Visaranai (Interrogation) (Tamil) — The reality of interrogation
Let me start with a theoretical scenario: Imagine a large field where thousands of workers are building a huge tower that doesn’t seem to have an end or a specific shape. They are using whatever materials they could get their hands on, wood, metal, rocks, sand and whatever. All of them are frantically working, day in and day out tirelessly. The collective have their own hierarchy and purpose, it’s almost a self-serving system. Yes, there are rewards like food and entertainment or even riches, but over a period of time, their entire purpose becomes singularly focused on maintaining the hierarchy, feeding the “system”. If you ask any of the workers to quit or threaten them with firing from the job, they become so disoriented because they don’t know how else to exist, they serve the forces (good or evil) that seem to govern the system, if anyone threatens the status quo, the system just gobbles them up. Doesn’t this remind you of the construction of the tower of Babel? Do you think such workers, or cogs in the system care about the material they are using or even the effects of their tower on the society around them? The fact that the very purpose of building that tower was to serve the people has been forgotten. If you pictured what I wrote so far, take that metaphor, apply to this: the tower — the Indian police system, the material they so casually use and repurpose — anyone else other than police (public, politicians whatever). The system or the apparatus has become so corrupt there’s nothing that exists outside of it. This is the premise of the film ‘Visaranai’.
Vetrimaaran the master craftsman is back after a long gap (Aadukalam released in 2011 for anyone keeping track), and his newest offering Visaranai hits you with such a fierce force, you’ll feel like YOU are getting beaten up by a lathi, not the actors on the screen. To say Visaranai is a good movie is a waste of my energy, you can listen to anyone or read any review, or look at the accolades it received in all the film festivals even before its release, it’s pretty clear. What I want to talk about it, how the film is made and what it conveys. It would be foolhardy to say that what’s portrayed on the screen is 100% true or even how the police operate all the time, the feeling you would get is how it exposes the systemic problem of the police and how the entire system is created to serve only the police not the public. So, whatever I am writing here is only the analysis of the film, not my personal opinion. If you believe this movie to be the way the police are, then you have to also believe Saamy, Singam, etc, which I know none of us do. But this film is done so realistically, you can’t help but remember all the stories you heard or read in papers.
The movie is based on a Tamil novel ‘Lock Up’ which is written by Mr. Chandra Kumar based on his personal experience. He is an auto rickshaw driver by day and moonlights as a novelist and has written 6 books so far. Kudos to him for writing such a riveting story and Vetrimaaran for bringing to the screen. Briefly, the film portrays the travails of 4 poor, working class guys who were picked up by police and wrongly accused of crimes they haven’t committed. In the film, you’ll see that the police only care about this: 1. keeping their job, 2. pleasing their higher-ups, 3. making money (illegal and legal), 4. serving the public and finally 5. holding up justice, in that order. Note that I am not saying they don’t serve the public, they do only after 1st 3 are taken care of (and if it’s not too much of an effort). Their desire to cling on their jobs and pleasing the higher-ups is so much, they don’t care who they use, how they use and violence is unleashed so casually and suddenly as a watcher it gave me the chills, imagine being in an interrogation room with these types of people, I would probably confess to killing the Archduke Ferdinand (the infamous murder which started the world war I :) ). At the beginning of the movie, you’ll see 4 Tamil speaking guys were taken to a police station in Andhra (they are making a living in various odd jobs in Guntur), the moment they enter the police station, the police start beating them, with no explanations, no questions, nothing. Audiences are as flabbergasted as the victims not knowing what’s happening, they don’t accuse them of anything, in fact, they don’t even speak the language. After a severe beating session, they are asked only one thing, “Oppukuntara?” (Do you confess?), it’s the quintessential question in the movie, when one of them asks ‘to what?’, the policeman laughs at them and points them to another police officer and says, ‘these guys are asking what should they confess to?’, it’s such a sobering moment in the film, you’ll understand that police, having been so accustomed to their ways can’t fathom someone asking ‘confess to what?’, the obvious answer in their mind is, ‘to whatever we say… haven’t you gotten enough?, if not, I can dispense more violence’.
The 1st half of the movie is based on the book, and the 2nd half shifts to a tamil nadu police station, and these poor idiots get entangled in a complicated political/money making game by their mere presence in the police station. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but suffice to say, the rules I put down above apply to this police department as well. The 2nd half actually takes the movie to another level and will leave you speechless.
The casting is excellent. Attakathi Dinesh, Aadukalam Murugadoss, and Samuthirakani as a police officer with a conscience have done a great job. The background music is very subtle and there are no songs or glamour in the movie, even the fleeting moment of some wayward attraction is brushed aside brutally. Technically the movie is brilliant, the cinematography gives importance to the story not to emphasize or demonize anyone, the camera you can say is a silent witness of what’s happening, all the shots are taken at eye level and without any flourish. In fact, there’s no racy music or fast camera movements to signal anything that’s coming. Throughout the entire movie, the experience is like someone driving in the twilight, whether you drive east or west, you know darkness is going to catch up with you, but you can’t do squat. As a viewer, you’ll see all the ominous signs of something bad that’s about to happen, and the inevitable slowly creeps toward you, the only thing you don’t know is how/when it will strike. You’ll come to understand and sympathize with the 4 protagonist’s condition, their helplessness, confusion, and slivers of hope they cling on to as jack boots of the system slowly and mercilessly crush them.
The best part about the movie is the way the police officers speak to the accused, so soft and normal, without raising an octave, even when delivering threats or a packet of biriyani. In the same tone, they deliver the violence so swiftly and matter-of-factly, it’s really unnerving to think they have become so accustomed to way they operate, without considering the other person to be a human, the only comparison I can make is the way Nazi’s used to treat Jews, they used to dehumanize them so they are not at their normal human level, so you can do anything you want with them. In one of the sequences, the police officers try to cover up a lock up death (not one of the 4 protagonists) and they plan to bring the murdered to his own house and stage a suicide. While watching the scene, me, being an avid watcher of Hollywood movies and TV shows, thought that the Tamil movie makers don’t know what they are doing, and here’s my soliloquy: “don’t the fingerprints show up in crime scene investigation, what about post mortem, what about neighbors, what about press/media?, the filmmakers have to grow up, they still haven’t changed”. At the end of the scene, one of the cops asks another cop, ‘Sir, shall we wipe everything?’ The other cop says, ‘no it will take too much time, tell the CSI guys to adjust their report, also tell the doctor to fix the post mortem report, and make sure envelopes reach every member of the press corps and canvas the neighbors and threaten them’, it was mind boggling. They know exactly how to manipulate everything in the system, as I said in the beginning, they are there to feed the system and be fed from it, the corruption not only affects the roots but the entire crop is poisonous. Police brutality is nothing new but the callousness, ruthlessness and matter-of-factness they display here to get forced confessions, to administer third-degree, to cover up crimes, to close their case files, to take bribes is so shocking it will leave you numb.
The movie is not for the faint hearted, it doesn’t mean there’s a lot of blood and gore, there’s some, but more than the overt violence, the subtle message and the utter helplessness will give you the creeps. That said, you should watch the movie, at least to support good films.
Written On Feb 10, 2016