Cast: Dhanush, James Cosmo, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Kalaiyarasan and Joju George
Director: Karthik Subbaraj
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Dhanush’s effervescence is undeniably infectious. A few of Karthik Subbaraj’s trademark directorial flourishes are passably arresting. Neither is, however, able to help Jagame Thandhiram surmount the upshots of a slapdash script and a punishing runtime.
Jagame Thandhiram, streaming on Netflix, is sporadically enlivened by the lead actor’s dynamic presence and the surfeit of color and energy that the director injects into it. The problem is that the high-voltage Tamil crime drama aspires to larger socio-political significance than its standard gang war thriller format has the scope for.
The hero of Jagame Thandhiram, gangster Suruli (Dhanush), is no paragon of virtue. A wily young man in a violent world, he is a thug with no moral compass. He will stop at nothing, not even murder and betrayal, to get what he wants. As the 158-minute film unfolds, the anti-hero makes his way through much blood and bile before he is assailed by a modicum of guilt and compelled to seek redemption. Neither the process nor its culmination is exceptionally exciting.
If anything, Suruli’s uneven story represents an unpersuasive arc. It is palatable only if you are willing to turn a blind eye to the facile nature of his new-fangled activism. He suddenly wakes up to the plight of undocumented Sri Lankan Tamil refugees – one of them has washed dishes across Europe over a period 18 years until the hero befriends him and hires him as the manager of his newly-opened London restaurant – and mutates into an armed-to-the-teeth anti-racism crusader in the UK. The transformation of the rowdy is arbitrary and devoid of psychological authenticity.
When we first meet Suruli, he (in off-white formal ethnic attire) pumps four bullets into a man on a train that he stops on his way to his wedding. Before he pulls the trigger, he playfully asks the victim to help him understand the difference between ‘betrothal’ and ‘consummation’. The answer does not satisfy Suruli and the hapless man is sent packing. If this doesn’t provide a foretaste of what Jagame Thandhiram and the protagonist have lined up for us, nothing will.
There is more. The nuptial is completed but the bride runs away when she learns the groom has just committed cold-blooded murder. Life gives the man another chance and the next thing we know is that the fearless Suruli is out on a limb doing the bidding of a London crime lord Peter Sprott (veteran Scottish actor James Cosmo).
The mobster – in an early scene, he lets on that he is a supporter of Millwall FC, one of England’s most despised football clubs owing to the hooliganism of its notorious fans – offers Suruli a lot of money to relocate to London for a month and eliminate an underworld rival Sivadoss (Joju George), a Sri Lankan Tamil underworld boss who smuggles arms and gold in order to fund – this is revealed late in the film – a bigger cause.