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Jailer review: Rajinikanth and Nelson Dilipkumar rediscover alchemy of a good masala film

The genre of Indian masala cinema, the lifeblood of the film industry, is often considered inferior to serious, issue-driven films. Yet, when done right, it can deliver an experience like no other. The alchemy of good masala films appeared to have been forgotten by filmmakers, at least in Tamil cinema, when Nelson Dilipkumar reminded us how it is done with the de facto poster boy of Tamil masala films, Rajinikanth. The ingredient that has been missing of late in making of commercial films is ‘respect’, and Nelson has that in oodles for this genre. And when he mixes this age-old success formula with his deadpan and dark humour, things get pretty delectable in Jailer.

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Ironically, a film titled Jailer cannot be contained in one single genre, which, of course, is the definition of a masala film. However, in this film, the shift from one genre to the other is pretty distinct and interesting. At one instance, we are watching a family drama, then it becomes a revenge saga, and then it transforms into something which I will not reveal because it will be a spoiler. And the surprises keep coming, just like the enjoyable cameos. A part of Rajinikanth’s punchline in Jailer goes like this, “I am the king here. My words are the rules. And I will keep changing it on a whim.” It’s like Nelson telling about how he handles the film here. The rules and genres of Jailer keep changing, but one cannot complain because it is pure entertainment.

Except for a few exceptions, Rajinikanth’s films in the past few decades fall under two categories. One is about a protagonist who loses all his wealth and starts from scratch to become Padayappa or Annamalai or Muthu. The other one is the Baashaa template. The guy with a past, who is now living a life of non-person. However, when destiny comes calling, the superhero comes out. Jailer belongs to the latter category. Tiger Muthuvel Pandian (a call back to Rajinikanth films) is a sweet grandpa, who spends his retired life making YouTue videos with his grandson, an entitled brat. His son Arjun (Vasanth Ravi), assistant commissioner of police, is on the trail of a mafia gang and its leader Varma (a brilliant Vinayakan), who smuggles temple sculptures. When Arjun refuses to stop the investigation, he goes missing. Muthuvel Pandian concludes that his son has been killed and starts his own revenge saga. He seeks help from friends from his jailer days, which results in delightful cameos from Kannada superstar Shivarajkumar, Malayalam superstar Mohanlal, and Bollywood star Jackie Shroff. The film could have been named Rajinikanth and friends because the cameos help a lot in terms of creating what’s called theatrical moments.

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Of course, Jailer’s story is similar to Kamal Haasan’s Vikram in a lot of ways, but this one is not too gloomy as Lokesh Kanagaraj’s film. Nelson’s film doesn’t hesitate to make fun of some of the most delicate situations, because all that matters to the director is to keep you entertained. What’s impressive about Jailer is Nelson’s intent to play by the rules despite making a ‘Superstar film’. Rajinikanth can be omnipotent, but Nelson defines a boundary to his prowess. For instance, Rajini could have easily been part of the whole Kaavaala song, shaking a leg with Tamannaah, but he doesn’t. Though for a brief moment, he shares the screen with Tamanaaah, it all happens for a reason. And Nelson doesn’t stop there, he creates a riotous moment as he makes fun of the superstardom of Rajinikanth. This light touch makes all the difference between a regular masala fest and Jailer.

A huge credit also goes to the way he uses his supporting cast. He mostly employs them for humour and doesn’t think twice about using them against his hero. Yogi Babu, Reddin Kingsley, and Jaffer Sadiq become incredible performers in Nelson’s films, because the director understands how to use each one of them. My personal favourite is Harshath, who plays one of the henchmen of Varman. Even such a small role leaves a huge impact, because of the eccentric nature of the characters in Nelson’s universe. Then there’s Anirudh Ravichander’s incredible Hukum and Jujubee, which add thrust to an already speeding train. Take Anirudh’s music out of Jailer, it will lose half of its impact.

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A glaring problem with UA-certifed Jailer is of course its violence. It’s a blood bath, quite literally. The issue is not the violence but the certificate. It deserves an A for all those slash-and-splatter scenes. And, it also deserves an A for being a wholesome entertainer.

Jailer Director: Nelson Dilipkumar

Jailer cast: Rajinikanth, Ramya Krishnan, Vinayakan, Yogi Babu

Indian Express Jailer Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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