8 Thottakkal (8 Bullets): An edgy crime thriller from a promising newcomer

A lot can go wrong when a cop loses his revolver in the line of duty; and this premise can give birth to a whole lot of imaginable scenarios, most of them perilous because obviously there is a dangerous weapon involved. What good can possibly come out of a situation like this? Violence is naturally going to rear its ugly head, sooner or later. More than one filmmaker has explored this premise in detail in the past, most notably Akira Kurosawa in Stray Dog and Johnnie To in PTU, each presenting us with a tense scenario.

Debutant Sri Ganesh is the third filmmaker to deal with this premise in his film 8 Thottakkal, and he does so wonderfully. He takes this idea and runs with it. His protagonist Sathya (Vetri), an aloof and do-gooder cop, gets his revolver stolen by a pickpocket inside a crowded bus, and naturally, this sets off an unpredictable chain of events with predictably violent repercussions. What makes this even more interesting is the fact that Sathya has a darkly haunting and scarring past which weighs heavily on him from time to time.

An extremely introverted orphan who grew up in a juvenile prison for a crime he did not commit, becoming a cop was the last thing on Sathya’s mind; yet he ends up becoming one. When his gun is lost, he is sent spiraling into despair. This despair gradually intensifies when he learns that the gun has changed hands – a sub-plot involving small-time hoods make up a small gangster story in its own right – and has now reached the hands of the mastermind behind a bank robbery. When the robbery ends tragically, Sathya is guilt-ridden.

The film becomes more engaging from here on as we are introduced slowly to the mastermind’s life and his reasons for committing this robbery. In most movies, we are shown the why before getting to the how and what. Here it’s different. The mastermind, Moorthy (M.S Bhaskar), is such a thickly layered character that you become so invested in him emotionally, eager to know what happens to him and almost rooting for him once you’ve gleaned about his past and his psyche. He is sort of the Indian version of Walter White from the TV series Breaking Bad.

Bhaskar is, without a doubt, the strongest performer in the film. It’s his most memorable role till date. There is a lengthy monologue he gives inside a restaurant which is genuinely moving and heart-breaking. After that, it becomes quite difficult for us to make up our minds on the kind of outcome we wish to see for this character. Nasser appears in a solid supporting role as a senior cop investigating the robbery, who takes pity on Sathya and decides to take him along. His character is the typical, hard-nosed yet sympathetic cop you’ve seen a dozen times before.

Sri Ganesh manages to keep the pacing tight and sustains the tension throughout, except for a small and unnecessary detour in the form of Sathya’s romance with a journalist (Aparna Balamurali), and a song which slightly hampers an otherwise fast narrative. However, these sequences don’t last very long, and given the heaviness of the rest of the material, you don’t really feel their presence. Overall, this is an edgy and strikingly impressive work from a promising new filmmaker. I’m eagerly looking forward to his next film.

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