious. There are also some stinging lines here, like the one where an old lady tells Shilpa that there’s a stark difference between logic and reality. Super Deluxe will work your brain as much as it does your heart.
I mentioned ballsy earlier. The ballsiness doesn’t just refer to Vijay Sethupathi playing a transgender or the heavy subject matter, but Thiagarajan’s willingness to embrace artistic weirdness. At one point a Northerner — an “outsider” — reveals herself to be a literal alien. This kind of “random nonsense” (there’s more to it than meets the eye) that’s creative and completely far-out is rarely seen in Tamil cinema. Heck, it’s hardly seen in mainstream Hollywood films too, but common in the indie circuit, especially in films that come out of A24’s womb. Speaking of indie films, Super Deluxe is also shot, edited and paced in a manner that’s unconventional to Tamil cinema.
Thiagarajan is as good a director as he is a writer. He uses plenty of still shots, where characters would have entire conversations, while the camera just lingers without cutting away. At one point, we witness an entire 3-minute scene from a distance, through an open door of a living room without any cuts or camera movement. There’s a flair about it, but it’s more than style — P.S. Vinod and Nirav Shah’s cinematography is both gorgeous and evocative. It can make us feel like a few different things: A nosy neighbour looking at the commotion that’s going on outside, a helpless individual who can only observe or maybe… an alien watching the absurdities from afar. I also love how he uses wide unmitigated shots to create tension and suspense — like the heart racing scene where a young boy runs home seething with anger, overwhelmed with emotion.
Super Deluxe switches between comedy, drama and thrills flawlessly. Some of the best scenes in the film happen very early on. While attempting to chop up a corpse, Vaembu and Mugil stop dead in their tracks when they realised a young boy has been staring at them. Vaembu’s absolutely priceless reaction is a meld of good writing, directing and performance. Or what about the scene where the principal chases Vijay Sethupathi’s Shilpa out of his son’s school simply because of his sexuality. The manner in which the principal says, “no no no no,” is almost comedic, but it evokes a sense of uneasiness and breaks your heart.
Vijay Sethupathi delivers his career-best performance. It’s restrained, believable and absolutely magnetic. The scene in which he looks at the mirror and puts on a saree is something to be cherished. Also, watch the way he maintains his composure in front of his son at the police station, but expresses vulnerability when he’s not there. Shilpa’s little son, by the way, played by Ashwanth Ashokkumar is a show-stealer. Everyone else, from Samantha to Ramya Krishnan to Mysskin, all bring their ‘A’ game too.
There’s also the sound design and Yuvan Shankar Raja’s composition. A sequence in a police station is particularly uncomfortable to watch. We hear the banging and clanging of construction that’s happening outside, sounds that slowly morphs into a suspenseful score.
If I have to nitpick, I would say the film does drag ever so slightly. Most of the scenes are engrossing, but the ones involving the highschoolers getting entangled with some gangsters are not only bland but also quite obviously engineered just to give them something to do until they get to the alien and also the scene where they fling a television set over the roof. But once we eventually get there and watch the television land with a glorious smile-cracking thud, it’s well worth the wait. Super Deluxe is great!