Jigirthanda — The Real Slim Shady


Watched Jigirthanda for the second time today. I had written a quick note earlier covering my thoughts on the first viewing. Though they largely remain to be the same, in-between the viewings, I have had the opportunity to read Baradwaj Rangan’s review of the movie and the rich discussion that follows in its comments. One particular angle regarding the meta aspects of the movie piqued me.

People have referred to many films which they believe have inspired Jigirthanda. While many of those ‘accusations’ are downright silly, it is obvious that Karthik Subbaraj has paid homage to a handful of films/genres — from Thalapathi’s rain scene to Quentin Tarantino’s trunk shot. I call them homages because of the obvious nature of their placement and the general intelligence of the said director.

But, I am going to put forth another film now with the claim that maybe, just maybe, this is the most defining inspiration for Jigirthanda. Conspiracy theory/over-analysis much? I guess so, but still, it is obvious that you are going to indulge me further anyway, since you have read this far.

The film I am referring to is Adaptation, a 2002 comedy-drama meta-film, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. SPOILER ALERT, DUH. The movie is about a brilliant screenwriter called Charlie Kaufman (oh yes, just like Jigirthanda is about a director called Karthik). The movie documents the travails of Charlie as he tries to adapt a docu-novel into a movie. The novel is about orchids and an orchid-poacher, written by Susan Orlean, a reporter of The New Yorker.

Charlie finds it very difficult to adapt the book into a movie form, because, hey, a movie about orchids cannot be that interesting, can it? He tries various angles and approaches, and fails miserably in every one of them.

Charlie has a younger brother, Donald (who is a fictitious Kaufman, also credited for the screenplay of the movie, in a blatant, in-your-face spoiler). Now, Donald is the complete opposite of Kaufman. He is not brilliant, not even close, but is very sociable, and adores his elder brother. Donald is also writing a script, but it is a really pulpy, hollywoody B-movie.

We complete more than half the movie while it sincerely walks us through Charlie’s hardships, when Donald finishes his B-movie script and immediately gets a great offer to make it into a movie.

Charlie, in a moment of desperation, asks Donald how he would finish the orchid script. Donald is more than glad to help out Charlie with his troubles. Now, they begin to find that the orchid-poacher actually has a secret relationship with the reporter, and that they are growing a rare orchid to produce hallucinogen drugs. What follows is a typical hollywood mishmash of threats, car chases, bondings and deus ex machinas with the film finally having a fitting uplifting ending.

This is why it is one of the most popular meta-movies of all time, since the first two acts of the movie runs a Charlie Kaufman script while the third act, an unashamedly Donald Kaufman script. Any reasonably discerning viewer will obviously get the point, though I have seen a few critics miss even this obvious switch. The switching point, naturally, is the chat between Charlie and Donald when Charlie specifically asks how Donald would end the script.

Now, the parallels I am trying to draw with Jigirthanda (SPOILERS AHEAD. DUH) here are obviously subtle, as there are no plot point similarities or even genre similarities. The director, Karthik, just like the screenwriter Charlie, is trying to achieve a tough feat in the movie business — getting a real-life script about a real-time gangster. The first half of the movie documents the travails of the director, as he fails miserably in his attempts to get anywhere closer to the script. Then he gets a break, which poor Charlie didn’t get though — the gangster wants his movie to be made. But then, when the gangster insists that he play the protagonist himself, the director is back to square one.

The switching point is when Karthik has a chat with Palani, the small shop owner, who reveals himself to be a failed director. Palani insists that Karthik make a compromise or give up the only opportunity he might ever get to make a movie. In a moment of desperation, Karthik decides to go for the compromise, just like Charlie does.

If you have watched the movie already, you would know what the compromise movie turns out to be, but I am not interested in that point. I am more interested in the compromise movie the actual second half of Jigirthanda turns out to be. The terrifying villain, the ஒரு மாதிரி சைக்கோ நாய், turns into a bumbling buffoon, providing a bunch of hilarious moments, but ultimately in complete contrast to the Assault Sethu we have seen in the first half. The original Sethu would have severed the insulting teacher into two pieces, killed or mutilated everyone else who even tried a bit to infuriate him in anyway, and would have got the movie he wanted. Instead, this Sethu obliges, goes through the motion, and is even seen to be eager to be house-trained in acting.

The ending is more revealing. Sethu’s acceptance of his newfound career is exposed in a series of cliches that would do an SA Chandrasekar proud — a mother sentiment scene, a little girl sentiment scene, and auditorium-audience-uplifting-clap scene. Baradwaj Rangan is puzzled. How can these scenes do justice as finale? As cherry on top, throw in that scene where he tells the little girl “அங்கிள் சொல்லாதம்மா. அப்பா சொல்லு”. That, right there, is the compromise movie that Karthik Subbaraj is showing us — rubbing his hands in glee, probably standing outside our cinema hall, doing a countdown, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and voila! the third act; the compromise movie; the Donald Kaufman script.

There is probably a million-to-one chance that Karthik actually got inspired from Adaptation. This is all me trying to be smartypants here. But, let me be clear that I am not putting this forward as an accusation of Karthik doing something bad or cheap. Understanding and utilizing a plot device as subtle and crazy as this requires a mastery that our Kodambakkam is not known for. I consider Karthik Subbaraj to be a remarkable director, someone to look forward to. Jigirthanda is brilliant craft at play. If he actually did get inspired by something like Adaptation, then he can also be rightly called a very talented screenwriter. Otherwise, it is actually a let-down that his third act, as a screenwriter, could have been so much better than what it turned out to be.

Additional notes:

This is for those who had the patience to go through Baradwaj Rangan’s review and the comments. Baradwaj mentions that the gangster drama and the meta movie does not gel with each other. He complains that Sethu’s transition from a monster to a joker is sudden and is unexplained, and is not convinced by the cliches at the end. If my Adaptation theory is correct, then it explains more than adequately this jarring transition. It is because the director willingly pushes that jarring transition on us. Just like the real Charlie Kaufman pushed his jarring transition on to us. If you see Adaptation, you would know just what I mean.

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