As far as police corruption stories go, Vetrimaaran’s Visaranai (English: Interrogation) brings the good cop bad cop dichotomy to a full circle of suspicion, where the first half of the film is such an exhaustive and tragic hour of torture and manipulation in the Telugu lock-up, that we subconsciously see the second half of the film completely through the eyes and emotions of the three helpless Tamilian victims at the story’s center. Vetrimaaran has us self-guessing the intentions of even the well-meaning cop Muthu and his assistants and as we enter a new set of interrogations within the second police station, this one in a safer Tamil Nadu, we hardly have a chance to breath as everywhere our three protagonists wander, cleaning bathrooms and sweeping offices in the station, they are confronted by police. If there is anything to say about the success of this film, it’s that it really grips at our own fears of authority through its viciousness and in some senses, also confirms our distrust in the way that it shifts between brutality and kindness of its police officers.
The movie may have fallen victim for me at least, to the knee-jerk, hyperbolic culture of film journalism in India, where “independent” films or social films, ones which don’t fit into the mold to the typical mainstream entry, are in their own way now being poorly analyzed through overreacting praise. One quick scroll through twitter’s Indian film critic sphere will be filled with words and phrases like “fantastic”, “masterpiece”, “mind-blowing”, “encore”, “take a bow”, “superb” etc and surrounded by other characters totalling 140 which treat every non-mainstream film as a once-in-a-century golden nugget. There are even anniversary celebrations being had for films which haven’t even scratched a year into film lore. I am already very selective in the Indian films that I choose to watch, and when there is such a sugary jubilee celebration for even average “indie” films like Piku or Sairat, how is something like Visaranai ever going to properly evaluated and placed amongst the lot? If every one of these films is a “masterpiece”, then how can we build any semblance of perspective between qualities of a Visaranai or Njan Steve Lopez or a Court? So let me not get carried away by calling Visaranai a blinding masterpiece, or a ‘monumental’ film, or tell Vetrimaaran can “take a bow”. Vetrimaaran can do better, and the almost-greatness of Visaranai, which if our film critic culture ever had the balls to cut down a few notches for its shortcomings (questionable camerawork in many sequences, unfocused narrative arcs, a few bits that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor), is an opportunity through some real perspective and fair analysis, to dare Vetrimaaran to making his next film a film truly worthy of the word masterpiece, if we haven’t raped that word of its exclusivity already.