Vetrimaaran's Visaaranai in Tamil -- which screened on Wednesday night in the Orizzonti or New Horizons section of the ongoing Venice Film Festival -- proved that the director had begun to look beyond Dhanush. Rajinikanth's son-in-law acted in the first two of Vetrimaaran's movies, Polladhavan and Aadukalam. The last had a fascinating subject -- rooster fight. It is another thing that Vetrimaaran digressed from this core issue, taking away the power from the punch.
While he is planning a film on pigeon racing (a novel theme in Indian cinema), he did the Venice screener, Visaaranai, a violent take on police brutality and corruption that sees poor innocent men losing their lives in utterly needless conflicts which cops have with the rich and the politically powerful.
With some extremely good actors like Samuthirakani (who plays a police inspector), Dinesh Ravi, Murugadoss and Anandhi enriching the narrative, Visaaranai or interrogation is based on the real story of a 53-year-old Coimbatore-based autorickshaw driver, Chandra Kumar. When is he not driving his rickshaw, he writes, and his first book, Lock-Up, which was published in 2006 was so inspirational that Vetrimaaran picked it up to weave the ruthless story of Visaaranai.
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The movie paints the disturbing picture of three daily Tamil-speaking wage earners in Andhra Pradesh's Guntur (Ravi and Murugadoss among them) who are taken into custody by a police force which is compelled to solve a theft in the house of a top-ranking civil servant. The three men are stripped to their waist and beaten in the most gruesome manner to elicit a confession. With language as a formidable barrier, the men, who do not speak Telugu, are even more handicapped. Bewildered and wounded beyond endurance, they eventually find a samaritan in Samuthirakani's character, who, despite his moral high ground, finds himself trapped in a web of political deceit and money power.
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Visaaranai might well have a good run in the festival circuit, Venice opening that account, but can only hope for limited theatrical appeal in Chennai and elsewhere in India.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Venice Film Festival.)