There is something ironic about watching Visaaranai (interrogation) in a plush multiplex. As the story progresses, the film’s glare implicitly turns on the audience.
Visaaranai is violent. Sometimes, it is so violent that you turn your eyes away from the screen. The injustice depicted in the film is brutal and sickening. What makes it more shocking is the fact that Visaaranai isn’t fictional. It is reality in all its callousness and ugliness. Of justice denied, apathetic government mechanisms, greed, corruption, and a ruthless society which has little place for people from marginalised communities.
Chaitanya Tamhane’s national award-winning movie Court dealt with a similar subject. If lack of drama and unflinching realism were Court’s forte, Visaaranai has dramatic turns of events, emotional exchanges, and outstanding cinematic shots. With the help of a group of excellent actors and technical crew, director Vetri Maaran pulls off a riveting feat, based on facts more gruesome than fiction.
Four Tamil migrant workers are picked up by the Andhra police in Guntur, for a crime they know nothing of. The men are young and clueless. They migrated to this Telugu small-town in search of a job, some money and a life. One of them, Pandi (Dinesh), is an assistant at a grocery store run by a Tamilian. They are taken to the local police station. Without a word of explanation, the policemen beat them mercilessly. They are told to confess to a crime they haven’t committed. When they refuse, the custodial abuse become harsher. Becomes endless.
Visaaranai is an adaptation of Lock-up, a novel written by M Chandrakumar, an auto-driver from Coimbatore. The book is about his experiences. The film premièred at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, where it won the Amnesty International Italia Award. At Mumbai’s Jio MAMI film festival, it left the audience awestruck. The Chennai release is the final leg of the film’s world tour.
What connects this film to the audience is its rawness. There is no effort to mask the filth or make it an easier experience to sit through. Yet, a strange vibe of hope permeates Visaaranai. Pandi and his friends believe, even as they are put through brutal abuse, that this will end at some point, and they will be let off.
The men in custody at the Guntur police station are uneducated, address-less migrants from backward communities. Pandi and his friends don’t speak any language except Tamil. They live like shadows – quiet and invisible, constantly under fear. The waiting men are subjected to inhuman torture in a room which has a huge portrait of Chandrababu Naidu, the man seen as the architect of an opulent and modern Hyderabad. When Afsal, the youngest of the victims, is stopped by the police on his way home from work, the first question posed to him is, “Aren’t you an Al-Qaeda member?”
The brilliant second half further exposes India’s chaotic system. A high-end stooge, in spite of powerful and influential contacts, is murdered by his employers. A police officer has to execute a close acquaintance, and forgives himself by declaring that he, like everyone else, is just a ‘pawn of the system’. When sub-inspector Muthuvel (Samuthirakani), an earnest, courageous and humane cop, refuses to be part of an unfair and callous operation in his department, an angry superior screams at him, and calls him ‘an idiot who cleared the ranks through quota’.
Hardly anyone is safe in this mess.
Female presence is sparing, and used to mellow the tension and violence. There’s the lone woman officer at the Guntur police station. And there’s Shanthi, a cleaning lady who feels affection for Pandi. Both serve as pacifiers. Like in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, where the sight of a woman breaks down a ruthless criminal. Otherwise, Visaaranai is a tough masculine world running on violence, betrayal and injustice.
Note: Visaaranai is a story that can be read between the lines of a number of everyday newspaper reports. In April 2015, 20 Tamilians were killed by the Andhra police in an alleged ‘armed encounter’. While police said the men were red-sander smugglers, several reports stated that they were tribal woodcutters, hired by the giant illegal red-sander smugglers mafia operating out of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
The Visaaranai review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.