Director: SG Charles
As a member of the audience, where should our loyalties lie when the film is being explained to us by a series of unreliable narrators? The leads in Lockup are not exactly people whose words you can trust, and the obvious game of one-upmanship being played in the background makes sure that we take every incident with a pinch of salt. That’s the dilemma we experience while watching a film populated by characters whose moral compasses need some serious fixing.
Through the eyes of police constable Vasanth (Vaibhav), we enter the police station the day after the murder of the main inspector. The case becomes more complicated when a missing person complaint is filed the same day. Raising the stakes further in this whodunit is the fact that another police officer Murthy (Venkat Prabhu) needs to solve this case to get a promotion, just like how Vasanth himself needs a promotion to get married to his longtime girlfriend.
Both their questionable natures are revealed to us early on. Vasanth, who has a picture of Mahatma Gandhi hanging in his house, looks closely at the mirror as though he doesn’t recognise the person he is looking at. Murthy, on the other hand, is more comfortable in his skin as the hardened officer who knows the nature of the profession he is stuck in. In one of his dialogues, he tells Vasanth that fear is a feeling experienced only by people who expect happiness. As someone who looks at life itself as a burden, Murthy has no qualms doing whatever it takes to get ahead.
Unlike Vikram Vedha, where we try to understand the greys in both the leads, here it’s quite the opposite. It’s not about the good versus the bad. It’s more a battle between bad versus evil. But that’s only a part of what makes the film different. A crime has been committed, everyone’s complicit and it’s a thin line that separates the officers from promotion or a life in the lockup.
Told through a series of flashbacks, the film demands our complete attention as we piece together the reality using a series of truths and half-truths that form the events of that night. But unlike other films that use the Rashomon Effect to great effect, in Lockup there’s always an element of deception that makes it really hard for us to piece together the puzzle.
Vital details are hidden or rushed over to the point where things only start to make sense when everything is explained in a hurry in one stretch towards the end. For instance, a particular knife and the blood stains on it forms an important clue. But this information is something we need to remember until much later before we realise why it’s so important to the case.
In other stretches, the writing falters and ties the loose ends far too conveniently. How does the film finally shift gears towards the climax? Oh, that’s when Vasanth just walks in on two people planning their revenge against him. How does a character get caught stealing? Because she walks into a room when the camera is already recording an intimate moment.
It’s not that these scenes are in any way implausible, but it’s the overall rough back-and-forth nature of the screenplay that takes its toll on us. But given that the film never takes the audience lightly, there’s also a rewarding payoff towards the end. Weeks after disastrous films such as Cocktail and Danny, ZEE5 finally seems to have gotten it right with Lockup. It’s cynical, convoluted and a tad too ambitious, but it’s also fun like a game of sudoku.