Tamil cinema has always sought shelter in the amma sentiment, and at some point, the appa sentiment pitched a tent and set up camp as well. But when, exactly? Sure, there were the Sivaji Ganesan dramas where he kept screaming at his son (usually played by Srikanth), but those films were about ideological differences. And those were also moneyed houses, more or less. So when did Tamil cinema get its first taste of the lower-middle-class father-son dynamic, the kind institutionalised in the Selvaraghavan movies, where the father is constantly aggravated by the no-good son? I kept thinking about this while watching Caarthick Raju’s Thirudan Police, which begins like one of those films – this time, the father is played by Rajesh, and the son (named Vishwa) by Dinesh.
But soon, the father dies and it turns out we aren’t in for that kind of movie after all. What we seem to be in for is some sort of revenge drama – but with a difference. With a big star at the centre, this story becomes excessively heroic. Think Singam. But with not-yet-star, some interesting dimensions come into play. Dinesh is at a point in his career where he can still afford to get slapped around by a superior, and where he can embody what, according to the film, is the equivalent of pond scum in the IPS: a constable. We see him humiliated quite a bit, and we see what it must be like to be a constable. I’m not saying we get docu-realism. But it is nice, sometimes – even if only in the air-conditioned comfort of theatres – to slip into the shoes of the people on the street we rarely give a second glance to.
And the film’s biggest (and nicest) surprise is that this revenge drama is treated like a comedy. It’s turned out to be a pretty subversive week at the cinemas. If Appuchi Gramam transplanted the sci-fi disaster genre into a village, Thirudan Police pees all over that most hallowed of tropes: the love for a parent. Vishwa’s teary-eyed memories of his father become the object of a running gag, where people begin to fear his sentimental outbursts. Bala Saravan is priceless as Vishwa’s friend, and his explanation about the perceived power of the police is a riot. Even the climax is treated like a farce. The upshot is that the narrative has no real emotional charge – but that’s fine. We get enough of those films.
The trouble is that this one-note gag (about Vishwa’s father) is stretched out too long. Also, there are tonal issues. The flavourless romantic track (with Iyshwarya Rajesh) we accept as inevitable, but the real problem is when the film gets all serious on us, as when we have to endure an appa-is-awesome dirge or when a senior cop delivers a lecture about what it means to be part of the police force. But the climax is such fun that we forget what came earlier. It isn’t everyday that we encounter a film whose villains (Rajendran, John Vijay) are mostly in drag. What a sari fate.
* Sivaji Ganesan drama = see here
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