There was a time when the entry of ‘Pather Panchali’ for the Oscars had created a ruckus in Parliament, because a poor image of India was being projected abroad. It may be considered a measure of maturity that the film selected as India’s official entry for the Academy Awards in the best foreign language film category is the dark and hard-hitting Tamil film ‘Visaranai’, which holds up the ugly face of the country that makes audiences even in India squirm. Last year’s entry, ‘Court’ was no fairy tale either; it also portrayed injustice suffered by an innocent man, but with a restraint that ‘Visaranai’ does not believe in.
The film blows myth of India’s belief in spiritualism and non-violence out of the water. Maybe that’s why even the media has not been all rah-rah over this—however, if it would have been a Bollywood film going to the Oscars, the celebrations would have started as if it had already won. ‘Visaranai’ was picked over entries like ‘Sairat’, ‘Airlift’ and ‘Udta Punjab’.
Directed by Vetrimaran, from a novel called Lock Up, written by an auto-rickshaw driver M. Chandrakumar, who shares his own experiences with the cops, the film takes on police corruption and brutality head-on. In spite of cutting so close to the bone, the film has been winning awards in India and abroad, not to mention rave reviews and audience plaudits.
The film is about four poor Tamil migrant workers in Andhra Pradesh-Pandi (Dinesh Ravi), Murugan (A. Murugadoss), Afzal (Silambarasan Rathnasamy) and Kumar (Pradheesh Raj). They are caught, beaten and tortured in police lock-up for a theft they did not commit, because the local cops want to close a robbery case in the home of a big-shot. They are forced to confess, but in court they tell the truth and they are helped by a police inspector, Muthuvel (Samuthirakarani), who has his own agenda. He wants them to kidnap an accountant who has been handling the black money for the opposition political party in Tamil Nadu, but the planning behind the crime is backed by high-ranking cops and politicians from the ruling party. The hapless men are caught in a political crossfire from which there is no escape.
The plot could be out of a commercial potboiler, but the treatment is realistic; the actors look like real people—there is no attempt at beautification or embellishment. This is what life could be like for any powerless person in the country. This may be an honest portrayal of the country behind all the dazzle of progress and economic growth; it will be interesting to see how will it go down with the people who vote for the Academy Awards?