‘Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban’: Khaki-clad hero is dead, enter police brutality

Film reminisces memories of the recent Sathankulam custodial deaths in the state and the 2015 film Visaranai

A still from Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban

Tamil cinema, known for its brawny cop heroes and dramatic encounters, seems to have finally switched to the other side of the narrative. Although a recent trend, films have now started looking at police from a critical point of view.

One such trendsetter was Vetri Maran’s 2015 film Visaranai, which portrayed the deep-rooted corruption in the police department. The film shows how the police implicate five innocent labourers in a crime which they did not commit. True to its title Visaranai, meaning interrogation in Tamil, has some of the gruesome scenes of custodial torture ever depicted in India cinema, enough to send shivers through one’s spine. Based on the book Lock Up, an autobiographical work by Coimbatore-based auto-rickshaw driver M Chandrakumar, the film was officially nominated for the Academy Awards.

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After a gap of five years, another film made on a similar theme has hit the theatres. Titled Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban (police is people’s friend) the film comes at a time when the state is recovering from the gory Santhankulam custodial deaths, where a father-son duo died days after being allegedly meted inhuman torture by police.

Common man’s frustration Vs police ego

The film starring VJ-turned-actor Suresh Ravi and Mime Gopi shows how a common man’s frustration with a recalcitrant law and order system lands him in the lockup.

The film begins with the story of Prabhu, a graduate who works as a food delivery boy, and his wife, Indu (Raveena Ravi), who works in an IT company, living in a friend’s flat after eloping from home. One day, while returning from the office in the night, a group of robbers steal Indu’s jewels at knifepoint. One of them also misbehaves with her. After learning about the incident, Prabhu heads to the police station with Indu to lodge a complaint. The couple is stopped en route where policemen ask them to show their vehicle’s papers. Though Prabhu has all the documents, the police make the pair to wait. A police officer, along with his senior, speaks in a way that is incensing to Prabhu. He raises his voice at them to make them understand his situation. The verbal conflict turns violent and the police beat up Prabhu before taking him to the police station.

How this clash of a common man’s frustration and the ego of the police ends, makes the remainder of the plot. Sans much commercial elements like fight scenes, punch dialogues or dream song sequences, the film has been able to garner positive review for its gripping tale.

Similar tales, different POVs

The film released on November 27, is the first to receive positive reviews after theatres opened in Tamil Nadu post lockdown. From the day of its first screening, a section of the audience has started comparing the film with Visaranai. Although both the films deal with custodial torture, the treatment of Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban’s script is different.
In Visaranai, the director shows the corruption in the entire police system, while Kavalthurai narrows down on the bruised ego of one policeman who goes to extreme limits to take vengeance.

In Visaranai, a policeman (played by actor-director Samuthirakani) who tries to help the hapless victims of custodial torture ends up as the prey of the system, while in the latter the hands of a good-hearted policeman (played by ‘Super Good’ Subramani) is tied by the same system.

“While Visaranai was made from the point of police power centres, Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban was made from the common man’s point of view. However, I am happy that this film is being compared with Visaranai, a world-class film,” says Kavalthurai ‘s director Ranjith Manikandan, who is known as ‘RDM’ in the industry. Interestingly, Vetri Maran has presented this film under his name.

The events happened in his life and of his friends inspired him to make this film, he said.
“Some of my bitter experiences with the police are the base for this film. We shot this film in 2018 and planned to release in March 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the release was postponed. In between the Sathankulam incident happened. It gave us more reason to release it,” he added.

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KUN is the second film after Visaranai which showed police violence. It was expected that there would be a change in the mentality of police after Visaranai. But after five years of its release, the Sathankulam incident has proved that nothing has changed in the system. What does the filmmaker think about it?

“The change will not come with one film. Some of the police officers are critical about this film. They claim that the films are not portraying good-hearted policemen and their good efforts. I too accept that there are some good police but the darker side should also be said. All I plead to the department is let them try to be faithful to their motto: Police is people’s friend,” RDM said.

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