Freeze Frame #121: Sigappu Rojakkal

The amazing thing about Sigappu Rojakkal is that it doesn’t play like a thriller, although a two line synopsis of the plot will make it seem like one. The movie is about a man named Dileep (Kamalhassan) who seduces willing women and then kills them, while secretly filming all of it. He falls in love with (insofar as such a thing is possible for a man like that) and marries a shy, sweet, virginal girl named Sharada (Sridevi) who finds out about him and manages to escape before he kills her too. All of this seems like familiar serial killer movie territory, although it must’ve been pretty groundbreaking by Tamil cinema standards when it was released.

For the most part, the movie is content with maintaining a low-key rhythm, focusing mainly on Dileep wooing Sharada. Other than the fact that Dileep seems to have sex on his mind 24×7, there are just a few minor indications that all is not as it seems. The memory flashes Dileep gets that hint at a troubled past, the disappearance of girls who flirted with him… the clues are there, and they are obvious enough, but nothing is pushed too far until later. There is just a vague undercurrent of unease that permeates the proceedings.

Then the movie does a funny thing. Usually, thrillers that build up to a big reveal time it so that a key character discovers the truth at the same time that the audience does. This way, you identify with the character who has just discovered the secret, and since this sort of discovery is usually life-threatening, you care for what happens to him/her. In Sigappu Rojakkal, we know the truth about Dileep a little bit before Sharada does.

I wondered for a while why that was. Was it a case of Bharathiraja not knowing how to make a good thriller? Or did he have a different intention in mind?

My guess is that it is the latter. At one level, the story is about a serial killer and a woman who barely escapes being his next victim. But it is really about a boy who has been traumatized by his experiences and shaped into a monster by his anguish and someone else’s hate. By focusing on that and shortchanging, as it were, the thriller aspects, the movie manages to delve deeper into the character’s psyche than its genre cares.

Even so, the scene that really stood out for me was a classical shocker. On the evening of their wedding, Sharada is waiting at home for Dileep to get back. She has been mildly unsettled by her experiences in her new home — Dileep seemingly lying to her on some small issue, him losing his temper, breaking down and then apologizing… The way these scenes build up seem to suggest the fragility of his cover. This is a man used to living inside a cocoon that is unravelling before his eyes.

It all comes to a head that evening, when she accidentally cuts her hand while slicing an apple. She is on her way to the bathroom when she sees the cat lap up the blood. If you don’t see how it builds up to that moment, it seems just a bit kooky: I mean, cats are carnivores, after all. But whether or not Sharada is thinking it, you realize that the cat has had some practice lapping up human blood. The impact is spine-chilling.

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