Director and Writer: I Ahmed
Cast: Jayam Ravi, Nayanthara, Rahul Bose, Lachu, Narain
Duration: 122 mins
Available in: Theatres
“Man is the most dangerous animal of all” is the quote that director I Ahmed begins Iraivan with. It’s the thesis on which he has built this film. It’s basic but surely befitting to the subject of serial killers, now also a genre that has audiences worldwide watching in arrested enthusiasm. The problem is when a film begins to feel like it was envisioned to play into this “trend” rather than present a not-so-basic perspective on this subject. Why are humans so interested in watching this genre? Why is a particular gender more drawn towards it? There are so many interesting things to explore about storytelling through this subject. But at this rate of enquiry, I might begin projecting my personal vision for a serial killer film rather than reading it for what it is, so I’ll stop here.
This is a film about men who aren’t afraid to play God, in the name of both killing and saving. Bramma (an over-the-top Rahul Bose) is a psychopath who equates killing mosquitoes to killing humans. Arjun (Jayam Ravi) is a trigger-happy cop who takes it upon himself to dish out fatal justice to criminals. Neither of them is capable of feeling fear in their bones. The story is built around someone who is enamoured by these figures, an outlier of society, who seeks validation from both of them in very twisted ways. These are the interesting ideas around which a narrative is executed in an absolutely uninteresting manner.
This is a classic case of a filmmaker not trying anything new beyond the One Big Idea that seems to have inspired him to put this film together. The only image that stuck with me is the father of a victim deciding to join his daughter in another realm, on seeing the horrifying footage of her being killed. I also liked the tiredness in Jayam Ravi’s eyes – a far cry from his sharp gaze as Ponniyin Selvan. He seems to be constantly on his toes too, and this demeanour fits who Arjun is. Presentation is given a lot of importance – the flashy cuts, the deeply saturated grading, cool motion graphics, etc. Beyond this, the film either doesn’t try enough with its emotions or just tries too much to create the atmosphere. Ahmed sure isn’t afraid to drop dead bodies, and there’s a mind-numbing amount of them in this serial killer thriller. There’s not a single secondary character rendered with an emotional beat that we haven’t seen before. There’s no subtlety to the music, the threats or even the gore. Everything is amped up to spell out the mood of a scene.
The women in Arjun’s life are all used as entities that at some point will raise the stakes in his hunt for his serial killer. Let’s not even get into the gaze behind the depiction of female victims. I wish the film understood women as people, rather than roles in a screenplay. The victim. The sister. The nymphomaniac. We see from a mile away that a woman being given more than three seconds of screen time is going to be a victim at some point in the screenplay. Priya (Nayanthara), who is Arjun’s love interest, is shown to be insensitive to his trauma. He’s someone who has seen his brother dying, of course he’s going to be unsettled on receiving a letter that could potentially be from the man who killed his brother. It’s almost annoying to watch her written as being oblivious to who he has become as a person. It’s a shame that it also comes across as if she’s here as a reason for Yuvan Shankar Raja to justify his paycheck.
That lack of emotional logic spills out to the investigation as well. The senior cop is always oblivious to his team’s findings and has to always get a fat exposition dump in conveniently late moments. He scolds his fellow officers and in the very next moment has to awkwardly take back his words because his team was just waiting to be reprimanded to reveal major findings. The climax is also an age-old face-off with someone at knifepoint, with the cops obviously arriving only after stuff goes down. In a ridiculous flashback, Bramma transfers his “killing mosquitoes equals killing humans” psychosis to Babu over a single conversation. There are many such moments that operate on the borderline between true psychopathy and outright parody.
Babu is an eccentric character, with a rather convoluted origin story. Vinoth Kishan plays him to creepy effects, but the material doesn’t offer depth beyond an interesting idea. There’s even a moment built around holding back from revealing Babu as the killer, but the music gives away that Arjun is definitely right about his reading of him. The film doesn’t even want to leave room for us to be surprised. But of course, that’s because the hero can never be wrong! That’s the level of basic we’re operating at through most of Iraivan. The most complex it gets is with how Babu is affected by not getting genuine validation from his self-anointed mentor, Bramma. He is also unsatiated by not getting to see fear on Arjun’s face. He can’t stop his psychopathy unless the latter does show it. I wish the film explored Babu’s ego further. There's a more serious film in there.