Naalu Policeum Nalla Irundha Oorum is the kind of film where we’re not supposed to care that it looks like a Class IV production of Aattukkara Alamelu. The jokes are supposed to be the thing – and for a brief while, they are. The four cops of the title (Arulnithi, Singampuli, Bagavathi Perumal, Rajkumar) live in the village of the title. It’s a crime-free village. There’s a gold chain on the street, and no one picks it up – I mean, not even a dog or a crow or a child fascinated by a shiny thing makes off with it. Such a utopia, naturally, needs no cops – and so the dismayed quartet receives a transfer order to someplace spilling over with riots. Singampuli gets a bright idea (and in case we don’t get it, a bulb appears on screen, behind him, and lights up): Why not stage phony crimes and create the impression that this village does need cops?
It’s not a bad premise. It’s adapted from a 1939 British comedy named Ask a Policeman. Arulnithi is very awkward. He still hasn’t figured out what to do with his hands while delivering dialogue. But it’s really Singampuli’s show – even if the jokes are predictable. When a knife is thrown at someone who’s fleeing, you know it’s going to land on the butt. Tears are guaranteed – either because you’re laughing so hard, or you’ve realised that of all the things you could be doing with this precious life, you’ve chosen to watch a knife land on a butt. There’s a love angle too – Arulnithi and Remya Nambeesan. She’s a schoolteacher. The heroines in these films are always schoolteachers. He’s the guy who’s tongue-tied every time he sees her, which leads to the film’s only interesting conceit – all the hero-like things he does are in his dreams. He dreams that he fights for her. He dreams that he sings with her – in CS Jayaraman’s voice. I suppose, to a modern-day audience, that’s shorthand for “clutch your sides now.”
And then the director, N J Srikrishna, gets really ambitious. The film switches tracks and becomes a dead-serious parable. About the dangers of deceit. About how civilization is just a veneer and we are all bloodthirsty savages underneath. Suddenly, we get songs that go chinna chinna theeporithaane kaatta koluthuthu – small sparks can burn up forests. You wish one of those sparks had found its way to the film negative. The change of tone is terribly done, and the characters transform instantly, conveniently, like a switch was turned on. And yet, Srikrishna keeps going for laughs. There’s one bizarre bit where a thief (Yogi Babu) orchestrates a series of burglaries – he literally orchestrates it, waving a baton as his minions scamper about stealing stuff. All of this needs infinitely better writing, staging and acting, along with an actual ending. I don’t think I’ve seen another “comedy” that left this bad a taste in the mouth.
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