Aaranya Kaandam (Jungle Chapter)
Director: Thiagarajan Kumararaja
Cast: Jackie Shroff, Ravi Krishna, Sampath Raj, Somasundaram, Yasmin Ponappa, Master Vasanth
There are two debut features in Aaranya Kaandam (Jungle Chapter). One, Thiagarajan Kumararaja helms for the first time. Two, Bollwoodian Jackie Shroff plays for the first time in a Tamil film, and as gangster Singaperumal, he is absolutely superb in his veshti (dhoti) and shirt, bespectacled and impotent, but yet holding a young woman, Subbu (Yasmin Ponappa), as his slave. But what a slave she turns out to be, pairing with the aging don’s Man Friday, Sappai (yet another compelling performance by Ravi Krishna), to inject an exciting twist to the plot.
A nude scene of Shroff thrown in for meaningless effect, and gory violence iced with abusive language had Indian censors squirming. They wanted 52 cuts, but eventually let the film pass with fewer chops and an adult certificate that in any case is widely disregarded in India. It is certainly not a movie for children, for its highly stylised violence -- a la Quentin Tarantino – gives credence to the feeling that problems may only be solved through the gun and the sword.
However, it must be said in defence of Kumararaja’s script that its abundant wit, including a joke about two of southern India’s reigning superstars, Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth, somewhat blurs the bloody mess that fills the screen and most of the film’s running time of 153 minutes.
Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music often sounds distracting and vaguely familiar, though Aaranya Kaandam steps out of the formulaic song-and-dance romance, choosing instead to focus on the brutal lives of gangsters. Not an original plot though, for we have seen many movies about the underworld. Kumararaja’s is not very different from these, except perhaps his attempts at pushing the narrative largely through style. Watch the way, blood squirts out of bodies, almost making patterns on the canvas. A chapter from the jungle all right, a jungle that reverberates with murderous hisses.