Thugs Is A Technically Sound Prison Break Drama That Lacks Feeling

Thugs Is A Technically Sound Prison Break Drama That Lacks Feeling

Hridhu Haroon and Munishkanth are impressive in this drama, despite its almost mechanical film language

Director: Brinda

Cast: Hridhu Haroon, Simha, Munishkanth, RK Suresh, Anaswara Rajan

Brinda Gopal’s Thugs has all the trappings of a clean, sleek prison drama. With its crisp runtime of two hours, the film wastes no time in elaborate introductions. What it instead does with its establishing first few minutes is depict its hero’s complicated psyche with a superbly choreographed action set piece that plays out in slow motion. Sethu (Hridhu Haroon) is the newest recruit at Nagercoil’s unsparing old prison. So, when he is inadvertently caught in the middle of a prison break situation, all eyes are on what kind of an inmate he will turn out to be — the one to flee or help the police? Sam CS’s thumping score makes us sit right up as Priyesh Gurusamy’s camera swerves in the rain to depict the rousing chaos. And just like that Sethu’s moral conundrum is swept to the side for more swagger. This is essentially the bedrock of Thugs. But what really is technique without perceptive writing? 

The film has all the pieces needed to make up an interesting premise. Sethu is not your average, muscular prison joe who is a killing machine. He is a scrawny 24-year-old who does most of the heavy lifting with his intellect. Durai (Simha) is the prison’s reigning king, with a soft spot for his family. And then you have Marudhu, the prison jester played by Munishkanth, who knows the ins and outs of the prison. He also surprises with a heavy dialogue or two when you least expect it. “Thappu panumbodhu maatikita prachana illa. Thappikkambodhu maatina dhan prachana: it’s no problem if you get caught when you do something wrong. It’s when you get caught fleeing the prison that real trouble starts,” he says referring to the messed up power dynamics that prisoners share with their guards. While a few laughs work, a few don’t, including a glaring homophobic joke. But when this gang of misfits do plan to make a run for their lives, things start looking up. An escape plan is excruciatingly executed piece by piece every night, accompanied by gripping sequences. But is the result as amusing as it is on paper?

The film has bits and pieces of what we found invigorating in jail titles Prison Break (2005) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994), both dramas that dealt with escaping captivity and grim realities. But what Thugs doesn’t emulate from these classics is its emotional payoff. So, when Sethu and gang toil together, we only see that through their physicalities, and not through their emotions. As the film keeps moving forward, we keep pulling away from its universe as there is no emotional thread for us to register or care for its tired inmates. Priyesh’s choking closeups capture the increasing claustrophobia and anxiety that the prison atmosphere brings along with it. But this hardly translates into emotions, despite a sincere performance by Haroon. 

But to its credits, Thugs also manages to cram in moments of piercing prison reality. Police brutality is obviously an uncredited character in the drama, but it isn’t grossly overlooked. When Sethu asks a cop why this happens in prisons, an old constable responds, “There are 222 prisoners and 42 cops. You do the math. Fear is everything in such a setup,” he says calmly. In another instance, we see Suruli, a prisoner infantilizing himself for staying out of trouble and his own secret benefit. If only Thugs wasn’t interested in just the thugs of the slammer, it would have perhaps made a unique addition to the genre. 

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