‘Jigarthanda Double X’ movie review: Karthik Subbaraj’s heartfelt, most political film dazzles with duality

Starring Raghava Lawrence and SJ Suryah, Karthik Subbaraj’s ‘Pandyaa Western’ film brings together the soul of 2014’s ‘Jigarthanda’ and the spirit of a spaghetti western, becoming his most political and heartfelt film to date

November 10, 2023 06:01 pm | Updated December 13, 2023 12:33 pm IST

Raghava Lawrence and SJ Suryah in a still from ‘Jigarthanda Double X’

Raghava Lawrence and SJ Suryah in a still from ‘Jigarthanda Double X’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In 2014, Karthik Subbaraj made Jigarthanda, a fascinating meta-gangster movie that aimed to merge filmmaking and rowdyism. The film told the story of a filmmaker risking his head to make a film based on a notorious gangster, and the assured screenplay was peppered with enough surprises and ample tributes to the art form. After 9 years, a more mature Karthik is back with Jigarthanda Double X, which doubles up on everything we associated with the first film and more. Bringing together the soul of Jigarthanda and the spirit of a spaghetti western, Karthik’s plot-heavy sequel is a ‘political masala western’ that constantly surprises and is eager to impress with yet another ambitious task to achieve.

Jigarthanda Double X is Karthik Subbaraj’s true-blue ‘Pandyaa Western film,’ going by the aesthetics, the hero’s journey, and even the heart of the story which finds its roots in an incident from the ‘60s. During the shooting of an American film called Caesar in Melakuyilkudi near Madurai, the film’s hero Clint Eastwood (a digital incarnation of the American auteur) gifts a handheld Canon 8mm camera to a tribal boy Alli who had asked him for a pistol. Upon request, Eastwood even goes on to name him, as Allius Caesar. With a deep-rooted fascination for Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, Allius Caesar (Raghava Lawrence) grows up believing that the camera is a gun. Later on, when this camera falls into the hands of Ray Das aka Kirubai (SJ Suryah), it truly becomes a ‘weapon’. And through it, Jigarthanda Double X becomes an explosive, vivid, one-of-a-kind love letter to cinema (...and elephants).

Jigarthanda Double X (Tamil)
Director: Karthik Subbaraj
Cast: SJ Suryah, Raghava Lawrence, Naveen Chandra, Nimisha Sajayan, Shine Tom Chacko
Runtime: 172 minutes
Storyline: An innocent man is forced to masquerade as a filmmaker to kill a gangster who wishes to be a Tamil cinema hero

Karthik dabbles with a lot of duality in the sequel. The film interconnects two drastically different worlds to tell a massive story; one bursts with hues of orange, brown and red in the streets of Madurai, and the other is immersed in hues of green and orange in the forests of Kombai Sambala.

It’s 1973 and K Rathnakumar (Naveen Chandra), a despicable police officer, is on a mission to capture the forest brigand Shettani, who illegally hunts tuskers. But Rathna is forced to shift his focus when his brother Jeyakodi (Shine Tom Chacko), an actor-minister, faces a high-stakes obstacle. To take out his rival in the party, Karmegam (Illavarasu), Rathna sends four criminals on undercover missions to kill four members of Karmegam’s support system. Kirubai, an innocent man in prison, is assigned to kill Caesar, a gangster controlling all of Madurai. Kirubai plans to do this by posing as a filmmaker and using Caesar’s wish to become Tamil cinema’s first dark-skinned hero.

Now begins a 172-minute long saga, packing so much into it, that at times it gets exhausting to remember all the details. Karthik finds himself with too much to tell and you do see some impatience in the first 30 minutes or so. This is the weakest chunk of the film, with lead characters introduced back-to-back in a run-of-the-mill fashion. Yet, one can trust Karthik’s films to have additional layers to keep us engaged. The way he infuses humour in some serious scenes might make you wish for a second viewing; like the segments at Caesar’s house with Suryah lighting them up with his acting chops.

The many hat-tips to Tamil cinema — like in the first film — become little nuggets of details that keep you invested, like Bava Chelladurai’s character of a veena-playing filmmaker named SB Chandar, who is a tribute to the late veteran filmmaker S Balachandar. Karthik’s Rajinikanth reference lacks subtlety this time but other pop-culture references make up for it; he once again uses ‘Malarndhum Malaradha’ in a unique situation.

Of everything Jigarthanda Double X is, what truly stands out is how Karthik weaves and picturises the many dualities of the two heroes moving from and into the two worlds. There’s a lot of reality marrying fiction, such as the many real-life incidents that the film alludes to. There are also symmetrical frames bifurcating a gun from a camera and a gun from a spear. Kirubai is essentially the protagonist while Caesar becomes a mere puppet to the situation. Both are stories of self-discovery, but one is a journey to overcome fear and the other is a story of reclaiming oneself from pain.

And Suryah and Lawrence are spectacular in their characters. Watch how Suryah sells his character’s moral dilemma by having seen two sides of the same man. Meanwhile, Lawrence impresses as the gun-slinging ruthless gangster but also makes you feel for who Caesar truly is.

Now, remember the sudden tonal shift in Jigarthanda when Bobby Simha’s Sethu becomes a laughing stock? In the sequel, there’s one such tonal shift, but one written with such conviction and heart that you are instantly pulled towards what Karthik is attempting. The unexpected political narration brings out an unseen side of the filmmaker. That the two heroes are also as clueless as we are while stepping into this zone makes it all the more seamless. Yes, there are a few hiccups here and there — like an unnecessary wedding out of the blue and some unnecessary melodrama — but the ever-reliable Santhosh Narayanan comes to the rescue with his terrific score, and you become even more forgiving of the flaws.

Jigarthanda Double X is the most heartfelt film Karthik Subbaraj has done. By taking only the soul of the 2014 film, this sequel stands alone, alleviating any chances of comparison. But just like how ambitions become exponentially bigger, in all senses, this is truly a Double X of Jigarthanda.

Jigarthanda Double X is currently running in theatres

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