A young man from a marginalised caste dies a few days after a cop from a dominant caste, Rudra Prabhakaran (Richard Rishi), chased him in highway traffic, kicked him to the curb and injured him grievously. The boy's mother is devastated. Media is abuzz about the atrocity. The cop is guilt-ridden. But his boss consoles him saying, "neenga balikada aaydaadhinga" (you don't become the sacrificial lamb).
This scene is exemplary of what writer-director Mohan G's latest Rudra Thandavam is — a self-obsessed lament of the oppressor convincing himself that his violence is benevolent.
Rudra Thandavam is about a disgraced police inspector, Rudra Prabhakaran. Mohan G brings together his research about all the impediments of social justice, and creates his protagonist from it. Rudra Prabhakaran is patriarchy, casteism and fascist bigotry all rolled into one.
He is a violent cop. He channels the authority of a violent state to control his fiefdom. He follows no law. He would do anything to get his way: Even kidnap the wife and daughter of a man he wants to turn into an informer. He fancies himself a benevolent leader. He gets to decide who needs to be punished and who needs to be forgiven. He is the patriarch. He believes it's the right of the parents — and himself — to decide what adults should do. "Sattam namakku saadhagama illa," (the law isn't on our side) he laments to a father who 'pleads' the police inspector to 'return' his daughter who left home out of her own volition.
Mohan G places this caricature in a conveniently simplistic world of unidimensional off-tone characters. There is the token Christian, Joseph Murray (Thambi Ramaiah in earnest form), whose only role is to be amazed at Rudra Prabhakaran's amazingness at regular intervals. There is Varahi (a fair Dharsha Gupta), the pregnant wife with anger issues. There is the mother of the dead youth (Deepa pouring her heart and tears into the role), who is the subject eternally grateful to her protector.
The court-appointed investigator (Y G Mahendran) pretends not to understand Rudra Prabhakaran's crime, which is all in the open for anyone with eyes to see. The criminal lawyer named Indrasena (Radha Ravi) is a walking-talking Hindu-khatre-mein-hai meme. He is angry about the alternative retellings of Hindu mythology, you know the ones that are inconvenient to him told by those he doesn't approve of. But he's perfectly comfortable equating Rudra Prabhakaran's climactic encounter with the villain Vatapi to godly tales.
And then there are all the villains, a collection that Mohan G choses in order to manipulate the viewer. A pastor (a creepy Manobala) who forcefully converts Hindus. A small-time thug who uses local youth for drug distribution and other crimes. A young man, who would go so far as to suppress the real reasons for his brother's death to protect himself. Leaders of minority communities who exploit poor people for personal and political gain. A complicit public prosecutor. The media, which takes money from the bad guys and reports falsities. And most of all, a communist named Vatapi (Gautham Menon), who doubles up as a media-controlling, green-tea-drinking, five-star-hotel-frequenting drug dealer.
Connecting all of these uninteresting characters is the 'narrative' — blatant bigotry and manipulation of judicial processes.
Patriarchy is an underlying theme. The film begins by nearly blaming women for being drugged and violated: "Pub-ku pora pengalukku adikkadi idhu nadakkardhu thaan" (for pub-going women, this is a common occurrence), Rudra Prabhakar says nonchalantly. Without the slightest sense of irony though, he also encourages his undercover colleague to drink something he knows is drugged. Couldn't she help catch criminals without being drugged out of her mind!
In one scene, Joseph Murray refuses to enter Rudra Prabhakaran's house to discuss something because his wife might hear it — apparently, they are protecting their women from hearing about the atrocities happening to other women!
Obvious everyday occurrences are presented as though they're epiphanies. The 'gotcha' moment when Rudra Prabhakaran finds a picture of the dead youth's baptism is shamefully self-congratulatory. In the following scene, Rudra Prabhakaran and Joseph Murray go to meet a pastor. There the pastor calls his associate "Subramani," a Hindu name. Joseph Murray, in surprise, asks him, "Why is he calling you Subramani? Did you not change your name after being Baptised?" To which Subramani responds, "Yes, I used to be Subramania Swamy. I'm now Subramani Arockiasamy." This scene is presented as it brings to question the very legitimacy of the conversion itself, revealing Mohan G's absolute lack of any empathy or understanding of how societies work.
The token representation of Christians and Scheduled Caste persons is especially jarring, when the film hurriedly follows it up with an unempathetic othering of those who don't tow the line. At one point, the defense lawyer Indrasena lectures the court about how scheduled castes have usurped Dr. Ambedkar, while also asserting his own identity as one belonging to the scheduled caste, as well as indicating that he is not like 'others' of his caste. Joseph Murray, the most supportive of all characters, also is made to clarify his loyalty at one point.
Rudra Thandavam is a painfully long attempt at sealioning social justice conversations. It is a deliberately manipulative attempt to reassert oppressive structures, backed only by quotes from WhatsApp. If the real world worked like in Mohan G's fantasies, we would all be begging for mercy from the dominant caste male to live our lives. Thankfully, it doesn't, yet.