There’s a proverb in Bengali “baghe chule atharo gha police chule chottirish” which can be understood as the police is more dangerous than the tiger which should be the case only for the criminals, not for the innocents. To be true this is not the exact scenario in modern India (and many other nations), sometimes the savior becomes the predator. Many a time police pick up innocent people to cover up their inability to bag the real criminals; torturing them to confession. Vetrimaaran presents us with such a gripping quasi-documentary feature Visaaranai (English Title: Interrogation) focusing on the final days of some Tamil immigrants in Hyderabad.
Four Tamils working in Hyderabad keeping body and soul together are picked up and beaten over the top by the police. They try to frame the innocent quadruple for a burglary of an influential man’s house. Not only police brutality but also the typically immoral and influential politics of our country are depicted. Had the owner of the house been a commoner the police would not have taken any action, but since the owner had some connections at political level they are forced to do something; even if it is highly unethical and tantamount to crime of the highest degree; just to save their own skin they are peeling the life out of some faultless men. They are freed by a Tamil inspector Muthuvel (Samuthirakani), who acted as their interpreter during court proceedings and vouched for Pandi (Dinesh Ravi), whom he met a few days earlier. But Inspector Muthuvel was no good Samaritan. He asked them to help him capture an auditor (Kishore) inside the court and safely take him to Chennai. As they do so, they are further intertwined in a complex web of political game and mad race for power and money. The film shows everyone from the top to the bottom of the corrupt system working together in a chain to achieve personal gains and to cover up the truth or unwanted. Anyone who tries to break away is sent to the grim reaper. The final half an hour comprises nail-biting suspense, with victory of the evil against the good; similar to an ultra-modern dark epic.
The films hits hard on our senses; it punches us in the right place showing the exact way how the system is functioning, almost like a documentary, except with a plot. And what a beautiful plot it is: human emotions, suffering, greed, love, belief, betrayal, crime, corruption it has everything inside it just like a commercial potboiler, yet it’s so different. Vetrimaaran picks up a topic which is an important element of many entertainment-only films, and turns it into a piece of mirror reflecting the ugliness of the society. In this aspect, the film is almost as realistic the Marathi film Court, but both handles the realistic elements in different ways.
Vetrimaaran and his cinematographer Rama Lingam use chiaroscuro in a simple yet highly conveying way. Throughout the film, there are many frames worth noticing. They are not only beautiful but also depict the mood or emotion associated with the ongoing or coming scene. Almost all the scenes of the first half are brilliantly lit, in a way hard not to notice. The moment when the young guy tries to run away during the beating and is stopped by the guard hitting him really hard on the head with an aluminum bucket, is shot in close up as if we are struck by the blow on our own heads. It tries to open our sleeping eyes and minds to these evils. His fall is shown in slow motion and as he lay there, half is body is lit and another half is in the shadows indicating the lack of surety in his present condition; whether he will live or die is uncertain. On hearing this tone of confusion and ambiguity in the voices of the constables, Pandi and Murugan (Murugadass) come to check the boy, Kumar (Raj Pradeesh); a similar shot as the previous is used to show the same confusion in their minds. They drag Kumar to the compartment below the stairs. The next morning, the Inspector Rao (Ajay Ghosh) back from pilgrimage offers them the prasad; believing him to be compassionate they plead their innocence. When Murugan first looks at Rao he is going up the stairs; Rao is looking down and Murugan looking up. Rao is shown in an extremely low-angle shot as if he is the mortal God, whom the men needed. However, Murugan is shown in an extremely high-angle shot, showing how helpless he and his friends are. Rao orders his men to undress them and beat them to confession and their screams are heard as Rao ascends the stairs; a man’s rise is strengthened by the suffering of others below him. As Rao moves out of the frame, the camera tilts up to show the light coming through the fan for ventilation producing a beautiful chiaroscuro and a swaying light stand. The rotating fan suggests a cycle of events, the alternate light-dark symbolizing the presence of positive and negative forces at play, and the overall shadowy walls a reminder that negative forces are predominant. The swaying light can be viewed as the uncertainty that is life in the modern world.
The nerve-racking finale is a proof of the Vetrimaaran’s versatility as a director, incorporating suspense and thrill in a feature which is based on real facts. Even his parallel showing of Muthuvel’s group being up to something while Pandi and his friends are in lock-up has its own bit of suspense. The ending is suggestive only; what happens is not shown but is suggested from the conversation of Inspector Chandran (E. Ramdoss). The death of Muthuvel suggests “once a thief always a thief” that is once one enters into the web of the corrupt practice however hard he may try it is impossible to get away from it in that life. Human life is immaterial to the cause of greater gain for those at the top; the people at the lower strata are just scapegoats. The editing by T.I Kishore is pitch-perfect; the film gains pace slowly and steadily and never have a loose moment or unwanted material lurking anywhere. G.V. Prakash Kumar gives a score equally haunting as the torture sequences, which are blunt but not gory. It adds a different layer to the film, with a simplistic yet striking tone.
The film opened at Venice Film Festival at the Orizzonti (Venice Horizons) section and won the National Award for Best Tamil Film, Best Supporting Actor for Samuthirakani and Best Editing in India. Vetrimaaran based his film on the novel “Lock Up” by Auto Chandran based on his real life events. It is a powerful film which can strike the mind of anyone by its harsh portrayal even if it is about the dark truth of the world.
Film Score: 84
Director: Vetrimaaran Screenplay: Vetrimaaran, Auto Chandran (novel) Cinematography: Rama Lingam Editing: T.I. Kishore Music: G.V. Prakash Kumar Cast: Dinesh Ravi, Murugadass, Samuthirakani