Kerala's Mohanlal and Tamil Nadu's Vijay-starrer Jilla, in Tamil, follows the trend set by the 2008 Subramaniapuram. Shot in one of Tamil Nadu's most sacred temple towns of Madurai - where Goddess Meenakshi presides - Subramaniapuram redefined violence, somewhat like Bollywood's Sholay did in 1975.
Direction: RT Neason
Cast: Mohanlal, Vijay, Kajol Aggarwal
Jilla is set in Madurai, and what appears like such an ironic contrast to the holiness of the city, the film is swathed in blood -- with bullets, sickles, knifes and swords flying about. And when these seem inadequate, Vijay's Shakti throws stones with unbelievable precision to knock out an enemy.
Of course, much of the carnage, scripted and executed with sadistic exactness, is farfetched and so is much of the plot. The film begins with Mohanlal's Sivan being cornered by a gang as he is rushing his pregnant wife to hospital. And who rescues him? A young boy Shakti, the son of Sivan's driver who is felled by a policeman's bullet in the melee.
Shakti grows up with an intrinsic hatred for the khaki, and so much that he does not want even his watchman to wear that. Oh yes, Shakti is adopted by Mohanlal who becomes a feared don - often comparing himself to the mythological Siva the "destroyer" to terrorise his detractors.
But, then, Indian cinema - at least most of it - has to follow good morals, has to be obsessed with what is right and what is not, with what is legal and what is illegal. In order to get a better grip over Madurai and to clear his path of obstacles, Sivan gets Shakti into the police force.
Things do not go Sivan's way though, and I presume that the huge fan club of Vijay would not stomach their hero being seen as a villain (there were two college girls sitting beside me at the theatre who whistled hysterically every time Vijay walked into the frame, and so did many others inside the auditorium).
So, director Neason introduces a tragedy in Madurai, for which Sivan is responsible. This shakes and moves Shakti (we're reminded of Ashoka the Great surveying the dead and the wounded in the battle of Kalinga before a profound change comes over him), and as he visits the hospital and sees the most horrific of scenes, he decides that he will free Madurai of crime.
And for that, he has to first reign in his adopted father, Sivan, whose arrogance and ego would not let him see reason, even pushing him to take up the sword against Shakti. So, who wins, Sivan or Shakti? Come on, we do not even need to wrack our brains here.
If Jilla works, it is mainly because of a riveting performance by Mohanlal, and one continues to be amazed by his range. Only the other day, I saw Mohanlal as Georgekutty in the Malayalam work, Drishyam, where he is a "paavam" -- a simpleton, who would prefer to follow the rules of law, would never like to use force, who is shorn of ego.
But Sivan is just the opposite of this -- he is brutal, sadistic to the point of saying that he has the might to crush his opponents under his feet. There are times when Sivan forces a detractor to pick up a knife and cut his own jugular (A Japanese Harakiri?). And when blood spouts, Mohanlal's expression is so awfully wicked.
In comparison, Vijay pales as a performer, still a slave to his oft-repeated mannerisms that of course thrill his fans. And I suppose Vijay is happy doing that, a tried and tested method of success. And Kajol is happy too, playing a glam doll as Shakti's lover.
Jilla is mix of tear-jerking scenes, horrible fights (accentuated with musical choreography) and vendetta. And there is so much of aggression and hostility in the movie that one wonders how the Censors passed it with a U. Also, Jilla is often illogical (imagine a guy straightaway becoming an assistant commissioner of police), with songs and even an item number that block the flow of the narrative. It is a film that one must watch, if at all, for Mohanlal's captivating style, controlled, yet incredibly powerful.