Directed by Thiagarajan Kumararaja, Super Deluxe follows four narratives, one involving a group of adolescent boys caught up in street crimes, a married couple trying to cover up a possible crime, a transgender father rebuilding a relationship with his son, and a woman trying to save her son.
A character towards the end of the film says, “Humans with their limited knowledge and lifespan, dictate righteousness. Righteousness constantly manipulated to suit their convenience”. That sentence is probably the best attempt to encapsulate this behemoth of a film. This film is about several things and I wouldn’t dare to pretend I’ve absorbed all it has to say. But more importantly, this movie made me do something I haven’t done in quite a while. It made me think. No, I mean really think.
The best way to enjoy Super Deluxe is to probably go blind. We get a taste of all three narratives within the first 20 minutes, each having an exciting twist to it that just grips you and doesn’t let go till the credits roll. I personally wished to split the viewing into two halves but found myself so invested that I just sat through it. Just this beautiful juggling act of multiple stories feels like an accomplishment but Super Deluxe is more than that. Its stories are instead almost instruments in an orchestra that works even better when combined.
The story with its dark humor and audacious characters pokes at philosophies of religion, sex, law enforcement, gender inequality, the meaning of life itself, and much more. And despite its huge undertaking, it surprisingly makes sense. The central theme to me speaks about our intolerance and inability to accept what doesn’t conform to our preconceived notions. Unlike most films, the title doesn’t really make sense here. But that’s the point maybe. The film calls life “meaningless and purposeless” but also beautiful and grand. The level of nuance that the film encompasses goes beyond this review and I expect to find more on future re-watches.
Apart from the amazing script, performances of Vijay Sethupathi as the transgender “Shilpa”, his son played by Ashwanth Ashokkumar, and Bagvathi Perumal as a corrupt cop are particular highlights in the already huge cast. Vijay Sethupathi wears his emotions just like his saree in fine layers. Just a glimpse of his face gives away the life of an individual that must either battle themself or the entire world around them. Ashwanth Ashokkumar brings a tremendous energy to the screen. Energy channeled so well that it made me sit upright whenever he was on screen. Bagavathi Perumal contrasts all the good, playing a cop that progressively got further under my skin the longer I saw him. Despite being driven by a strong single pursuit he finds ways to remain fresh and find creative ways to convey his motives.
The cinematography and production design stand a class apart with just so much detail and color in every set. This is undoubtedly a visually striking film that is a feast for the eyes even if it’s inside a dark small hallway that could barely fit two people. Even as someone unfamiliar with Tamil Culture I was drawn to nearly every frame with complexity in its environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if these were actual homes instead of constructed sets.
What didn’t work
But unfortunately, the film isn’t perfect. Some supporting actors are a tad overdramatic in some key scenes. Some heavy-handed messages find their way in otherwise simple scenes without any buildup. A VFX shot, which I loved from a narrative standpoint despite being surreal, is fundamentally flawed and pulled me out of an otherwise jaw-dropping moment. The story with the adolescent boys isn’t as efficient with time as the other three. It has multiple turns in its path which although entertaining doesn’t synergize well with the conclusion. But none of the complaints hold a candle to everything else above that works so well.
Super Deluxe has not only made me question my own preconceptions for the philosophies it talks about but my prejudices for Indian Cinema as well. Being someone too absorbed in American Culture and wanting to escape it for quite a while, Super Deluxe to me is a near-perfect film that proves contemporary Indian Cinema can be as good as anything else out there.