Director: Franklin Jacob
Cast: Samuthirakani, Ineya, Hari Krishnan, Dileepan, GM Sundar, Kavin Jay Babu
Franklin Jacob’s Writer stars a fantastic Samuthirakani and an equally fantastic supporting cast. Samuthirakani plays an aging man named Thangaraj. He has been a lonely cop in a Trichy police station for a long time. When he angers one of his superiors, he gets a punishment posting in Chennai. Now, this word punishment posting itself is strange for a man like Thangaraj because he is the meekest kind of person you can find. You look at him and you think he is an innocent softhearted kind of guy.
What he really wants to do is organise a kind of union where the lowly ranked cops, including him, can get eight hour workdays, and maybe one holiday for every seven or eight days that they work. He wants just these basic things. But then he realises that all the lowly ranked cops are treated only as hit men. In fact, a line goes ‘Police la adhigaram ilaadha ellarume adiyaal thaan’ (Police who don’t have power are only hitmen).
When Thangaraj asks for these holidays and eight hour days, you immediately get an idea of the stress that these people have to endure on a daily basis. The beauty of the screenplay is that the stress that is hinted at here in Thangaraj’s petition becomes a very important plot point later.
The writing, especially the character writing, is very impressive. I’m going to give you a few examples of that. The way a character named Arivazhagan, played by Dileepan, is introduced. He’s a newbie cop, and he works under Thangaraj. It is impressive in not just the way he is introduced but the purpose of the character and also the little bit of disillusionment that he feels in the middle. Everything gives you the sense of a very small art being narrated. There are also two women in the film – one is mature and calm, the other is younger, more sharp tongue and volatile. Again, these women and the way they’ve been portrayed, everything comes together with the efficiency of a jigsaw puzzle. Because nothing is narrated directly to us or in our face right at the beginning. In other words, here is a director who does not want to spoon feed his audience.
The style and making of the film is also very interesting. Take a scene where Thangaraj’s union petition is torn up by a superior officer. The man tears up the document into pieces that makes you understand, but then he goes one step ahead, and he sets fire to it. In another movie, we would call this needless melodrama to milk the audience’s sympathy. But here the director and his fantastic cinematographer Pratheep Kaliraja treat the whole thing like a docudrama and an accidental procedural.
This act of tearing and then burning itself does not come across as melodramatic as much as something that is systematically oppressive. I say accidental procedural because like a procedural there is a step by step investigation into why a young Dalit Christian youth named Devakumar, played by Hari Krishnan, has been kept in custody. He himself doesn’t know and we also don’t know. Because remember, the director is not spoon feeding us, right?
But the answers to these questions are not obtained by some supercop method, like let’s say the Raghavan instinct or something like that. The answers are got by trust and basic decency. And this is one of the loveliest points of the film. Ordinary people, especially oppressed people, just do not trust cops and do not have faith in cops. In order to gain Devakumar’s faith, Thangaraj has to first prove that he’s a good man and not a corrupt cop. He has to prove that Devakumar can trust him that he has some innate decency. Now the joke, if you want to call it that or maybe a black humour, is that Thangaraj is not all decent. Because there is this one point where his superior asks him to manufacture a crime scene. This guy goes about writing it as though he’s writing a novel, because he gets great praise for the way he writes. He takes the cliches out of the original premise and writes a new premise for a crime scene and the flat docudrama treatment makes it all look very real.
There is no fancy lighting or showy camera moves. Of course, I love these things when they happen in other films that kind of deserve them. But here the whole point is that we are not being treated to a fiction film. We are kind of given the impression that we are being immersed in a particular world that already exists and this is that natural world we are being immersed into. Even the chases are not edited to be thrilling. They play out like how the chase would play out in real life. For example, I’ll give you the scene where there is a camera move between two streets – one where Thangaraj is hiding and one where cops are looking for him. When the camera moves from right to left, you see the other guys and you know from years of thriller movie watching that when the camera moves back from left to right and when it pans back, Thangaraj is not going to be there, but this is not treated like a nail biting incident.
Slowly bit by bit the information around Devakumar is revealed and gradually the character assumes a three dimensional personality. Now this is the film from Pa Ranjith’s Neelam production. So we know what Devakumar’s circumstances are going to be like. In fact, when we see him a bit from his village in a flashback, we see that he is the first person from his community from his Dalit community to go to college. But there is also a little bit of a family drama that kind of informs what background he’s from, because his sister in law has raised him. When he goes back from Chennai to his village, she yells at him. She’s probably one of those women who thinks this is our life, this is what we are doomed to and what are you going to do? What are you going to achieve by going to college? Why are you wasting this family’s money, draining all the reserves that we have by saying you want to go to college?
That is a logic and that is one very small human conflict among several, but the main conflicts in the movie are two. One is between the ordinary people and especially the oppressed people with the men in Khaki. The second conflict is within the khaki system itself, where the oppressed classes and castes remain oppressed by the dominant men who are always going to be their superiors.
In fact, there is a line that says “the police were invented to do the bidding and to serve the colonisers and the ruling classes.” All the actors are super; Samuthirakani plays a tired, aging and frustrated man with such conviction that you kind of want him to get a good ending. You want him to be the hero cop that we usually find in Tamil cinema. But because of the docudrama nature of the film, you know at the back of your mind that he’s not going to get that. You know that even if he probably does a heroic act, he is not going to end up a hero.
GM Sundar is wonderful as a lawyer. But the person who really takes the movie away and steals the movie is this actor called Kavin Jay Babu, who plays a North Indian cop. He is just fantastic, he nails the accent and the body language.
It is one of the best performances I’ve seen in years. I had a few issues and there are a few rough edges, especially in the character played by Ineya. I was initially very impressed by the character. She is a very bold person, and there is a rebel inside her. She is also a cop, a lowly cop, but what happens to her is the only part of the movie where it moves away from this docudrama style and becomes pure melodrama. This kind of sticks out a little but these are very small flaws.
This is a very impressive debut. Franklin Jacob shows that he really knows how to write characters and scenes. There is a lot of reference to real life things like the RTI Act, but none of this is used for a lecture or a message. It all just tumbles out in the midst of a series of incidents and that is the best kind of screenwriting you can find. I also like the touch that Devakumar could be his (Thangaraj) son’s age. He doesn’t have a son that age and the kind of father-son dynamic that plays out between them, where he tries to almost say, “Listen boy, I know you’re in trouble and let me help you.” That was enormously touching.
These are the little life touches that make us really buy into characters and they are all over the place. In fact, at the end, I was glad I hadn’t yet made up my top 10 list of films of the year because Writer is definitely one of the best films of the year.