Director: Roby Varghese Raj
Story: Muhammed Shafi
Screenplay & Dialogues: Rony David Raj & Muhammed Shafi
Cast: Mammootty, Kishore, Vijayaraghavan, Rony David Raj, Azeez Nedumangad and Shabareesh Varma
The opening sequence of Roby Varghese Raj’s Kannur Squad is arguably the only instance in which the film’s hyper-detailing takes you away from the people on screen. Parked in a white Tata Sumo in the middle of nowhere is a team of four undercover officers who appear to be waiting for someone important. The sequence is so meticulously written that you’re constantly grasping more information than you think. Yet in the middle of this near-perfect opening for the film we’re about to see, we hear a song playing in the radio. It’s Ilaiyaraaja’s ‘Kalyana Then Nila’, in a meta nod to the superstar seated in the front. In a regular star vehicle, this bit of self-referentiality is something you’ve come to expect. But in a film like Kannur Squad, you feel like you’re being primed for something different. By the end of it, you come out thinking you’ve watched the most gentlemanly mass action movie ever made.
It appears as though the writers have found the perfect balance to make a film that will remain entertaining to the masses without diluting its ambitions to become a “pure” procedural. It’s as though the makers were obsessed with a film like Rajeev Ravi’s Kuttavum Shikshayum (2022) and set out to retrofit just enough massy elements for the film to reach a wider audience. Even the basic plot remains the same with a tight group of police officers having to scout the entire country in pursuit of two fugitives. But with pages of details poured into each situation, we feel like we’ve become a part of the squad, right down to the everydayness of a week-long chase.
An example of this comes in the way senior officials depute George (Mammooty) and his team to find the murderers in a high-profile politically sensitive case. Considered unsolvable until that point, the seniors give them just 10 days to return with the culprits. But despite this tension and the lack of time, you get a sense of how the system functions when George is asked to take either a train or a bus to reach a godforsaken village in east Uttar Pradesh. The reason is of course the hierarchy that prevents officers below a certain rank from claiming such expenses. Yet it speaks about the actual foot soldiers who get little to no support to do their work, while being commanded by people tucked comfortably away in isolation.
The film makes an excellent case for this in the way one of the squad members has been portrayed. Played by the film’s co-writer Rony David Raj himself, he is an officer who gets caught for accepting a bribe. In the usual film, you expect this subplot to either lead to Rony proving his innocence or his redemption after accepting his crime. But when you finally get to the payoff for this bit of detail, you understand how deeply they’ve understood each of the central characters in the film. So when a character casually credits George’s bachelorhood for his ability to remain carefree and courageous, you understand how heroism in the life of an ordinary police officer is a luxury item.
It’s this microscopic gaze into each person and event that gives you the feeling that you’re watching a police procedural like this for the first time. And even when the film begins to slow down in its obsessive need to underline every single event, it has a way of surprising you by slowly increasing the fun by throwing in an elaborate fight sequence or by dismantling the tension by adding a bit of comedy. This tonal shift works wonders when it’s done without diluting the realism of the film. But when it goes a tad overboard, including the one instance when Mammooty delivers a complex punch dialogue to two people who only speak in Hindi, you understand that the actor is speaking more to his fans than to the characters.
It also helps that the film’s cinematographer Mohammad Rahil finds a way to keep his work mostly invisible as we see these officers go through the drudgery of their labour. Yet when it comes to sequences that require a bit of style, Rahil’s frames switch effortlessly without making you feel like you’re watching a totally different film. Equally unobtrusive is Sushin Shyam’s music which only supports the tone of the scene we’re watching, without even overpowering its essence. Miraculously, Mammooty manages to find a completely new way to create a new police character even if it may well be his 100th such. When aided by a strong support cast and one seriously menacing villain, Kannur Squad develops into a meticulously detailed procedural that is clever enough to go all guns blazing for its superstar when needed. What more can you say about a film in which a Tata Sumo gets you to feel more than actual people do?