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The Mercurial Karthik Subbaraj and Our Reasons to Watch Mercury

There is an interesting scene in the 2014 movie Jigarthanda in which the protagonist, an aspiring filmmaker, is having a tryst with his destiny. Karthik Subramani, played by Siddharth, sits by the roadside without knowing how to meet the deadline given by the deadly gangster to make a film about him. Suddenly as if from nowhere, a tea shop owner Petti Kadai Pazhani played by veteran actor Sangili Murugan enters the scene. What follows is a story revealing how a man lost everything by pursuing his dream to be a filmmaker and ended up as a tea shop owner - still considers himself as a winner.

The conversation sheds light on the mysterious and mercurial nature of filmmaking as a profession. Even though the scene may look a bit forced, the way it fits with the body of the movie and how it imparts momentum to it bear imprints of a divine intervention from a keen filmmaker who knows what he is doing. Moreover, the protagonist’s name sounds more metaphorical when we notice the filmmaker’s name, Karthik Subbaraj!

Within a career spanning six years and four feature films to his credit, Karthik Subbaraj has already found his place in the history of Tamil cinema as a distinct filmmaker to watch out for. Like his protagonist in Jigarthanda, he started his career as a short filmmaker with a bunch of critically acclaimed short films. Later, the self-taught director went on to make Pizza, a path-breaking horror debut that breathed fresh air into the genre. Then he hit the screens again with the gangster mayhem Jigarthanda, which reinvented the genre.

When Karthik turned up a third time with Iraivi, he had gathered enough shocking and surprising voltage around his name so that people would become curious about a Karthik Subbaraj movie. Iraivi, a subtle take on gender justice prevailing in our society, catapulted him into the league of great directors in Tamil cinema. HIs fourth movie Mercury, a silent thriller, is ready to hit the screens and the teaser is already making waves in the social media.

Karthik draws a perfect example for the career arc of a budding filmmaker with mettle. The very first thing that lures us towards a Karthik Subbaraj movie is its universal appeal. Even though the movie would unfold in a regional setting, he is keen to impart universality to the themes. He relies on common emotions like love, despair and horror for creating that universal appeal and that has worked so fittingly in his movies so far. The next thing makes him a unique filmmaker is his daring approach to bending genre conventions.

When we watch a Karthik Subbaraj movie with the presumption that it is a gangster flick, most likely we would have a horror, a comedy and a romance fused within the gangster template. No other filmmaker in his league daring enough to mix up genres like Karthik Subbaraj, and it accounts for the mercurial quality of his movies. Moreover, all of his movies are well written and one can never find a loose thread dangling from the narrative, and if any thread is dangling from his tightly packed narrative, it would have a function, like Sangili Murugan advising Siddharth in Jigarthanda.

Karthik Subbaraj is an avid storyteller and he keeps his character arcs intact throughout the movie. None of the characters remain the same as they are at the beginning of the movie, and the transformation they are going through is carefully orchestrated with soulful background score and seamless camera movements. Like a true Hitchcockian, he builds up tension effortlessly and effectively with the help of his cinematic armoury.

With he joins hands with Superstar Rajinikanth for his next, and Mercury braces up to spread a chill across theatres, Karthik Subbaraj is at the crossroads of his career. Very rarely we get a filmmaker who can elevate simple lives trapped in simple stories into an epic, without illogically exaggerating their emotions and actions. Here, we have the mercurial Karthik Subbaraj, who, like none other than Mani Ratnam, can showcase his movies in “all languages,” as the Mercury teaser claims, because those movies have only one language, the language of cinematic storytelling.

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