Last Updated: 05.48 PM, Apr 12, 2022
Cast: Vikram Prabhu, Anjali Nair, MS Bhaskar
A Tamil cop film is almost always the story of when someone is already a cop—a constable, inspector, the much-abused assistant commissioner and so on. Writer-director Tamizh goes backwards to explore what makes cops of Tamil Nadu who they are in Taanakkaran. The film begins with Arivu (Vikram Prabhu) arriving at the Police Recruits School for training. The experiences of the hero, his motley group of colleagues and the menacing “system” make up the rest of the film.
To Tamizh’s credit, Taanakkaran gets a lot right. The film remains strictly within the confines of the school and its environs. It slowly builds up to the abuse and discrimination that passes off as training. The clever use of history allows for characters from different age groups, even if not otherwise diverse.
Vikram Prabhu, as Arivu, makes an earnest effort. While his emotional range seems limited, he comes across as committed to the job he’s signed up for. Lal, as Eswaramoorthi, is consistently menacing. At every step of the way, he convinces the audience that he’s a heartless, ruthless dictator and a metaphor for the unrelenting justice system he’s a part of. Madhusudhan Rao as his senior is a near mirror image of Eswaramoorthi. Livingston, even though he appears for only a few minutes in a crisp flashback, delivers an impactful performance.
M S Bhaskar, as the gentle trainer who is also wronged by the system, is as reliable as ever. He channels righteousness, anger, self-loathing, self-pity, love and hope—a performance so heartfelt that I wondered if all this was written for him at all or he just brought all of it with himself. Anjali Nair, who plays the hero’s pointless love interest, also does a good job of what’s handed to her.
Structuring the film as an underdog-taking-on-the-system story offers the opportunity to sneak in little tricks that have satisfying payoffs. The mass moments, though understated, are rewarding. Ghibran composes a soundtrack that elevates the film without getting too loud.
Despite everything that’s right about Taanakkaran, the film falls short. The biggest reason perhaps is the unreasonable focus on depicting the violence. The animated prologue introducing the colonial history of the police force is good information in bad form.
We are repeatedly shown torture and abuse. Tamizh wants us to see that it is an integral part of police training, but we barely ever learn what it turns the trainees into. More often than not, the trainees clean themselves up and show up the next day. So, we never really see what such institutional violence, peer pressure and expectation can do to good people.
The dialogues are sharp. For instance, right at the beginning, a character asks, “If all we’re going to do is pull people off the streets and thrash them, what’s all this training for?” In another scene, a humiliated father tells his son, “If they’re not ashamed to do this to a hapless man who went to them for help, what have I got to be ashamed of?” Yet, when it’s time for the big moments, dialogues fail the film. This is especially jarring in the climax when Mathi (Bose Venkat) rattles off a lecture.
In this testosterone-addled film, Anjali Nair barely has a place. She comes and goes, falls in love with the hero, appears in pavada-dhavani and chudidhaar a couple of times, when hardly anyone else is seen off uniform. Tamizh might have had the opportunity to show us what it is like for women in the police force, but he adamantly refuses to be swayed from his mission. This makes the film poorer.
If you can look past the repetitive scenes, melodrama, useless love track and the lecturing climax, Taanakkaran is an interesting film about the police force. It critiques the system without showing mercy to the individuals that uphold it. It is hopeful without painting a miraculous future with broad brushstrokes. In fact, some of the David and Goliath confrontations might even be clever.