Director: S Rajkumar
Cast: Cheran, Irfan, Srushti Dange, Nandana Varma and Sarayu Mohan
This must be the season of the social-message thriller. After V1, Rajavukku Check is another thriller that talks about an important social issue — crimes against women. V1 starts off as a thriller before settling down into an exposition about caste; Rajavukku Check starts off with a depiction of what a father goes through when his teenage daughter is kidnapped and molested, and then — very slowly — it becomes a thriller.
It’s not like you can’t make a thriller with a subliminal message. Here, the thriller is subliminal. Most scenes prepare the audience for the message, without moving the plot forward. Raja Senthur Pandi (Cheran) is an alcoholic cop, separated from his wife and daughter Krithika (Nandana Varma) for over 10 years. Krithika is to go abroad to study, and Raja gets to spend 10 days with her before she leaves. What he goes through when she is kidnapped one night makes up most of the film; how he rescues her, the thriller, is tucked away towards the end.
This is also the season of heroes having to handle ‘novel’ health conditions, without any of them having much bearing on the proceedings. Raja is diagnosed with Kleine-Levin syndrome (KLS). He might fall asleep any time, and then not wake up for days at a stretch. You could brush aside the question of how he is still allowed to be a cop, had the syndrome added any tension to the plot. Instead, it is used weakly and inconsistently — an especially virulent strain of flu would have had the same effect, plot-wise.
We are told that KLS can’t be cured or its symptoms managed. But, at one point, when he’s going to nod off, the local doctor simply gives Raja stimulants to keep his brain awake. Raja promptly starts to drink, and yet does not fall asleep. Why slap an arbitrary medical condition on the protagonist of a thriller, when he needs to do little to overcome it?
The film, though, is not really about Raja the cop. It is about what he, as a father, goes through when his daughter is kidnapped. While Cheran and Nandana Varma are earnest and believable as father and daughter, little is shown about the kind of affection they have for each other. All we get is a generic montage song.
We get a lot of details until the interval. One of them is a sketchy flashback, which is actually an entire side story that has been included to set up an unsatisfying twist. It has little relevance to the story of a father desperate to rescue his daughter. We eventually get to the heart of the story: what a father experiences when forced to watch a livestream of his daughter being kidnapped and molested by her male friends. It is here that Cheran the actor shines. His mute, helpless reactions are heart-wrenching, and he superbly shows us various shades of Raja’s anguish.
In a film that is non-judgmental about a father going to a pub with his underage daughter or about the daughter hanging out with her male friends, it is worrying that Raja, in the final expository bits of the film, advises that victims of sexual assault remain silent about their experience to avoid victim-shaming. While this might be practical and well-intentioned up to a limit, it only seems like victim-shaming through the backdoor, especially when suggested by a cop.