Movies as diverse as “Short Cuts,” “Weekend at Bernie’s,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Magnolia” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth” are among the source material that inspire wink-wink allusions and tonal disruptions throughout “Super Deluxe,” an overextended and wildly uneven Tamil-language extravaganza that manages to impress largely because it’s such a shoot-the-works, go-for-broke mess.
You may hate yourself in the morning — hey, you might not feel so good about yourself while you’re actually wallowing in the excesses of “Super Deluxe” — but director Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s unstable mix of dark comedy, brutal thriller and Douglas Sirkian melodrama remains inexcusably fascinating even as it methodically jumps a school of sharks during the final third of its nearly three-hour running time. With assistance from co-writers Nalan Kumarasamy, Neelan K. Sekar and Mysskin (the latter being a supporting player who consumes swaths of scenery in the key role of a self-styled faith healer), Kumararaja has constructed a multi-lane narrative on a foundation of coincidences and interconnections in contemporary Chennai.
One plotline involves an unhappily married woman (Samantha Akkineni) whose ex-boyfriend has the bad form to die of natural causes in her apartment after their afternoon of illicit lovemaking, and whose husband (Fahadh Fassil) angrily, but industriously, aids her in disposing of the inconvenient corpse. Meanwhile, some horny young teenage guys get their hands on porn at the neighborhood DVD store — only to discover that the leading lady (Ramya Krishnan) happens to be one of their mothers. The shocked son goes to extremes in expressing his disapproval, and for a while it’s questionable whether he will live to regret it.
But wait, there’s more: The aforementioned son vents his anger on a buddy’s TV set, leading to another plotline involving a desperate fundraising effort to replace it, a gangster whose own viewing preferences lean less toward blue movies than toward “That ‘70s Show” and a close encounter with a young woman who isn’t at all what she seems. When she reveals her true colors, it’s a bit like the scene in “Wild at Heart” when the ghost of Elvis appears: You either throw up your hands and just accept it, or you cast your eyes around the theater for the nearest exit sign.
And then there’s the plotline that is at once the most problematical and affecting in all of “Super Deluxe,” a thread that focuses on Tamil cinema mainstay Vijay Sethupathy as an errant father who returns to his wife and young son after a long absence — and after his gender-reassignment transformation into a woman who has rechristened herself as Shilpa. Once again, some viewers will strenuously object to the casting of a cis male actor playing the role of a trans woman. On the other hand, Sethupathy elicits sympathy and conveys dignity as Shilpa suffers mockery and prejudice — and, during an almost unbearably harsh sequence, is sexually humiliated by a character whose ultimate comeuppance (after he attempts a repeat performance with a cis woman) is the most dramatically and emotionally satisfying of the movie’s narrative intersections.
Kumararaja — whose only previous feature, the noirish gangster thriller “Aaranya Kaandam” (2011), earned the director the Indira Gandhi Award for best debut at India’s National Film Awards — appears to have an appetite for obscure and classic movies as omnivorous as that of Quentin Tarantino. (Fellow film buffs will easily spot, in addition to the influences mentioned above, a hat-tip to “Sibling Rivalry,” a 1990 Carl Reiner-directed comedy.) But the director also displays a robust cheekiness when it comes to pointed satirical thrusts directed at power outages, police brutality, bureaucratic inequities and other unpleasantries that he views as facts of life throughout Chennai in particular, and India at large.
There can be no denying that “Super Deluxe” has more than its share of draggy sections where the passage of time and the escalation of humiliation make themselves uncomfortably felt. Ultimately, however, the sheer chutzpah of the film, and the dedicatedly in-sync performance by the cast, are enough to keep audiences appreciatively absorbed.