Thelivupaathaiyin Neesa Thooram review

Director: Aravind
Cast: Rohini, Raghu Raman, Kamalakannan
Language: Tamil
Streaming on: Moviewud

Thelivuppathaiyin Neesa Thooram (TNT),  directed by Aravind, has become controversial. Anandha Vikatan and News Minute reported that the film was rejected by both the Central Board of Film Certification and the Revising Committee. Why? There are few possible reasons.  TNT is a political and investigative thriller that attempts to unearth the conspiracies that resulted in the 1997 communal riots in Coimbatore, which resulted in the death of 18 Muslims. According to the film’s timeline, it all began with the murder of a police constable. And the aftermath of a riot led to the 1998 bomb blasts in Coimbatore which left a lot more people injured and dead. The rift that was created between Hindus and Muslims in Coimbatore continues to this day. 

The characters in TNT, three men, are reflections of the director and his team. They set out to Coimbatore to investigate what is eventually shown to be a politically motivated tragedy.  We get time markers from live events (those happening inside the film) and from the media at the time of the riots and tragedies. For the live part, the film is set in 2015 when someone asks why there are police check posts in Coimbatore seventeen years after the tragedy. In between, throughout the film, we get newspaper images that act as title cards. For example, a page from Thinaboomi on 3.12.1997 has the headline: Kolainagaraaga maari varum kongu maanagaram (Coimbatore is becoming a murder capital).

The crux of the narrative is a series of interviews with people who were either there at the time of the riots or those who were connected to people who were there. Rohini plays the wife of a Muslim man who was set on fire and killed. Through her, we get to know about the plight of Muslims today. Another man says that he started his organisation only after the persecution that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

On the other hand, there are lots of anti-Muslim lines by interviewees. Some of them say that on that fateful evening the Hindus were unarmed and it was Muslims who came with soda bottles and petrol bombs. Meanwhile, the local police catch on to the fact that three men are going around asking potentially dangerous questions and they issue threats to them.

Hindutva outfits, Muslim organisations — all come under the scanner in this piece of docu-fiction, which says communal riots don’t happen overnight. They are planned over time and executed through false propaganda. In other words, it’s all a conspiracy. It’s all about people being manipulated by political and religious organisations. Now I guess we can see why TNT became so controversial?

Given the budget, TNT is surprisingly well-shot. I don’t mean that this is a beautiful looking film. A lot of the images we see seem to be shot through spycams on the bodies of the people doing the investigation. As they tilt or bend, the image does too and sometimes people get left out of the image. So these are, in a sense, very true images, not manufactured or manipulated. These are journalistic images.

The film also has an interesting structure. In a way, it’s an incomplete film. In journalism, you collect the data and edit it to make a story. That’s usually what’s printed or put on film. Here, we only see the data collection process, that is, the interviews being conducted. It’s very different from films that take this data and edit and massage it to present it in a “story” form. TNT is, in a way, an anti-narrative film.

I wish the actors and the lines had been better. It may be docu-fiction but one half of the term is “fiction”. So, I wish that aspect of the film had been shaped better. But the most significant aspect of TNT is this: it’s an important reminder that cinema can be a medium of political journalism.

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