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Opinion: It's a shame that Taanakkaran couldn't release in theatres

The Vikram Prabhu starrer directed by Tamizh has a handful of moments that would've worked wonders on the big screen

  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 09.18 AM, Apr 11, 2022

Opinion: It's a shame that Taanakkaran couldn't release in theatres
A scene in Taanakkaran

For a major part of 2021, several industry experts, trade trackers increasingly spoke of how only event films, lavish extravaganzas and star vehicles will largely drive the theatrical business in India in the post-pandemic era. The breathtaking success of many 'so-called' small films made in 2021 and 2022 across multiple languages like Jathi Ratnalu, Uppena, DJ Tillu and now The Kashmir Files have proved how there's little truth to the prediction. 

There's a lot that a communal experience like theatres can provide, that OTTs and personal, home-based viewing options can't. Theatres have a great say in influencing popular culture, in and outside the industry, for the experience is deeper, impactful and haunts you long after a film is over. While we know that movies, more than the art form, are business at the end of the day, the release medium can go a long way to decide the impact it leaves behind on audiences.

Every cult classic revered today - from Sankarabharanam to Kaadhal Desam to a Shiva and a 16 Vayadhinile - began as a small film that not many rooted for, at the time of its release. It's the audiences, who eventually made them a commercial success, going beyond the suspicions of reluctant distributors. These films weren't merely successful at the ticket window but heralded a revolution of sorts.

When you discuss last week's Tamil release, Taanakkaran, which premiered directly on Disney+ Hotstar, it's hard to escape the feeling that it also merited a big-screen experience. The film is by no means a classic but a work that definitely deserved a theatrical showcase. The Tamizh-directorial discusses a hard-hitting, ignored issue and still has the trappings of a solid, commercially workable underground drama. 

The writer, director genuinely feels for the issue he discusses and creates a handful of mass-appealing moments that would've been a hoot at the theatres. Taanakkaran is a fine mix of craft and commercial appeal. While commerce is certainly the reason why the film had released directly on OTT, the very purpose behind why it was made is lost with the digital release. 

For the uninitiated, the film starring Vikram Prabhu, Lal, Anjali Nair, Madhusudhan Rao and MS Bhaskar, revolves around how government officers make use of archaic laws framed by the British to reign supreme and suppress the voiceless. Taanakkaran, set in the late 1990s, discusses it in the context of a few soon-to-be police officers facing rough weather from their superiors while undergoing training at an academy.

Taanakkaran elaborately throws light on the internal politics within the training academy and adopts a common man-friendly approach to make the viewers comprehend them. Over 300 trainees are given only 5 toilets for daily use, bribery is encouraged within the academy to rise through the ranks and stringent punishment awaits those who try to raise their voices. This is used as a backdrop to set up a fascinating contest between two groups - one favourite and one underdog- within the academy and their quest to earn a medal in a parade.

In many ways, Taanakkaran reminds you of a Lagaan, how Bhuvan inspires a group of men with no prior knowledge of cricket to win a match against the British. Much like Lagaan, the film has several characters with strong conflicts - a senior trainer in the department having to choose between professional growth and doing justice to the task he's entrusted with, an over-weight middle-aged man desperate to prove his worth among his peers and a leader who's ready to give up on his dream of being a cop if he doesn't win this contest.

The journey of an underdog bunch of trainees (filled with men in their 40s) towards their victorious march (during a parade) makes for an absorbing watch, but the melodramatic stretches in the first hour don't let the film soar to the great heights it aims to. Yet, the director deserves ample credit because he never sugarcoats reality at any point and tries to provide a well-rounded perspective about the issue - touching upon systemic corruption, caste bias, misues of power and bloated male egos. 

While issues become the focal point of the first hour, it takes the filmmaker the latter hour to arrive at the contest between two groups at the academy. Tamizh certainly missed a trick or two by not utilising the war of words between Arivu and his superior Eeshwaramurthy as the intermission point - it's the stuff that iconic interval bangs are made up of. There's terrific dialoguebaazi and an element of underplayed machismo that makes us look forward to the finale later. 

The finale is a perfect example of a storyteller staying true to the narrative and still providing viewers with a handful of whistle-worthy moments. Taanakkaran is a film with a lot of educative value apart from its entertainment quotient and for the film to reach out to its target audiences, and make them more aware of its core issue, a theatrical experience was vastly necessary. The film will get its due on OTT certainly but the motive of the makers should've been bigger than that.