Cast: Vishnu Vishal, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Manjima Mohan
Director: Manu Anand
When I started writing all those years ago, I used to live under the delusion that I was a gifted writer. I'd have an idea, write up a few words and send them to a friend proudly. Her response always was, "Ranjani, this needs another three drafts." I thought about it a lot while watching Manu Anand's FIR starring Vishnu Vishal, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Manjima Mohan and others.
FIR is the story of Irfan Ahmed (Vishnu Vishal), an Indian Muslim suspected of being a terrorist mastermind. Writer-director Manu Anand takes the safe route to this story — a hero intro song, friends, mother sentiment, college romance and so on. Almost as if he suddenly realised he's better than that, he moves on to the 'message' part of the film. In the draft that the film is made from, this shift is not only jarring, but also appears half-hearted.
To be fair, FIR undoubtedly tries. Writers Manu Anand and Divyanka Anand Shankar populate the world with some level of diversity — a Tamil man who doesn't speak English or Hindi, a Muslim woman who leads a mission, a female lawyer who stands up for herself, and so on. They show us that they're not entirely blind to their biases.
Yet, FIR is only as good as the (apparently) non-Muslim writers it's written by. The Muslim identity is reduced to namaz, biriyani and being discriminated against. This comes through in two distinctly superficial ways. One is dialogue. Hindus regularly say bigoted things like "are you religious?" or "no wonder, he made a bomb threat." Irfan, Anisha and other Muslim characters repeatedly talk about the discrimination, sometimes offering impassioned lectures.
But more damagingly, the bigotry is assigned to individuals. FIR pretends that the widespread attack against the community is not a deliberate effort by the political powers of today, but the responsibility of unthinking individuals. So much so that there is a Modi lookalike as the Prime Minister, who is not subjected to any scrutiny at all. In this, FIR fails the cause it takes up. It forces its Muslim characters to go out of their way to be exceptional Indians, placing the burden on them to be cleaner than clean, many of whom also die in the process. So, FIR ends up celebrating Muslim martyrdom instead of condemning Hindu bigotry.
If we can look past the good intentions of the message though, FIR is a clumsy film. The track with Prashanth (itisprashanth) is ridiculous. It takes away from the seriousness of what's going on without offering even a semblance of comic relief. I don't know who this track was written for, but it's a terrible misfire.
The twists don't work in the moment, and are long forgotten by the end of the film when they're explained. With another 2-3 drafts, FIR could have been an extraordinary film, leaving crumbs, having us guessing, theorising and engaging more deeply with its text. But the way it is, FIR is just things haphazardly thrown about.
Vishnu Vishal does his darndest best, playing the range from a vulnerable victim to a grieving son to a dreaded terrorist. Gautham Menon does what Gautham Menon does — he is very comfortable as the English-speaking, coat suit-wearing, suave national security advisor. If you're so inclined, there is also an extended voiceover at the end, summarising the film, with some inanities about patriotism. Raiza Wilson gets enough screen time, but her role is reduced to pulling a gun and flashing it awkwardly.
The biggest let down is that the antagonist makes no impact. The casting, performances, writing — nothing tells us anything substantial. When finally the dreaded terrorist is revealed, it's damp. And then the explanation for why the film is called FIR is almost like school kids playing FLAMES.
This is not to say that FIR is a bad film, it isn't. It is just happy to be mediocre. It is the kind of film that doesn't want to try hard enough to be great. And that's a shame.