On my way to the fourth and probably most epic Wetri Maaran, Wada Chennai (North Chennai), I decided to go back to this director’s previous films, starting with his last and perhaps wettest film so far, Visaranai. The movie is now broadcast on Netflix.
Visaranai (also known as Interview,India’s official participation in the 89th Academy Awards) is a film that has nothing to do with the glitz and glamour of Indian blockbusters. There are no exaggerated fights, no colorful dance numbers, no spicy dialogues. They feel naked, frosted and insensitive. The amplified and stylistic sounds that accompany the typical sequences of the mass struggle – in other words : DOOSH DOOSH – missing, are replaced by the disturbing and merciless whip sound of bare skin. What do the signs on roller coasters usually say? This trip is not suitable for children, pregnant women or nervous people. The same goes for this attraction. Not because it’s an adrenaline rush, but because it’s a powerful and very, very uncomfortable watch. It’s also a brilliant film.
There are two parts to this film, one more interesting than the other, both just as exciting … …and just as depressing. The film starts at sunrise, three men sleep on a lawn in a local park. These are our most important heroes – Paandi (Dinesh), Asfal (Silambarasan), Murugan (Murugadoss) and Kumar (Pradesh). We learn that these are migrant workers who have left their homes in Tamil Nadu and have travelled through the country hoping to make ends meet. And that’s almost all we know about these characters. Normally, the lack of character research would be a problem, that’s not the point. Visaranai is not a character study. It is a peephole for the (as many of us say) SYSTEM.
When the house is robbed of a local big shot, our main characters are trapped. At first I wondered why her? Why our heroes? The answer is simple and cruel: They were in the wrong place at the wrong time – it’s crazy to think that if Asphal had stayed in the cinema a bit longer, he might have missed police control, which eventually triggered a vicious circle of events. But also because they are poor, come from the city and don’t speak the language. Without adequate training and financial resources to hire lawyers, they become easy prey. The police consider them disposable. Who cares if they go to jail? Who cares if they’re humiliated? Who cares if the future is taken from them?
The police know Pandi and the gang are innocent, but frankly they don’t care. They just want to close the case, whatever it takes. Their cure, of course, is violence. The film can be calledVisaranai(Interrogation), but I wonder if Vetri Maaran isn’t enjoying himself with this concept alone. There are almost no interrogations. Actually, there’s very little gossip.
The police are desperately looking for Paandi and his three friends to confess crimes they didn’t commit. But they’re as tenacious as any innocent man. So the bastards beat them half to death. You can hear the sound of thick rattan against naked meat. You can see how the human skin vibrates in slow motion in a collision. You can also hear the sound of a man choking on a waterboard. While the sound of torture resonates in our ears, we see the senior officer say to the rookie: is quite right to close the case. I saw most of the film through the smallest spaces between my left fingers, nauseous in my stomach. But violence is not for violence. It’s not porn torture. This is real life.
CONFESSION! WEDDINGS! WEDDINGS! The officers yell at Pandi and his buddies as they give out further blows.
If Pandi and the gang don’t break – oh, they’re crying and begging, but they don’t break – the police will give even more beatings. At one point, the inspector even turns it into a mean game. Only Pandi, the strongest of the four, will be defeated. But if he shows signs of weakness, his friends are also tortured. (Dinesh is excellent in these scenes, in every scene. It’s not easy for an actor to convey so many emotions with so little dialogue, but Dinesh does it in a nuanced way).
The second part of the film is slightly less interesting in format than the first. Prison footage from the first half looks fresh. It’s a film we’ve never seen before, or at least it hasn’t been made with such cheerfulness and self-confidence (crazy considering it’s only Vetri Maaran’s third film). The second part takes place at the police station, but this time Pandi and his friends are strangers. The way they become strangers in this police house is, of course, a spoiler. It plays almost as a standard thriller we’ve seen many times (maybe not in a Tamil movie), especially if it’s the last act.
But don’t confuse the less interesting with the bad. The story of the second half is still pretty perfect. I saw the film again through the cracks between my fingers. Here, too, the comments and questions are just as harsh and disturbing as in the first case. This time the main victim is a white collar worker (he literally wears a white shirt), a person who seems to have a lot of influence and money. The dusty floors of the police station were replaced by a clean bed on which the interviewee could sleep. But it still feels like he’s stuck in deep shit.
Vetri Maaran here makes a bold statement: Whoever we are, whatever our financial situation and background, the system still bends us and laughs at us. Who says life isn’t fair? Sometimes even the authorities that we think make the system are just specifications that follow orders and get it wrong.
We see it in the way we follow the character of Samutirakani, Muthuvel, a senior officer. He’s helping Pandi and his friends on their way. He seems nice at first glance. But we find out later that he’s not exactly a book tamer either. He kidnaps a white suspect and interrogates him in an unethical manner. But as the changes become clearer, you soon realize that it’s just a small cog in a big wheel that keeps spinning. I wonder what will happen to the new policeman we will see in the first half of the film. Someone who looks really good in a bad world. My gut tells me she’ll end up like everyone else in the end.
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