IRAI movie review

Director: Rajesh M. Selva

Cast: Sarathkumar, Abishek Shankar

Hill station noir is the new in-thing in the Indian OTT circles, everyone and their boring uncle is making one. Rajesh M Selva’s Irai, the first original on Aha Tamil, starring R Sarathkumar, is one such. It diligently follows the template for hill station noir, to the point of being unimaginative.

Irai is the story of Robert Vasudevan, a cop with a dark past hiding from his true calling. He is invited to investigate the kidnapping of a central minister in the misty hills of Kodaikanal, where he has a traumatic past. If you know crime fiction, you know that soon his personal life will become intertwined with the case, presenting moral conflicts. This is a textbook premise, almost impossible not to work. Yet, Irai doesn’t work.

Much of this can be ascribed to the writing that lacks the slightest semblance of control. For starters, there are multiple timelines shot in various colour palettes that offer little by way of information or interest. Things just happen, on their own, aimlessly. How many times do we need to see the villain as a sexually abusive monster? Why do we need to suffer Robert’s child singing badly on the phone, while he himself is restlessly waiting for it to be over? How long is enough time to watch someone wash pigeon shit off their face, while a kidnapped girl escapes their notice?

The characters are without a soul. Robert himself is written offhandedly. For instance, when we meet him, we see him with a loving wife and daughter. We are told that he’s having mental health issues that he’s popping pills for, but he seems to be functioning just fine. Suddenly, we see him drink from a cask while driving, but we didn’t think of him as an alcoholic yet. In fact, this behaviour never returns. He smokes only in one scene. Little things like this don’t add up and we don’t get a sense of who Robert really is. Despite Sarathkumar’s best efforts, Robert is no Luther. 

Other characters are no better. Robert’s wife Sheeba who strains to speak Malayalam, ACP Anitha who demonstrates no skill — so much so that in one scene, Robert asks her to leave the room while he speaks to a witness, big shady politicians who exist in a vacuum: These people feel distant from the real world, almost unreal. For a series that’s over 240 minutes long, Irai speaks so much but says so little.

The investigation is barely clever. Robert just chases tangents that work out for him at regular intervals. The ending is predictable even before the series really takes off. I don’t even need to offer a spoiler alert here before saying that as is in vogue these days, Robert and Anitha turn rogue cops dishing out vigilante justice.

More worryingly, for a series about child sexual abuse and human trafficking, Irai is rather unempathetically staged. There are several scenes of multiple girls being abused, showing them being taken into a room, the door being closed, walking out in tears etc., demanding the audience to react with disgust and anger. It is almost as if director Rajesh M Selva doesn’t trust the audience to feel disgusted at the very thought of child sexual abuse that he needs to make us see young girls in pain.

Ghibran does his duty by serving a salty cocktail of background scores. For instance, there is upbeat music for Sarathkumar — some mass, if you will — even though we don’t see him as the traditional hero. Editor San Lokesh is extraordinarily generous, leaving in a lot of footage the series could have done well without. 

For all its lack, Irai isn’t ill-intentioned. It wants to raise awareness about child sexual abuse, throw light on its omnipresence, represent more women in its stories, and treat them reasonably well. Yet, without cinematic acumen, its intentions don’t amount to much. It fails to entertain or educate. It ends up being a commonplace crime series that can’t hold the audience attention. So, no amount of hill station or Sarathkumar can save this one.

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