It baffles me, how even after almost five years since Visaranai's release, I keep returning back to the film. The film has everything that any normal human being wouldn't want to see in their own life. The innocent are trapped, they are physically violated and made to confess a crime they didn't commit, a good cop is forced to commit evil acts and, at the end, almost all the innocent or good-natured characters are murdered, with no justice served to any of them. There isn't a drop of hope in our hearts when the end credits roll, yet the film is considered one of the best works in Vetrimaaran's filmography and in the Tamil cinema of the last decade.
Visaranai is three layers deep. Much has already been said and discussed about the first two layers of the film: the thriller aspect and the political aspect. They are both treated respectfully and are both done extremely well, but the film really soars, for many people like me, because of its third, abstract layer. The layer that is hidden beneath all great films. The layer that depicts our innermost thoughts, fantasies and obsessions on screen and the layer that makes us love a film from the bottom of our hearts.
The characters in the film are pawns placed under a hierarchy of power in The System. The labourers are under the mercy of the police officers. The police officers in turn, are under the mercy of the highly influential politicians.
Inspector Vishveshwara Rao (Ajay Ghosh) tries to frame the labourers because he is under pressure from pawns yielding more power than him in The System. Inspector Muthuvel (Samuthirakani) is forced to disguise K.K.'s (Aadukalam Kishore) murder as suicide for similar reasons, but the most powerful of them all, of whom they are all unanimously under the control of, is Fate.
Anybody who is familiar with Vetrimaaran's works will know how important of a role fate plays in his films. People are dragged or forced into situations for reasons that aren't entirely under their control. Pandi Ravi (Attakathi Dhinesh) and his friends wouldn't have been murdered if Inspector Muthuvel, who had initially saved them, didn't ask them to clean the police station as a favour. The labourers wouldn't owe Muthuvel a favour if they weren't caught and tortured by the police officers in Guntur. They wouldn't have been caught there, in the first place, if there wasn't a robbery in their neighbourhood.
The film drags out from inside us a fear and throws it in our face. This is a thought that evokes anxiety and uncertainty – that the powerful will not only feed on the powerless but they will also get away with it, without any consequences. We are all part of a system that can, at any point, turn against us. We are all under the towering hands of fate that can crush us arbitrarily.
The long takes in the film don't just work because they imbibe in us a sense of fear and anxiety, they also affect us immensely because they make us constantly feel a small amount of hope. There is the hope – that the labourers will escape police brutality, that they will be rescued from the abuse and pain they undergo, that justice will finally be served. Every time they are refused justice, we feel as betrayed as they do.
The film succeeds because we are okay with feeling these terrible emotions in small amounts through a film, where all of it takes place at a distance. We are horrified at what's happening, but it is also a huge relief that we didn't have to go through any of it.
Visaranai is an existential wail against the innumerable injustices and unquantifiable abuse that the powerless undergo in the hands of the powerful, like prey in the hands of a predator. It is an artistic expression of some of our darkest thoughts, fears and ruminations about life and its cold fickleness. The film connects us to the powerless and makes us root for the labourers, and for two hours, we hope for justice and freedom from the tyranny of those who yield more power than ourselves.