I went into Visaranai (English: Interrogation) expecting just one story (because I’ve read as little as possible about the film before seeing it) and was surprised and delighted to find two; the second being much more complex than the first. Eventually, you’ll see the characters from the first getting involved in the second, in ways you’ll never imagine. It gets so complicated that you almost forget how it all began. But I believe these things happen and in fact, this story is based on true events. It all seems very plausible. Tamil filmmaker Vetrimaaran belongs to the new breed of serious filmmakers who excel at depicting the dark and ugly side of society. They have no interest in selling you fancy, predictable and syrupy nonsense. They are here to show you the stark reality as it is and they don’t pull any punches.
Do not get comfortable. Do not expect to see a masala film where everything is going to work out the way you want them to. Do not expect to be satisfied by an upbeat ending that’ll make you forget all your troubles instantly. No, this isn’t that film. In fact, this is a film that makes you aware of the fact that no one is safe and that this can happen to you as well, regardless of your economic status. Normally stories like these deeply upset me but this one didn’t, despite its disturbing premise. However, it made me angry and made me think, for a long while. It manages to remind you, oddly, that your troubles are nothing compared to what some people go through – people just like the characters you’ve witnessed on screen. You thought you were having a bad day? Nah, you are just exaggerating.
The first half of the film is based on the novel Lock Up by a former auto-rickshaw driver named M.Chandrakumar, in which he recounts a harrowing ordeal inside a police station in the past. The two stories are separated by the intermission and in the second half, you see them fuse in an intriguing fashion. The characters from both cross paths in the opening scene. In the first, we see three innocent Tamilian workers getting picked up for a crime they didn’t commit and then getting brutally assaulted in a police station for several days. These torture scenes are unflinchingly real and hard-hitting. The sound of lathis falling on their bare skin and the aftermath on their faces and bodies are all too real. These scenes are not easy to watch. Just when you think you’ve been spared one session, comes another and then another. They have no clue why they are being tortured like this. It’s almost a Kafka-esque situation. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The police inspector just got back from a pilgrimage tour and next thing you see him doing is mercilessly beating the accused after stripping them half-naked. Only holy activity is followed by an unholy one. Finally told what they are being accused of. Confess and this will stop, they are told. They protest and the beatings continue. Eventually, you are spared, just as they are are, when the second storyline comes to the rescue. But then a different kind of hell takes over. If the first half was a police procedural, the second half is a conspiracy thriller. But you still get to see some elements from the first repeating again but with different characters and in a much lesser capacity. What you see now is the Indian equivalent of a Sidney Lumet-style police corruption drama. More nasty characters, more suspense. You have trouble finding at least one sympathetic face. It’s hard to distinguish the police from the mafia.
They sit and scheme and carry out killings just like the mafia does. Everyone is a pawn and everyone has to follow orders. And the indifference with which they carry them out boggles your mind. By a cruel twist of fate, the poor souls from the first story are now trapped in the second and they can’t get out. They go through a series of unfortunate events that seems to have no end. One of them remarks that they would’ve been better off had they confessed to that crime and spent a few months in jail. We nod our heads because we agree with him. Surely that would’ve been heaven compared to what they are going through now. This is much, much worse. The real nightmare has only begun. Fate doesn’t seem to be very kind to them. “What did they do in their past lives to deserve such a fate?”, you ask. They feel completely powerless and helpless and you seriously start to worry about the outcome and hope things work out well for them.
Visaranai is a film that seems to reinforce the paradox that today people have more to fear from cops than they do from anti-social elements. Its bitter cynicism reminded me of the films of Costa-Govras. It is one among a handful of films that come once in every ten years or twenty years with a strong message and leave you with an earth-shattering impact. You later find yourself in a euphoric state and thank the cinema gods for producing a filmmaker like Vetrimaaran and you ask yourself why more filmmakers in India weren’t like him. This film is a rarity in Indian cinema. It ticks all the right boxes: tight plotting, even pacing, nail-biting sequences and honest performances. Very few Indian films get all these right at once. Films of this sort come only once in a while and you relish them as if you won’t see something like it ever again.