Aaranya Kaandam (Eng: Jungle Chapter) is a 2011 Indian Tamil neo-noir gangster film written and directed by newcomer Thiagarajan Kumararaja. It is supposedly the first neo-noir film in Tamil cinema. The story takes place in a day in the lives of the six protagonists, played by Jackie Shroff, Ravi Krishna, Sampath Raj and newcomers Yasmin Ponnappa, Guru Somasundaram and Master Vasanth. Produced by S. P. B. Charan’s Capital Film Works, Aaranya Kaandam features musical score by Yuvan Shankar Raja and cinematography by P. S. Vinod and editing handled by the duo Praveen K. L. and N. B. Srikanth.
Aaranya Kaandam was launched on 18 December 2008, with its principal photography being completed by late 2009, which was followed by a lengthy post-production phase. It ran into difficulties as the regional censor board in Chennai raised objection against the film, giving it an adult rating besides demanding 52 cuts. After screening at and becoming approved by the Tribunal in Delhi, the film was released worldwide on 10 June 2011, to high critical acclaim but underperformed at box-office. Despite its failure, it gained recognition over the years and now it is regarded as cult film in Tamil cinema.
It had its world première on 30 October 2010 at the South Asian International Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Award for Best Film. Subsequently, the film was honoured with two National Film Awards for Best Editing and Best First Film of a Director category respectively.
The film opens with the ageing gangster, Singaperumal, forcing himself on a young girl, Subbu. He is unable to perform, and vents his anger by slapping the helpless Subbu. Singaperumal is the grand don of crime in Madras. His lieutenant, Pasupathi, brings a proposal. A large stash of cocaine, worth about 2 crore, has entered the city. The guy bringing the stash wants to sell it for 50 lakh. Pasupathi sees the immediate easy profit, as well as the long term benefit (to control the cocaine market with such a large supply) and the recognition that they are able to pull off such a deal. The drawback is that the stash really belongs to their arch-rival Gajendran. Singaperumal knows that Gajendran is a vicious and unpredictable adversary, and the venture is risky and likely to become messy. He decides to pass. Pasupathi dourly suggests Singaperumal is getting old and rusty. He asks Singaperumal to loan him the 50 lakh so he can do the job himself. Pasupathi is prepared to face the risks, and in return for the loan, he offers Singaperumal a cut of the profits. Singaperumal agrees to the loan, but, instead asks Pasupathi to first get the stash and then think of the profit distribution. The money for the loan is brought to Singaperumal.
The film introduces Kalaya, a now destitute farmer, and his young, street-smart son Kodukapuli. They live in the slums and earn a meagre living staging cock-fights; as a coincidence, Singaperumal loves to watch these cock-fights. One evening, a man arrives to bunk with Kalaya for the night. This man is the cocaine courier. He routinely transports various stashes of drugs in and out of the city, and collects a relatively small fee ( 10,000) for each trip. That evening, after a long bout of drinking, he reveals that he has learnt the true value of the stash, and he now intends to sell it himself instead of delivering it to its true owner. He passes out.
Seeing Subbu in tears, Singaperumal asks one of his men, Sappai, to take her out and comfort her “so she is prepared to perform for him at night”. Sappai takes her to the beach and tries to console her.
Pasupathi and the men meet with the tipster and drive off to retrieve the stash. En route in the car, one of the men receives a call from Singaperumal, who orders him to bump-off Pasupathi as soon as the stash is acquired. Pasupathi overhears this as the call is on speaker mode and gets into a Mexican stand-off with others. In a desperate ploy he deliberately provokes a cop at a checkpoint, getting arrested and then later making an escape. The other men kidnap his wife, Kasturi, and use her as bait to lure Pasupathi. Singaperumal orders them to bring Kasturi to him.
Subbu hates being a plaything for Singaperumal. She yearns to be free and live life on her own terms. She tries to persuade Sappai to think for himself and realise that Singaperumal is merely using them. Sappai, however, is too fearful and weak to oppose Singaperumal. Subbu and Sappai become unlikely lovers, and Subbu continues to hope for a way out. We learn that Subbu is somewhat educated, and learns whatever she can about the world outside Singaperumal.
Kalaya stages his cock-fight the following day. But this time, his prize cocks get killed. Kalaya is in serious financial trouble. Kodukapuli senses this and immediately goes to see if their visitor, still unconscious, has any money. They find out that the man had overdone his drink and died. Kalaya and Kodukapuli find the cocaine stash and the telephone number of a prospective buyer (Singaperumal and Pasupathi). Kalaya declares that his financial woes are at an end.
Singaperumal is worried. His stash has not arrived, nor has he got word that Pasupathi is dead. He gets an angry call from Gajapati (Gajendran’s brother and right-hand man): if Pasupathi seizes Gajapati’s stuff, Gajendran will unleash a terrible gang war. The cunning Singaperumal tells Gajapati that Pasupathi has gone rogue, and that Gajapati is free to take out Pasupathi. Singaperumal figures this will benefit him both ways: he will get the stash, and his avaricious general will be killed by Gajendran. Gajendran sends his thugs after Pasupathi. Pasupathi is on the run. Now that Singaperumal has become his enemy, Pasupathi figures that Gajendran could possibly become an ally.
Kalaya calls Singaperumal to meet and make a deal for the stash. While waiting for him, Singaperumal’s thugs arrive and kidnap Kalaya at the rendezvous point. After continuous torture, Kalaya is unable to reveal anything as his son Kodukapuli has the stash. Kodukapuli ends up calling Pasupathi’s number accidentally, and offers to trade the stash for his father. Pasupathi joins Kodukapuli and offers the same trade to Singaperumal: the stash in return for Kalaya and Kasturi. Pasupathi places a call to Gajendran and offers to reveal the location of the stash.
Gajendran and his gang arrive at the location to make the exchange with Pasupathi. Singaperumal’s thugs also arrive at about the same time. Pasupathi pretends to offer the stash to Gajapati, but instead slices his throat right in front of Gajendran. An enraged Gajendran and his gang chase Pasupathi. Pasupathi leads them around the block where Singaperumal’s gang lay waiting. Both gangs mistaking Pasupathi’s loyalties charge at each other and ensue in a gang-fight. Pasupathi gets out of the fray, and watches as Gajendran and the key generals of Singaperumal’s hack each other to bits. Pasupathi’s plan to decimate the two strong factions has succeeded. He returns to finish Singaperumal.
Back in his rooms, Singaperumal discovers that the bag with the loan money is missing. He rushes to the conclusion that Sappai took it. When Sappai returns (having been sent by Subbu to fetch fruits), Singaperumal beats him up severely. Sappai’s faith is shattered. In his first moment of independence, he grabs a pistol and shoots Singaperumal dead! Subbu emerges from the shadows. She is proud of Sappai, but in a stunning twist, she shoots and kills Sappai! When Pasupathi arrives, he finds Sappai and Singaperumal dead and Subbu in tears. Having always been sympathetic to Subbu’s suffering with Singaperumal, he says she is free to go. Subbu leaves. Pasupathi summons the remaining thugs of Singaperumal’s gang and assumes command. Kasturi is unharmed. Pasupathi gets the stash and pays Kodukapuli a fair commission.
It is finally revealed that Subbu had planned the whole thing. She sent Sappai with the bag containing the loan money to provoke Singaperumal’s temper. She retrieves the bag with the loan money and quietly leaves the city to begin her new life. She remarks that the men basically mistrusted, misused and slaughtered each other. In her view, Sappai, too, was not really an innocent victim. She says Sappai is also a man, but all men are sappai (The word ‘sappai’ has varied meanings, but in this case, it means insignificant to the point of being contemptuous). The film ends with her line: The best thing about being a woman is that it’s a man’s world.
Directed by Thiagarajan Kumararaja
Produced by S. P. B. Charan
Written by Thiagarajan Kumararaja
Starring Jackie Shroff, Ravi Krishna, Sampath Raj, Yasmin Ponnappa, Guru Somasundaram
Music by Yuvan Shankar Raja
Cinematography P. S. Vinod
Edited by Praveen K. L. & N. B. Srikanth
Production Capital Film Works
Release date 30 October 2010 (SAIFF) 10 June 2011 (India)
Running time 123 minutes