The ‘masala’ formula may be dying out in Hindi Bollywood films, but it’s flourishing in Kollywood, the Tamil south Indian film industry. Based in Kodambakkan, a suburb of Chennai, Kollywood produces more films per year than its Mumbai counterpart. But unlike Bollywood, which has achieved lucrative global distribution, Kollywood releases remain largely confined to their home state of Tamil Nadu. This is slowly changing with big Tamil films like ‘Jilla’ now getting a limited international release (with English subtitles).
Set in the temple city of Madurai, this lengthy film adopts that old ‘two characters on opposing sides of the law’ chestnut to milk as much melodrama as possible from its stale storyline. Will Shakthi (Vijay), a gangster turned good cop, be able to reform his wayward foster dad Sivan (Mohanlal), the ruling Godfather of Madurai ‘jilla’ (district) from his evil ways?
The dosa-thin plot relies heavily on the charisma of its two male superstars. And in this respect it succeeds, with Keralan film mega-God Mohanlal and Tamil action superhero Vijay’s star power holding it all together.
Overall, this is crude filmmaking, which is sadly synonymous with most Indian commercial potboilers. Director R T Neason resorts to an obsessive use of freeze frame, slow motion shots and frequent, unnecessary flashbacks in order to tell his unoriginal tale. The pacing is uneven, with the so-called comic sequences and five songs derailing the narrative.
The bloody violence and casual sexism are appalling and the ‘jokes’ embarrassing. But its intended audience will not care. If you've never seen a Tamil blockbuster before, this is not a good way to start.