Rajinikanth's star power tussles with narrative shortcomings in 'Jailer'
  • Release Date: 10/08/2023
  • Platform: Amazon Prime Videos
  • Cast: Rajinikanth, Mohanlal, Shivarajkumar, Vinayakan, Ramya Krishnan, Yogi Babu, Vasanth Ravi
  • Director: Nelson Dilipkumar

Jailer‘ received unprecedented success after most of Rajinikanth’s recent releases met with a lukewarm response from the audiences. The reasons behind the interest in ‘Jailer’ were many. Rajinikanth was playing his age. The much-talked-about cameos from Mohanlal, Shivarajkumar, and Jackie Shroff piqued the interest of audiences from different states. Anirudh’s background score for the film was a draw for many. Nelson, who had earlier made his mark with films like ‘Doctor’ and ‘Kolamavu Kokila,’ was directing the film. He had been one of the flag bearers of the changing face of Tamil cinema. If that was not enough, Rajinikanth’s star power has always been and will always be a draw, and when the man plays his age and is unleashed to do what his heart wills, he never goes wrong. Hence, ‘Jailer’ was always hot from its announcement to release, but strangely enough, it received only a limited release in the northern and other sectors of India. For some strange reason, it was released by UFO, which meant that it was never released in the northeastern states. I had to wait for the film to come out on OTT before I could finally watch it. And now that I have, I am forced to ask myself, “Was the film good enough to extract the kind of fanfare and following that it has generated?”

The story:

Muthuvel Pandian (Rajinikanth) is a retired jailer who has dealt with and earned the respect of some of the biggest and most notorious criminals of his time while serving as a jailer in Tihar Jail. After his retirement, he has settled down into an ordinary and happy life with his son and the rest of the family. His son is a high-ranking police officer who is investigating a case involving the smuggling of ancient idols and religious artefacts from various states of India. The smuggling operations are led by Varman (Vinayakan), a seemingly insane and murderous criminal who would stop at nothing to get away with the crimes. When Muthuvel’s son disappears while carrying out his investigation, he is forced out of retirement to not only look for his son and defend his family against Varman’s brutal attacks but also to put an end to the smuggling racket and Varman once and for all.

Perfectly timed cameos:

While this might seem odd, I have to agree that one of the film’s biggest draws is its perfectly timed cameos by Shivarajkumar, Mohanlal, and Jackie Shroff. These cameos are not just for the sake of presenting the stars to justify the film’s pan-Indian appeal, but each of these actors has a definitive and important role in the narrative. This not only enhances the impact of their presence but also fills the screen with the heroism and machismo that sets the proceedings on fire. Nelson knows how best to showcase the stars and present them in the best possible way on screen, making it a point to milk every ounce of the charm and charisma that these men have to offer by featuring them in at least two iterations of their cameos. Both instances must have elicited maddening cheers from the audience in theatres, as I found myself jumping up and down in my chair while watching this film on my 32-inch screen at home, all by myself.

Rajnikanth is undeniably the best thing about the film

Rajinikanth has such swagger in everything he does that he invariably enhances the appeal and heroism in even the simplest actions he is shown doing in the film. He is introduced and presented numerous times with a rousing background score and his signature tune, and every time this act of hero worship for the man and the character feels well-earned and justified. The director knows exactly how to portray him in action, maintaining the believability and realism of the sequences without going overboard. This results in his acts of heroism feeling even more heroic and awe-inspiring.

Rajinikanth is a fine actor too, and he showcases his acting prowess whenever he gets the chance. The film has at least two moments where he has to depict grief, and in both these sequences, he does exceedingly well, elevating the overall impact of the scene with his performance. His camaraderie with the rest of the cast and the three greats, Shivarajkumar, Mohanlal, and Jackie Shroff, is just as remarkable. ‘Jailer’ ends up being a decent watch primarily because of how wonderful Rajinikanth is in it.

Background score by Anirudh:

The background score by Anirudh has become one of the defining factors of the films that he is a part of, and ‘Jailer’ is no different. The score alone serves to elevate some of the massy moments and coupled with the efficient visualization of these moments by the director, it contributes to leaving the kind of impact that the makers must have had in mind. It goes without saying that Rajinikanth’s style and swagger, as well as that of other stars like Shivarajkumar, Mohanlal, and Jackie Shroff, add to the enjoyment of the sequences. 

Complete lack of seriousness in the screenplay:

The inspiration for the character of Muthuvel in doing what he is shown doing stems from an unthinkable tragedy. His family is constantly under attack from the primary antagonist, and then towards the end, he makes a realization that proves to be even worse than what had already happened to him. These elements in the film called for a handling of the subject matter in a much more serious manner, reducing most of its comedic elements. To be honest, the comedy doesn’t work here, except for the very dependable Yogi Babu, whose presence alone is enough to account for the comic relief for the entire film. Nelson had absolutely no need to introduce some of the cringeworthy and unnecessary comedy that neither works nor adds anything to the film. On the contrary, these elements detract from the otherwise serious nature of the screenplay and the fact that it tries to be heart-breaking with its ending.

Vinayakan as the antagonist:

A story of this nature needed an absolutely terrifying antagonist who was not only a worthy adversary for an all-powerful character like the jailer but was never shown fooling around. He needed to be serious, dangerous, and capable of striking fear into the hearts of the audience. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. After a promising start, the character of Varman is quickly reduced to a source of comic relief, someone who appears to have minimal control over the situation and is there just to set up the jailer’s climactic actions. The jailer, in turn, seems to toy with the antagonist and makes a mockery of him. This approach doesn’t bode well for a film of this nature, as it drains the story of tension, thrill, and drama. Instead, what we get is scene after scene of poorly executed comedy involving an antagonist who should have been fearsome.

Portion featuring Tamannaah Bhatia and Sunil felt unnecessary:

While this portion makes up a considerable part of the film, it felt completely unnecessary. The makers could have thought of a simpler and more effective means to progress the film towards its climax. While the “Kavalaiya” song and Tamannaah Bhatia’s sizzling performance in it deserves multiple viewings, it adds nothing of cinematic value to the overall plot and screenplay of the film. Everything leading up to the song and everything that happens after the song felt equally pointless, dragging the narrative down in its pacing and making parts of it boring and hammy. While Sunil is an extremely talented actor, and I enjoyed his portrayal of Blast Mohan here, he couldn’t rise above the mediocrity of the character and the overall portion thrust upon him by the writers.

All style and swagger but no substance:

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that ‘Jailer’ is all style and swagger with very little substance. The story has been done to death, and anyone with even the slightest experience with films of a similar nature would be able to predict every twist and turn from miles away. The ending of the film aimed to create a heart-breaking impact on the audience, but unfortunately, it didn’t achieve the desired impact as it seemed like the only path the film was heading towards, and the audience would have easily seen it coming. While the style, swagger, and action depicted in the film filled it up with much-needed mass-elevation moments, they were not enough to make up for the lack of everything else that was necessary for a story of this nature.

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Final words:

‘Jailer’ relies heavily on Rajinikanth’s style and swagger, alongside well-placed cameos by Shivarajkumar, Mohanlal, and Jackie Shroff. It boasts an impactful background score by Anirudh. However, the film falls short in terms of its predictable storyline and unnecessary sequences, notably the one featuring Tamannaah Bhatia and Sunil, which feels forced. While it has its moments of mass appeal, the lack of substance and a needlessly stretched narrative hampers the overall experience, making ‘Jailer’ an uneven watch. The fact that the antagonist here is hardly a match for the larger-than-life presence of the jailer only makes the matter worse for a film that needed to challenge its protagonist a lot more. ‘Jailer’ is an entertaining watch but not nearly as good as it could have been.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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