Director: Tharun Moorthy
Cast: Dhanya Ananya, Shine Tom Chacko, Balu Varghese, Lukman Lukku, Vinayakan
There’s no denying the feeling of déjà vu when you get into the thick of things in first-timer Tharun Moorthy’s Operation Java. What made Abrid Shine’s Action Hero Biju (starring Nivin Pauly) feel like a discovery five years ago was its writer had used an episodic narrative to tell what was a simple ‘day-in-the-life-of-a-dutiful-
What this format gave us was a series of incidents or cases that would take up varying lengths in the screenplay with varying degrees of satisfaction for the viewer. While some of these snippets were presented for comedy, other bigger cases handled everything from adultery to theft, suicide to attempted murder, with the most prominent unifying factor being the central character—officer Biju.
The format comes with its own set of risks, the biggest of them being a general indifference to one or two of the sub-plots/cases the film tackles. It’s also important that each of the cases comes with its own set of beginning, middle and ends for the desired effect which then needs to fit into a bigger central plot that holds everything together. Having watched Operation Java and how effectively it uses the format it feels like the 2.0 version to Action Hero Biju that is more like a Beta version.
And that’s due largely to an overall smoothness in the screenwriting. The tonal shifts, even between heavy-duty topics like an MMS clip and a lighter piracy case, are subtle with one case seldom overpowering the other. Call it the effect of multiple rewrites but you don’t notice the design in the way there’s an obvious ascending order in the intensity of the cases being presented before us. For instance, the film first grabs our attention through the Premam piracy case. It’s arguably the most sensational case of this nature, and for a lot of us, the Cyber Cell itself became a mainstay as a result of this case. But it’s surely not going to be easy to sustain a level of interest when we’re dealing with other cyber crimes, right?
Or so we assume, because there’s always a bigger, more interesting case that’s around the corner in Operation Java. You’d think that regular police officers would invariably be dealing with bigger more exciting cases, with the Cyber Cell being called in for smaller/pettier ones. In a sense, it’s like assuming that a film about cyber criminals is like a film about dentists when what you’re really used to are films about complex neurosurgeons. But there’s a lot of drama online too, apparently. From leaked porn clips and the impact it has on a family to how data mining companies operate, the novelty of the cases are such that they’re always engaging, if not also informative.
And when dealing with lighter cases, the comedy kicks in to great effect. We get wild laughs when an older character says his password is simply 1-2-3-4-5-6. The opposite of that follows suit when a teenager has to confess his password in front of his family. What is it? Mother*%$#@!123. Hilarious asides like writing the ATM pin on the debit card or our tendency to reveal OTPs to absolute strangers are referenced. Even while dealing with dangerous cases, these little asides provide relief while also giving us a more a rounded understanding of what really goes on in their office.
Another factor that helps the film is how the lead characters have been written. After Srinath Bhasi’s character in Kappela, here we get another protagonist(s) that’s struggling to find work despite having completed courses. And finally, we get two engineering graduates in Malayalam cinema who are actually passionate about…engineering. Antony (Balu Varghese) and Dasan (Lukman Lukku) only manage to get odd jobs despite their degrees. But unlike other films discussing a similar plight, the protagonists here are not merely worried about the salary, or the lack of it. It’s not really addressing the lack jobs (and money) for qualified people. It goes a step further and talks about the inability of our educational system to lead passionate people towards jobs they are genuinely passionate about. There’s a lot going on at all times but there’s also a great balancing act that ensures we don’t feel the film losing focus.
However, in a couple of instances you feel a certain abruptness or the lack of closure when the film moves on from one case to another. In other places, you feel things getting tied together conveniently, like when a character announces the exact time and location of a certain bus with a criminal, making the chase feel too easy to be true.
Weirdly, there’s even the repetition of a problematic gaze you saw early on in Action Hero Biju. In Operation Java, we get the film’s only prominent female character playing yet another theppukaari while a couple of other female characters and their promiscuity are judged and played up for laughs. While the freaken stereotype became common in Malayalam cinema thanks to Action Hero Biju, we again get a similar gaze when we’re shown characters with a certain hairstyle or outfit or even when they’re being addressed as people hailing from a ‘colony’.
These avoidable inserts are what differentiates this good thriller from a great one. With a few ‘bug fixes’ in subsequent versions we’re likely to see this develop into a series of cyber crime solving, giving us Holmes and Watson for Digital India. In its present form, with great performances by Lukman and Binu Pappu, Operation Java is simple, but powerful.