A line from our review of Rajinikanth’s first film, Apoorva Raagangal (1975), goes, “Newcomer Rajinikanth is dignified and impressive.” Even after almost 50 years, the actor has managed to maintain if not multifold that dignity and impressiveness; something that has been etched in his fans’ minds in the form of the “Vayasanalum un style-um, azhagum...” dialogue from Padayappa. It’s this seasoned charisma, along with filmmaker Nelson’s quirky touches, that make their latest collaboration Jailer an enjoyable entertainer.
In the film, the veteran actor plays Muthuvel Pandian, a retired jailer who spends his time helping shoot videos for his grandson’s YouTube channel. When his son Arjun (Vasanth Ravi), a conscientious cop, digs deep into an idol smuggling racket, trouble knocks on Muthu’s door. Blaming the situation on his honest ways that have apparently rubbed on his son, Muthu steps back into a world he voluntarily took a break from.
Apart from fantastic visuals, wacky humour, and lead characters sporting deadpan faces, all of Nelson’s previous three films have had rather simple plots that are accentuated by the director’s nifty ideas; Jailer is no different. In fact, Jailer might feel similar to Thangappathakkam (1974) to senior audiences while the youngsters are sure to be reminded of Kamal Haasan’s latest hit Vikram. Both the recent films, apart from featuring the legendary stars in age-appropriate characters, are about men who were once officials in service but are now out for blood, with their trusted connections, to avenge their son’s fate. But the similarities stop there, as Vikram is a page from a cinematic universe... while Jailer is a cinematic universe compressed into one feature. Nelson packs Jailer with a host of characters and despite limited screen space for almost all of them, they almost fit in perfectly like pieces of a large puzzle.
The biggest pillar of support for Jailer is its racy screenplay and right from the get-go, we’re thrown into the thick of it. Within moments, Muthu is out on a mission and the film shifts to top gear until intermission. It’s in the second half where the film wavers a little into inconsistent territory. While cameos from Mohanlal and Shiva Rajkumar are excellent additions, the same can’t be said about other characters that are introduced in the second half.
Apart from his first film Kolamaavu Kokila, Nelson has also had trouble writing strong female characters and it hasn’t changed in Jailer as well. The much-awaited Padayappa-Neelambari reunion featuring Rajini and Ramya Krishnan (who plays his wife Vijaya) isn’t as sensational as one might have wanted it to be. Meanwhile, Vinayakan does a fantastic job as the menacing antagonist, but his character Varma doesn’t end up being an equal foe to Muthu. Moreover, for all the righteousness that Muthu bats for, his flashback glorifies custodial violence.
What makes the rest of the film palatable are Rajinikanth’s sheer presence and Nelson’s unique sense of humour and fan service, which, unsurprisingly, transcends the boundaries of mere fandom. Nelson’s love for the Breaking Bad series has been evident from his previous three films and in Jailer too, the inspirations have inconspicuously seeped in. Muthu’s character shares a number of similarities to Mike Ehrmantraut, one of the hit series’ fan-favourite characters. Even Varma’s underground den reminds one of the super lab beneath the industrial laundry and the ‘use of acid to dispose of bodies’ trope is a clear reference to the series. Easter eggs to Rajini films are aplenty; like the mentions of Baasha, a scene pandering to Rajini’s snake ‘sentiment’, a callback to his iconic ‘Na oru thadava sonna’ line, and even his character name Muthuvel Pandian being a blend of two of his iconic characters, Muthu and Alex Pandian. Not only are these gratifying but double as a hat-tip to the nostalgic magical moments of cinema many of us grew up watching.
Add to that are some decent action sequences that are emphasised by Anirudh’s banger score and scintillatingly shot by Vijay Kartik Kannan; there are a number of mass sequences too that we missed in Nelson’s previous film Beast. Rajini’s last two films, Annaatthe and Darbar, were also underwhelming, to say the least, which explains why they tread on safe grounds for most of this outing.
Jailer might be far from perfect, but with the towering presence of Rajinikanth standing tall along with Nelson’s fortified writing, this is a commendable comeback for both the actor and filmmaker.
Jailer is currently running in theatres