Super Deluxe Review: A three-hour non-stop entertainer that’s astonishingly deep
Broadly speaking, the characters in this film are representations of the people of this world. They are all those who are fighting their own demons
Super Deluxe is a heady cocktail of pleasures. It’s the simplest I can summarise my responses to this film. Its use of old Tamil songs (Andhiyila Vaanam, Vanithamani, Ennadi Meenatchi, Saathu Nada Saathu…), its visual palette centred on basic colours, its easy use of profanity, its strange stories… Even when it’s delving into deep issues like emotional upheaval and death, an air of lightness pervades its universe. A couple gets a phone call that’s about to send their lives spiralling into more torment, and Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music indicates that this is but the dance of life. When a religious fanatic learns that his son has met with a serious accident, the music again is hardly of tragedy. In Super Deluxe, the music isn’t to accentuate the emotions of the characters — mostly. Like its writer and director, it remains observant and yet, detached in a way that indicates wordly disinterest. And it’s just as well, because when you get too close, you lose sight of the larger picture. You take sides, you judge, you become petty. Super Deluxe is magnanimous; it’s kind in a way that’s not evident. That’s perhaps the best type of kindness. Save for one psychopath (whose cackles are straight from the depths of hell), all other characters are hard to be judged. Even this psychopath is shown to save a centipede from getting trampled. Broadly speaking, the characters in this film are representations of the people of this world. They are all those who are fighting their own demons. Their actions affect each other in incomprehensible ways, as they travel on the journey that is life. If the world were a bus, perhaps it would be of the Super Deluxe variety.
Director: Thiagaraja Kumararaja
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Samantha, Fahadh Faasil, Mysskin, Ramya Krishnan, Bhagavathi Perumal
It’s a bus that’s painted mainly in the primary colours of red, green, and blue — perhaps to symbolise that every other colour comes about as a combination of these? The first half is dominated by the use of red (perhaps to signify the danger many of the characters are getting into?), while this eases off in the second, as solutions appear in the horizon. Samantha’s Vembu wears a tank-top that the lighting often makes seem green/blue, but when she covers herself up further, it’s with something red. Fahadh’s Mugil wears a blue tracksuit. Vijay Sethupathi’s Shilpa wears a blue saree patterned with red roses, with a red blouse. Even when it’s a seemingly bland terrace, the bricks are red, and the saree swaying about in the wind is red.
The people in this bus talk in enterprising ways, often with surprisingly clever wordplay. When a character attempts to signify risk, he says, “Blade mela sarukku maram pora madhiri.” When Shilpa tries to explain to her son why she never felt comfortable being a male, she says, “Seruppu kaal maathi pottuppom illiya? Andha madhiri kadavul enakku odambu maathi kuduthutaaru.” It’s fine imaginative writing, and a slap in the face of those who think clever dialogue writing is simply getting words to rhyme.
The bus may be young and sophisticated in its exterior, but its driver is a seemingly old, wise man. His voice indicates the world-weariness that comes through living many thousands of years and observing the silliness of human ambition, and why, even existence. “Nethu thappunu sonnadhu, innikku sari nu solluvaanga.” The shocking events of Super Deluxe don’t particularly alarm him, and this detachment allows for some profound insights into life and being. This also allows Super Deluxe the potency to tear down silly ideas and discrimination we propagate every day. For one, it mocks the purification of chastity. Vembu and Mugil (Samantha and Fahadh) are in a lift when lights go off, and she assures him that power will return soon. Mugil mocks her, noting that she’s not a ‘paththini’ for her words to come true… when lights come back on. In a later scene, the psychopathic cop questions Shilpa’s chastity and makes light of her curse, and again, she gets rewarded. Such moments infuse this film with an almost mythical vibe. A curse comes true, a boy’s dream gets realised, the evil gets vanquished, a life is snatched from the jaws of death… It’s all the stuff of myth, without Thiagarajan Kumararaja ever making a mountain of it. And much like in mythology, deep truths are casually dispensed. In this film, these adages concern modern life, and come through Mugil, as he takes down everything from surveillance and traffic fines to patriotism and caste division.
Much like in mythology, there are fascinating coincidences, seeming miracles, convenient accidents. Devoid of this quality, you’d be tempted to question the film for ‘logic’, but here, you don’t; you shouldn’t, even if creatures from other worlds land here. The thread of anti-climax runs through the beginning of the three main stories in Super Deluxe. Vembu finds her pleasure turning into horror. A family, awaiting the return of a male member, is under-prepared for who turns up. A bunch of teenagers come together to watch porn, only for a shocking discovery to disrupt their lives. There are chance encounters in this story, like the one between Dhanasekaran and Shilpa, which turns into a revelatory moment. When all seems lost for Vembu, the skies offer help. These are all mythical ideas. The stories themselves are strange and beautiful. A couple bonds in the presence of a corpse. A family unites over a son discovering his mother’s ‘shameful’ past. A victimised transwoman learns she’s not the only victim in her story. These stories overlap, but not in the conventional ways we have come to see in hyperlink cinema. The people in question don’t meet, as much as their actions do. Super Deluxe bravely refuses to succumb to the temptation of having these characters interact, in a bid to create explosive moments.
This is now my most favourite character of Samantha’s (after her underrated role in Neethaane En Ponvasantham). Vembu is unashamed of her choices, her urges, and isn’t easily led into melodrama. Fahadh is great too, as the helpless husband who’s too much in love to be too angry at her for things he should be angry about. Vijay Sethupathi stands out as Shilpa, and beautifully sells her meekness, fear, and vulnerability. When the cop lays hand on her waist, the body of Shilpa — big and imposing — tremors in fright. So do we. Sethupathi is immense in the scene when Shilpa explodes into rage, and five adults cannot hold her back. The scene where she’s scampering in cramped corridors, desperately looking for her lost son… The scene where she begs forgiveness from Dhanasekaran… The scene where she finally realises her folly… Super Deluxe is a highlight reel for Vijay Sethupathi. So it is for Bhagavathi Perumal who we have seen mainly do cameos. As the psychopathic policeman with a nightmarish cackle, he’s menacing. He’s a hyena in human form.
Super Deluxe is wonderfully irreverent. It’s my second favourite aspect of this film. A store that sells adult CDs is named Annai Videos. This A-certified film well earns its certification. Though there aren’t as many uses of the word, f***, as in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (269, apparently), Mugil, in this film, tries quite hard to keep up. I doubt I’ve seen another film with the brazenness to have a son call his mother by an abuse that usually drives sons to murder. Towards the end though, it’s beautifully made light of.
Right at the beginning of the film, in addition to the usual disclaimers about animal abuse, smoking, and drinking, we get one about religion too — and we see why, as one of the stories is about Dhanasekaran (Mysskin) grappling with his faith. At one point, he’s driven by despair to observe, “Nammala kashta paduththitu, kaapathara indha kadavul sariyaana alpa payalaa irupaan pola.” It isn’t the only time in which this idea of a deity is mocked. Shilpa’s boy, in all his innocence, once refers to him as a “silra paiyan.” Towards the end, just as you wonder if Super Deluxe is beginning to go easy on the almighty dictator, Leela (Ramya Krishnan) rubbishes it all with a teddy bear analogy. Now, you may agree or disagree, but there’s no denying the necessity of films — especially in today’s climate — that are not frightened to take on such topics. As I think more and more about Super Deluxe, it’s hard not to wonder if the psychopathic cop is a sort of interpretation of god. He’s a man of power; he’s a man entrusted to protect people. Yet, he doesn’t rescue them as he should, till he gets what he wants. It seems awfully familiar.
My most favourite aspect of Super Deluxe is how it rushes to the defence of the trodden, the mocked. You could argue that it fat-shames one of the three friends, but it didn’t seem like a big problem in a film that goes to great lengths to protect those who are usually hung out to dry. The unfaithful wife, the transwoman, the housewife who has done an adult film, the teenager driven by lust… If we could think of the writer of Super Deluxe as being the god of this material, I think I may have finally encountered a version of god I could get on board with. It’s a god who stands by the victimised, who dishes retribution to the truly deserving, who rewards those who stop praying and start acting. It’s a god who actually seems to value the living.