Director: Dayal Padmanabhan
Cast: Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Arav, Santhosh prathap, Mahat Raghavendra, Yasar, Vivek Rajagopal
After the opening credits, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar’s Archana, a police officer, arrests two people (played by Santhosh Prathap and Yasar) for engaging in a petty fight in a public place. Two others enter the police station with different complaints — a lost wallet and a missing puppy. And you soon realise that these trifling actions are part of a bigger, violent scheme—a murder execution at the police station.
A flashback is also seamlessly nestled within this sequence, revealing the backstory of the four friends who are plotting the murder. Jai (Mahat Raghavendra), a dear friend of Archana, is killed, leading to parallel revenge stories. Although it is treated superficially, this flashback manages to connect these obvious dots and add an emotional heft. So even when we know that their plan is going to fizzle out, the scenes build a palpable tension and keep you on the edge of your seats, as you wait to know whether they'll succeed or get caught. These final moments of this murder plan are among the better-written and executed ideas in Dayal Padmanabhan’s Maruthi Nagar Police Station, which falters otherwise.
On paper, the film has an intriguing story. It teems with mysterious characters — a corrupt policeman, a threatening gangster, two police officers who want to seek revenge, a group of friends conniving a murder, and a boomer who acts like a Gen Z. The film also focuses on three murders. Yet a deliberate attempt to make each of their hidden intentions as plain as a pikestaff taints the film’s most thrilling moments. For instance, as soon as you see Amit Bhargav’s Gurunathan, a police officer, you can easily scent his evil plans. Similarly, Arav (who gets a proper role to showcase his acting skills) as ACP Nedunchezhian is introduced only halfway through the film yet the very first shot forcibly tells us his motives. But the bigger problem that creates a sense of artificiality is that the other characters in the film do not seem to recognise these obvious deceptions.
In another scene, when the murder weapon is discovered, we are curious to find the real killer. But even before we could build our own theories and draw a suspect list, we are shown the owner of the weapon and how it landed on the crime scene. Likewise, it traps our imagination and curiosity with multiple revelations. So after a point, the film, instead of unfolding as an interesting investigation with multiple twists, becomes a boring paperwork formality.
The characters are also one-dimensional; the gangster is menacing because the film says so, but you do not feel it for yourself. Two partners in crime are easily manipulated to go against each other. A man who is on the verge of getting killed sends one piece of evidence to his friends and the other to his brother (You are dying, just send everything to everyone!), which leads to each of them solving different puzzles to save him.
Besides the convoluted screenplay, the contrived visuals dubbed for the green screen also make awkward peekaboo appearances. Such distractions constantly keep us at a distance from the film's world. This surface-level treatment, in both writing and filmmaking, refrains us from knowing the characters better and rooting for their revenge. Nor are there any threats or lives at stake to keep the film's momentum going.
While films like Witness are trying to create awareness about the issues of manual scavenging and its threat to human lives, it is disappointing to see a sequence in this film where people are made to clean drainage to find a missing weapon. Nor do they wear masks or use safety equipment.
Varalaxmi Sarathkumar as Archana gets a better-etched character and shoulders the film for the most part. She is the braver one who leads the revenge game in the film, and her friends, three men, follow her plan. Without restricting the men to their usual heroic cameos (which Arav gets to do later on), her friends are let to show their vulnerability and fear. And even when things go haywire, Archana keeps her calm and carefully plans the next move.
Though the film is flawed in more ways than one, its templated story of a thriller, a stand-out murder sequence, and convincing performances make it a passable watch. But that is the problem, the film is just passable.