Director: Franklin Jacob
Cast: Ineya, Samuthirakani, Hari Krishnan, Rajan, Dileepan, GM Sundar
My father died on board a Bangalore-Chennai Shatabdi train. And so the machinery ground into action. Because he was on a train, the Railway police had jurisdiction and they demanded a post mortem. And so I came into contact with the Bangalore City railway station's police writer, sitting at his desk inside the station on platform 6.
I had to tell him the family situation, how and why my dad was on board the train. Basic, routine info.
He then read out his statement. He had turned my siblings and I – your regular everyday dysfunctional set of people, yes we loved and admired each other but that was just because we didn't know what else to do with each other – into something that Narnia will have a gag reflex with. More purple prose than on my first blog. We hadn't simply lost a father, the universe had conspired and fate had staged an elaborate drama to snatch from our lives all hope.
I mean, it was true. In degrees. Except to hear some policeman say this in the middle of a noisy and dusty railway station was a bit jarring. Absurd even.
This is what I remembered when I was trying to recollect my thoughts on Franklin Jacob's debut film, Writer. Produced by Pa Ranjith's Neelam production, starring Samuthirakani, Hari Krishnan, Ineya, Dileepan and others, Writer talks of police excess, a remorseless and impersonal system that punches down on the powerless, the daily struggle of those caught both inside the system and outside it and more.
It's hard to see a film and not immediately place it in the context of other films you've seen. Tamil cinema has always made films about policemen, and star cops. About those upright protectors of law. Oftentimes it is advertising and propaganda, sometimes good cinema. And then we have films like Visaranai, Jai Bhim, Kalathoor Gramam and Karnan.
It's hard to not see a film in the context in which it is made and released. When everyday news tells us of police action against activists, those fighting to keep a powerful state accountable, and against the oppressed trying to simply identify their oppressors. In Salem, Toothukudi, Bombay, Bastar and New Delhi, every assertion of civic rights is met with police action.
This is where Franklin Jacob's Writer sits. Thangaraj (Samuthirakani), the writer – a small powerless cog in the police machine, wants to be different. In an early scene he tells a protege that the Indian police force was created to serve the white colonialists, protect them against the people of the land. Later they continue to serve the powerful and the oppressors. He asks Arivazhagan (Dileepan) to be compassionate to the people he meets daily.
For most parts Thangaraj is. He fights for a union of the rank and file in the force, he tries to pay for his food and drink from local eateries. He attempts to do justice, in his limited capacity, to the cases and people he handles.
How this man becomes, inadvertently perhaps but still directly, the reason a young PhD student dies caught between the wheels of the police machinery, is the film.
Writer and director Franklin Jacob slowly builds this story up. Till pretty much two-thirds of the film, we don't know why Devakumar (Hari Krishnan) is arrested by the police. Or why there is so much pressure on the small frys in the system to close this case.
We are set up for a backstory but then it's cleverly or perhaps cunningly, held back. Devakumar himself doesn't know what crime he has committed and so how can he reveal it to us?
This isn't a crime thriller, so before long we find out what the crime is: an RTI application. Thangaraj has to piece this together. And he discovers his own role in why Devakumar is where he is. And this brings – at least for Thangaraj – the story full circle.
And why I flashed back to the policeman on platform 6 of the KSR Bengaluru City railway station
The film tries to show the other side of Visaranai. Perhaps the other side of Jai Bhim. And has characters who could fit right into Karnan. It tries to talk about something none of these films have: the mental health of the people who have to carry out the state's dirty work. The people who are told, over and over again, just follow orders.
Unfortunately, this is not a topic that is explored in much detail in the film. There's a glimpse of it – from Thangaraj's fight for a union. There's a passing mention of it to explain Devakumar's crime. And then we are presented with the story of Saranya (Ineya) and her fight against her bosses.
We don't spend any time on any of these, which is a pity. We could have done with a little bit more depth to the tale of Saranya. Or explored why Devakumar wanted to study police officers and their mental health.
But we get back to Thangaraj and his guilt.
Right at the end, Thangaraj, now a prison inmate, begs forgiveness of Xavier, Devakumar's brother. Xavier doesn't know why, perhaps doesn't want to. But Thangaraj breaks down. And so Xavier gives in, and blesses Thangaraj.
Perhaps that is what this film is. A policeman's remorse – perhaps a police force's remorse?