Kuttavum Shikshayum: A Hyper-Detailed Procedural Where The Mundane Becomes Extraordinary

It’s Kuttavum Shikshayum’s devotion to realism that gives it an edge over other films of the genre

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Cast: Asif Ali, Sunny Wayne, Alencier Ley Lopez, Sharaf U Dheen

Director: Rajeev Ravi

The opening few minutes of Rajeev Ravi’s Kuttavum Shikshayum is perhaps the only stretch where it feels like the film’s trying hard to get you to notice its cleverness. After a nightmare that wakes up a guilt-ridden CI Sajan Philip (an excellent Asif Ali) mid-sleep, we switch over to another part of town as a robbery is taking place. A jewellery shop is being broken into and we see the event from a distance, as though we’re watching it on the CCTV cameras from across the road. It’s all objectively un-cinematic, making sure glamorous terms like ‘heist’ or ‘burglary’ never cross your mind. Yet uncharacteristically, this stretch ends with a wide shot that forces you to notice a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, watching over the incident in an effort to underline the obvious irony on display.

It feels unnatural in a film that’s otherwise devoted to realism, in all its excruciating detail. It’s this devotion that gives Kuttavum Shikshayum an edge over other films of the genre. Given the limitations of the police procedural, one often finds a synthetic perfection in the way the screenplays get written. Every scene, with its planned opening, middle and end, feels too purposeful to feel organic. And to make a larger point with every scene, at times you sense the scene order the writers “constructed” over several cups of coffee and a shitload of post-it notes.

But in Kuttavum Shikshayum, the filmmaking philosophy has created the room to accommodate even the mundane. It reminds us that a police officer’s job is bureaucratic too, with its share of pencil-pushing and endless haggling with senior officers. This allows for scenes that aren’t just about bringing back the gold thieves from the dangerous terrains of lawless Rajasthan. We’re also with Sajan’s five-member team for the in-between micro-moments where they’re just discussing what the local food has done to their stomachs. A tea break or a shared cigarette is just as important as the shot of the service revolver getting loaded and holstered. An officer watching Tik-Tok videos is as harmonious to the film’s vision as the long drive(s) to the isolated village that’s protecting an ecosystem of criminals.

The same broad plot points led to a completely different film in H Vinoth’s Theeran Adhigaram Ondru. And when a similar idea landed on Lijo Jose Pellishery’s surreal landscape, we got a film like Churuli. Yet we never feel an ounce of déjà vu as we see this concept getting realised through Rajeev Ravi’s eyes. It’s a fascinating experience to be part of because you’re not just being driven by a need to know what’s next. You’re also invested in the rigorous processes that get you there.

Like the ECG graph of a healthy person, the film’s beats never fluctuate beyond minor highs and lows. Even the idea of danger rarely feels imminent enough to cause any major threats to the team. All of this contributes to the film’s larger idea about the numbness one has to hold on to remain in the police force. On one side, you see three junior officers who’re young enough to believe that they can be part of a change. On the other is Basheer (Alencier), weeks away from completing a largely event-free career.

An interaction that really moved me was one between Basheer and Sajan (it’s almost a therapy session) when they’re just drying their clothes. As Basheer opens up to Sajan about life post-retirement, the film gets you to imagine his entire career until now and what his life’s going to be like after, with a few simple dialogues. He says his children are still young and that he needs to get another job to sustain his family. This tiny scene is enough to make bigger points about an officer’s personal life, the inner conflicts, and what they’re left with after years in a stressful profession. Caught somewhere in between these generations is Sajan, neither hopeful of the possibilities of a job he once considered noble, nor jaded enough to fully accept the pointlessness of it all.

The redemption arc too that’s explored, with Sajan overcoming his personal guilt through the course of this case, plays out with the same everyday intensity of a file moving around a government office. It’s not the transformation of a good man fighting his inner demons to become even better. It is perhaps just a man coming to terms with the ways of a system that’s indifferent to a crime, no matter where they fall on the moral line. The world doesn’t get better and neither does Sajan. An officer or a criminal, he realises that he’s just a statistic to the world. So why blame him for finding peace (and good sleep) in the realisation that he himself has become the very System he thought he could change.

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"Vishal Menon: Vishal dropped out of law school to focus on his fondness for film, particularly mainstream Indian cinema. He is a film critic, previously with The Hindu after a stint at Deccan Chronicle and Reuters News. If you thought the book was better than the movie, don’t tell Vishal.."
  
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