Muthuvel Pandiyan (Rajinikanth), now retired, lives in serenity with his family, doing odd jobs around the house and lamenting that a ‘retired man gets no respect’. He spends his days running errands and helping his endearingly self-assured grandson shoot his YouTube videos. This peace is threatened by a foreshadowing of typical thug-cop danger – Muthuvel’s son, a cop Arjun (Vasanth Ravi) is hot on the trail of a nexus that steals and smuggles idols from places of worship.
This bravado will imminently lead to violent consequences for his family, as is the template with these films.
When Arjun mysteriously disappears, his father is nudged awake from a chosen slumber to reclaim his title, ‘Tiger’ Muthuvel Pandiyan. Rajinikanth is in full form in Jailer – his charisma is less infectious and more god-like. His real-life colossal celebrity throws a shadow over the entire film, creating several massy, whistle-inducing moments.
‘Tiger’ Muthuvel Pandiyan has an army of people ready to serve him, waiting for a single command to fire on all cylinders. Tiger’s backstory might seem unconvincing, making you struggle to grasp what he has done to earn this reverence but the person you’re seeing on screen is Rajinikanth – reverence seems but natural.
Cameos from actors like Mohanlal, Shiva Rajkumar, and Jackie Shroff cement the film’s pan-India appeal and both characters are weaved into the story astutely which makes the film’s payoff even more of a visual spectacle. The actors’ allure mixed with Vijay Kartik Kannan’s intuitive cinematography elevates the film.
A scene in the climax featuring Mohanlal and several trucks is awe-inducing.
Nelson’s expertise lies in structuring the characters on the sidelines, especially since he dabbles in the complex black comedy genre. Considering this is something he has attempted before, the comic elements in the film almost always land. However, the side characters barely get their due this time around.
Aranthangi Nisha, who played an unforgettable character in Nelson’s Kolamaavu Kokila doesn’t truly get her space in the story. Redin Kingsley and Yogi Babu, both established comic actors, who’ve earlier collaborated with the director in Doctor are woefully underutilised.
One especially wonders how Ramya Krishnan (who plays Muthuvel’s wife), a magnetic and commanding star in her own right, can be reduced to a woman trembling at the dinner table as an action set piece unravels around her.
Why does the filmmaker who created a film like Kolamaavu Kokila posit that a man can only reach his true superhero status if the women in his family are terrified of him? Why isn’t the possibility of an actually equal marriage not even a distant thought?
Jailer’s greatest strength is also its biggest flaw. Rajinikanth is more than capable of carrying an entire film on his shoulders but, in this case, there is an overreliance on the star that makes most of the film seem underwhelming. The film’s plot is overtly simple which leads to the additions of a caper, a love triangle on a film set, and some songs that seem out of place.
On that note, the ‘Hukum – Thalaivar Alappara’ by Anirudh Ravichander and Super Subu is a powerful leit motif that scores some of the film’s most effective scenes.
Nelson’s magic as a filmmaker is most evident in Jailer’s primary antagonist – the idol thief Varma (Vinayakan). The actor is equal parts terrifying and impressive as Varma – he doesn’t believe in ‘investigations’ since he’s not a cop and decides instead to kill anyone he suspects.
There is not a single moment of redemption for the villain and that is what makes him so effective. Vinayakan plays Varma as a chilling blend of man and beast – in one scene, he almost prowls towards his nemesis on all fours. While Muthuvel’s ability to kill is introduced subtly, Varma’s thirst for blood is more in-the-face. That difference exists to portray that Varma’s violence is for evil while Muthuvel duels for justice.
As is the case with Nelson’s films, the story ends up being about a man’s fight to save his family while grappling with how far he is willing to go for absolute justice. Nelson’s love for the macabre, inspired perhaps from Quentin Tarantino’s love for stylised violence, makes up for most of the film’s charm.
Varma remarks, “It is the grandfather who dies first in every film,” adding that he wants to flip the script. This is precisely what Nelson does; we see a man of machismo but one who has aged out of being an ‘angry young man’ stereotype. But the film wants the audience to remember, Rajinikanth has still got it.
Without Rajinikanth, Jailer might not have had the same magnetism as it does but since the star is on screen, flicking his shades and throwing lighters in the air, it’s a whole different story.