Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Dictatorial Roots of Rajnikant's Jailer

 Rajnikant's latest movie, Jailer, is turning out to be a definitive blockbuster, finally putting his years-long dry spell to an end. I watched the movie last week and loved it for what it is—a larger-than-life crime thriller that can be categorised into a special genre birthed by the South Indian movie industry, the mass masala. It consists of its own ingredients, like an interval block, punch dialogues, brutal action that defies gravity, and most importantly, a hero who is deified in every single shot that he appears (which is around 99% of the running time), using stylized shots, and an ear-splitting background score.

After watching it, I glanced through its reviews on social media. Many of them had issues with the development of the plot and the characterization of the protagonist. To discuss the subject on a deeper level, we need to traverse spoiler territory. So if you don't want spoilers of the plot, I would advise you to stop reading now.

In the movie, it is shown that Tiger Muthuvel Pandyan, our titular jailer, brought up his son to be an upright, sincere person who ends up being a cop. When the son goes missing, suspected to be murdered, after following a gang that deals with idol trafficking, Jailer goes on a rampage of vengeance. He is aided by several nefarious characters from his dangerous past. The puzzle that several viewers had was that if the jailer is an upright cop who wanted his son to be one like himself, why does he keep connections with these dubious personalities and take help from them to exact his revenge?

Jailer kills his son when he understands that his son was deceiving him as well. His son turned out to be using his father for his own gains and finally refused to surrender when confronted. Another question from viewers is about the moral right of the jailer to kill his own son when he himself is not that innocent.

When I watched the movie, I never found anywhere a claim that the character of the jailer was a good person. In the flashback in which a de-aged Rajni chews the scene effortlessly in Tihar jail, it is shown that he is the one who makes the rules, and his expectation is for all the others around him to just follow him without any questions. If anyone questions his rules, he will go to any extent to punish them. He has no qualms about using the help of other criminals for that purpose, as shown when he uses Jackie Shroff's men to ambush the gang of the Hyderabadi politician who dared to threaten him.

So effectively, Jailer is a dictator and wants others to follow what he says blindly. The rule that he set for his son was to be a sincere person. He goes to extremes to make it happen. He forgets his past and becomes domesticated, as can be seen in the opening scenes. When his son goes missing, he tries to be the same and let the law find him. But the moment he realises that the police won't be helping him for obvious reasons, he starts plotting his revenge. From then on, you see his transformation into his old self. It is evident that he transforms entirely in the scene where he orders his wife around.

When the jailer finally confronts his son, he persuades him to follow the rule—to surrender. It is not his regard for or respect for the law that makes him demand it from his son. It is only OCD that makes him force his son to follow his rule that his son should be a sincere person in his life. When his son refuses, he has no other choice but to remove him.

So it is evident from the movie that the jailer has a serious dictatorial vein in him. He makes rules for everyone under him and ensures that they are followed. Any questioning will result in severe retribution. All the brutes who helped him on his way of vengeance are criminals who merely obeyed him in the past. Presumably, he helped them back and let them continue their ways. (Shivrajkumar's character seems to have mend his ways, but he is not shy about making a return like the jailer when needed.)

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