Director: A. C. Mugil Chellappan
Cast: Prabhu Deva, Nivetha Pethuraj, Suresh Chandra Menon, Mahendran, Sudhanshu Pandey
Reviewing an OTT film is always a test of self-control for me. Is it okay to pause and go to make myself a cup of tea? Can I reply to a text in the middle of the film? Worst of all, am I still a professional if I fast-forward the songs? None of these are even choices while watching a film in a theatre. The worst behaviour I allow myself there is eating popcorn. But, at home, in front of a TV, remote in hand, every film is difficult. Pon Manickavel has been a true agni-paritchai.
Writer-director A. C. Mugil Chellappan’s Pon Manickavel is the story of an incompetent cop (Prabhu Deva) from Salem, who lets his gun be snatched by a laywoman, inside the court premises, with which she shoots herself. He’s sent to jail for it. A few months later, his seniors, for some bizarre reason, hail him to heaven and assign him to a high-profile murder in Chennai. “I don’t want any interference,” he says, asserting that he takes orders from no one. His superiors agree, I cannot fathom why. He takes the case on and drags it about with his incompetence. The only ineptitude that supersedes the hero’s is the filmmaker’s.
To begin with, Pon Manickavel is not a new/fresh/innovative film by any means. In fact, no one has any expectation that it would be. What we do expect from a police procedural is, perhaps, some police and some procedure. This one has a lot of men in police uniform. Procedure, on the other hand, is rather flimsy.
This is the film which makes comparisons between the Scotland Yard and Tamilnadu police twice. It is also the film in which when a sniper shoots at someone, a senior cop rushes to investigate by putting his eye into the small hole the bullet made in a large glass wall! It is the film in which a high court judge is decapitated and thrown at his doorstep in the early hours of the morning and no one hears anything — in fact, two women come running suddenly and begin wailing at the body much after the murder. It is the film where the righteous cop dances in an item number to gain favours with the villain. The film is brimming with incompetent police work that Scotland Yard could sue for defamation. In fact, even Tamilnadu police would have reason to.
The entire first half goes in building up the cop — his love for his wife, his addiction to tea, some farming or cattle herding or something he’s interested in, his sense of brotherhood with fellow cops and so on. There are some half-assed jokes about politics and bureaucracy, but the film is so superficial that I had trouble taking them seriously.
Then, suddenly, the film starts shedding buckets and buckets of crocodile tears for victims of sexual violence. It goes through not one, but two rapes, both of which the hero is too incompetent to bring to democratic justice. There are long excruciating depictions of sexual violence set to loud manipulative music.
Apart from using it as an excuse to unleash gratuitous violence on the world, this film doesn’t care much about those women, or women in general at all. There is not a single woman who is a cop or contributes to the investigation or takes any worthwhile action in the film. Pon Manickavel’s wife (a poor Nivetha Pethuraj) is seen making dosa, preparing dinner menu, being cute etc. while struggling to pass her exams. They also talk about making children after she graduates.
On the other hand, the men keep making strange decisions. In a horrifying turn of events, Manickavel rescues a victim of sexual violence and takes her to his house instead of a hospital. Apparently, all that a woman who has suffered violence and torture needs is another woman giving her a glass of water and telling her that the man is front of her is like her “brother.” To absolutely no one’s surprise, Pon Manickavel’s solution for violence against women is…to kill them all. In fact, the central question in the film is, “why do cops have guns if not to kill rapists?” If you still haven’t realised, it’s rhetorical.
Pon Manickavel is yet another addition to a long line of men in uniform with an insatiable god-complex — a trend that should worry us all. But, thankfully, the film is unwatchable. So, most likely, its impact on public consciousness will be minimal.