Jailer review: ‘Tiger’ Rajinikanth and his ‘old friends’ deliver a revenge drama laced with dark humour

From playing a loving grandfather, doting dad, and henpecked husband- in his latest release Jailer, Rajinikanth,(playing Muthuvel Pandian, a retired cop) transforms into a revenge-seeking, menacing old man, reviving ‘old friends’ to avenge the loss of a loved one. The stark contrast is visible in the way the protagonist is portrayed. With the idol-smuggler villain being established in the first few minutes and Rajini’s son(who plays a cop) being portrayed as an upright and uncompromising Assistant Commissioner of Police, things get clear and amply predictable very early on.

If you’re going into the multiplex, expecting fight sequences where a righteous Rajini beats up 50 baddies, you’re in for a serious disappointment. Instead, Jailer compensates with violent action by the menacing version of ‘Tiger’ Muthuvel Pandian. Did you ever think Rajini would behead a baddie on screen? How about slashing the throat of a goon? It’s all there! It also raises questions about how the film ended up with a UA-certificate.

However, there’s a catch. Unlike certain Rajini-centric action films, where the superstar carries the entire film on his shoulder and fights dozens of goons single-handedly, he is ably assisted by his ‘old friends’ and their aides, in Jailer. In this one, he’s more like the chief strategist and commander, who is supported by the right people at the right time. 

Perhaps, this is a clever means of outsourcing some parts of the significant scenes to big stars from film industries of other states. In a way, it metaphorically takes the weight off the shoulders of a 72-year-old Rajini and makes him seem like a man who is not alone in his journey of revenge. There are cameos by Malayalam superstar Mohanlal, by veteran Hindi actor Jackie Shroff and veteran Kannada actor Shiva Rajkumar(all of whom are comparable to Rajini, in terms of age and experience). 

In terms of screen time, the other superstars get very little. But the time and place where they appear are crucial. If ‘Tiger’ needs a handful of beefy wrestlers-cum-snipers, he has a friend who would lend them to him. If ‘Tiger’ needs a container-load of guns and an armoured SUV, he knows which ‘old friend’ to turn to. 

The first half picks up its pace gradually and by the interval, the big moments of Rajini’s style and superstardom start unfolding, thereby giving hints into the character’s past. Only after the interval does one get why the film is titled Jailer, thanks to a flashback scene that shows Rajini as a tough cop who was posted at the Tihar jail. As much as the ‘Jailer’ Rajini instilled fear and terror among the jail mates, he also seemed to have some ‘friends’ among the outlaws, despite being an upright officer. 

Negative roles

Malayalam actor Vinayan has played idol smuggler and maniacal murderer, Varman. Close-up shots of his face and bloodshot eyes have the intended effect, and so do his hammer swings and style of hanging his enemies upside-down and brutally disposing of them without a trace. It almost seems mathematical- for every person that Varman wants to finish off, there are at least four swings of the hammer.

Speaking Tamil laced with a heavy Malayalam accent, interspersed with multiple Malayalam phrases, Vinayan seemed to have few dialogues and did most of the talking with his expressions and violent actions during his fits of rage. 

Conflicts in the plot

While playing the embodiment of righteousness, Rajini’s character succumbs to the usual flaws that crop up in most on-screen Police characters. Unnecessary glorification of abuse of power and torture is a case in point. A cop in uniform, chopping off the ear of a jail inmate, yes you’ll see that too. The most intolerable one among these was, cop Rajini getting one ‘friendly’ rowdy to bomb the car that another bunch of rowdies are travelling in.

If you’re used to watching films by director Nelson, you’d already be used to his style of interspersing comedy scenes and comic characters right after or even during a serious sequence. In this film, one can easily observe that the negative characters and funny characters are almost equal in number. For those watching their maiden Nelson film, this is sure to seem like an absurdity. For the others, this is Nelson’s version of business as usual. While there are attempts to sprinkle humour at regular intervals, not all of them work to their intended effect. Especially, when the film is viewed in any language other than Tamil, these segments could be lost in translation. 

The film shows Rajini as being extremely intolerant, tough towards criminals and those who mean harm to his family. Strangely, some of the ‘old friends’ that help Rajini are not cops or do-gooders. Instead, they are arms dealers or bomb-makers or reformed criminals who run wrestling centres and offer firearms training to disciples. How does one remain a sincere cop and have friends and henchmen who are on the wrong side of the law? Please, let’s not go there!

The Thalaiva moments

Towards the end of the first half and throughout the second half, there are the big moments that Rajini fans long for. That’s the paisa-vasool(money’s worth) they’ve all been looking for. Rajini’s usual charisma is on full display- as he exits from cars, as he expresses rage, as he toys around and wears his sunglasses, as he lights a cigar and what not! As these ‘mass moments’ unravel one after another, Anirudh Ravichander’s music remains a constant factor and ensures that the impact of the big ‘Thalaiva'(in Tamil, Rajini is fondly known as ‘Thalaiva’– Leader) moment is elevated more than ever.

From silhouettes to close ups, to a shot where a fully-loaded truck is seen flipping mid-air before Rajini, there’s all kinds of shots and frames to showcase Rajini’s superstardom. 


The last few films of Rajinikanth have not had a great deal of impact and response, even among his fans. Nelson delivers a film that would(after a long time) have all Rajini fans in agreement about how they’ve got what they expected. In many ways, Jailer brings Rajini to the fore, yet again, just like how the film Vikram had done for Kamal Haasan. Needless to mention some uncanny similarities that Vikram and Jailer share, but each one has their own moments to appease fans from each camp. Jailer is an entertaining film that offers glimpses of the vintage Rajini and the contemporary Rajini, ably assisted by cameos by Mohanlal, Jackie Shroff and Shiva Rajkumar.

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