It’s night. It’s raining. A mystery man steps out of a car. He’s outside a house. Inside, we see a man, a woman. They’re in an embrace. The man enters the house. A lifetime of movie-watching tells us that he is a psycho killer, that he’s going to leave behind a couple of corpses, and that the rest of the film – Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru – will detail the hunt for this man and the twisted reason for his crimes. But writer-director Karthick Naren (who’s 22!) has other ideas. The first line of dialogue we hear is “Life can be unpredictable.” So can this film. When a cop tells a father his son is dead, we brace ourselves for the inevitable reaction shot. Shock! Rage! Grief! What we get, instead, is a shot of the poor, numbed man shuffling out of the police station – in other words, we go forward in time. But the soundtrack echoes his words that were uttered earlier, when he felt shock, rage, grief – in other words, the same stretch also takes us back in time. Karthick Naren hasn’t just made a film. He’s announced that he’s a filmmaker.
You can say a lot about the sensibilities of a filmmaker by looking at the fonts he uses. But there’s more than just surface aesthetics. There’s always something happening in the background – someone unloading a truck, someone looping a garden hose. Life goes on even as the investigation goes on. Most of our filmmakers think in terms of words. Karthick Naren thinks in terms of visuals. You can almost imagine these instructions in the script. At the end of the flashback, the camera hovers on the cop, and then it swoops down on him in the present day, one close-up giving way to another. Of course, all this would be empty showboating without a good story fleshed out into a good script – that’s exactly what we get here. A couple of revelations are underwhelming, but I was so gripped by the goings-on that I didn’t care. Plus, the film keeps pulling rugs from under your feet. You cannot afford to care, not if you want to keep up.
An understated Rahman plays Deepak, a retired cop who is pulled into his last case by a man who wants to know what happened. This isn’t just a tiresome device to get the story going, the man isn’t just the human equivalent of a PLAY button. He’s one among many devices the film uses to parcel out its plot points. Sometimes we get footage from a video camera. Sometimes we get confessions. Sometimes we even get lies. I’m not sure it all adds up – I found myself more enthralled by the dizziness of the script than interested in how each jigsaw piece locks into place. Also, this is a cold film. I wished for a bit of warmth. But I loved how the film breathed. The slow accumulation of detail isn’t just in the way the mystery comes into focus. It’s also in a cop realising he’s forgotten his cap in the house he was conducting an investigation in. Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru is, finally, a first-rate procedural that understands that it’s not just about a hit-and-run, an apparent suicide, an instance of blackmail, but also about hatred, love, anger. These existential undertones aren’t oversold, but they remind us that the acts we consider inhuman are born from the most basic human emotions.
- Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru = literally, 16 pillars
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