In “Jailer,” the bad men are led by Varman (Vinayakan), a manic crime boss who kidnaps Muthu’s adult son Arjun (Vasanth Ravi), also a cop, and threatens to behead Arjun’s grandson Rithvik (Rithvik Jothi Raj), an aspiring YouTube star, while Rithvik and Muthu get ice cream. Varman’s men taunt Muthu by doing a grotesque dance of joy in the street. He retaliates by hacking at some of them with a gigantic blade: “After a point I don’t talk, I slash.” If you come to “Jailer” for anything but Rajinikinath, you will probably leave disappointed.
“Jailer” simultaneously is and isn’t a typical Rajinikanth vehicle. It’s more self-conscious and more committed than some of his other recent vehicles, as far as reconciling the tonal whiplash banked into the Indian cinema’s kitchen sink, mass-audience-minded masala style. The makers of “Jailer” toggle between emotional registers with confidence and alarming frequency, like whenever Muthu helps Rithvik film a gardening program for his YouTube channel, and then resumes his bloody feud with Varman. In a musical montage that only makes sense after a long-delayed plot twist, Muthu and Rithvik bask in each other’s company while an acoustic guitar plays and a singer paints a sunny picture of a man who, in Rithvik, also sees “my leader … my son.” Meanwhile, Arjun tortures one of Varman’s men, and also orders a fellow cop to not give water to his blood-soaked victim. The acoustic guitarist never takes a break.
The persistent extremity of Varman’s character-defining violence also gives old man Rajinikanth a mandate to be merciless. It’s sometimes even touching to see him match Varman since, as our antihero’s theme song boasts, “He will make your next generation dance to his tunes.” Rajinikanth is perhaps unusual when compared to, say, a Sylvester Stallone or a Steven Seagal, in that he still attracts the sort of young idolatrous filmmakers who all seem obsessed with making the now biologically mature star look eternally iconic. A friend who saw “Jailer” in Los Angeles last night joked about how many times Rajinikanth enters a new room with dramatic flair. In Times Square, each new slow-motion turn to the camera was met with screams. So were Rajinikanth’s lusty action scenes, especially when he finally notices Varman’s barrels of sulphuric acid.