Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban Movie Review: An arresting crime drama about a hostile system
A neatly written, hard-hitting film that is almost there
Every new film is a new experience. The two hours on screen is the product of a lot of hard work. So, in a sense, it is blasphemous to compare one film to another while analysing it. However, when a film talks about police violence against a vulnerable section of the society, it will inevitably draw comparisons to Visaranai, especially when Vetrimaaran himself is presenting the film. Add to this the fact that, right from the early promotions, the makers of Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban (KUN) deliberately highlighted the similarities between the two films. This could have adversely affected the viewing experience. But, luckily for KUN, the effect is quite the opposite.
Cast: Suresh Ravi, Raveena Ravi, Mime Gopi, RJ Munna
The protagonist/victim of KUN, Prabhu (an impressive Suresh Ravi) belongs to the middle class, which makes the emotional blow the average theatregoer experiences all that much more hard-hitting. The lead here isn't a weakling; he is the 'hero' we see in all action masala films. He is tall, muscular, and something of a hothead. But this broad-shouldered male, who could take down two men with ease, is stripped down, quite literally, and reduced to a mouse in front of the system. We see him being dragged around, sworn at, and beaten black and blue, all for standing up for what is right. What starts as a simple 'no helmet' turns into something that rips his life apart.
Police brutality like this isn't entirely new to Tamil cinema. We have seen Shankar's heroes go through hell in Kaadhalan, Gentleman, and Anniyan, and Sarathkumar-starrer Aai's central crux is very similar to KUN's. But in all these older films, the hero gets knocked down and reduced to dust only to make his payback feel all the more effective and reassure us that these heroes are indeed above the system. In KUN, though, Prabhu gives in right after the first lathi charge. Even his defensive, reflex steps backfire terribly and push him deeper into the quicksand of misery and pain.
What makes KUN even more interesting and realistic is the inclusion of the character played by Sarath Ravi, with his naivety, fake bravado and lack of exposure to the dark side of the system. Even when a deeply scarred Prabhu, who has been through a night of torture, is sitting beside him, he neither consoles him nor curses their fate. Instead, he starts going on about how the scenario would have been different if he were in Prabhu's place. "Nee edho sadhuva irundhuta machan, naana irundha nadakradhe vera!" he says, masking his insecurities. This character is a representation of most of us, the fortunate ones who haven't seen the dark, heartless side of the system.
Prabhu isn't a loner. He has a family and a helpless wife, who also gets entangled in his suffering. Seeing this defenceless woman suffer and not being able to do anything about it can break even the strongest heart. The effect is amplified thanks to the casting of a relatively fresh face like Raveena Ravi, who we can see as the starry-eyed Indhu without much difficulty. The actor too sells the role with ease. The climax is heavily reliant on her, and she gives a quite satisfactory performance without any missteps.
"Every single entity on this earth has its own flaws," says SuperGood Subramani's character, the only good cop in the film during an important scene, to explain that not all policemen are corrupt and evil. This line applies to cinema too, and this mostly effective film has its share of flaws as well. The romance track of the lead pair hardly adds anything to the proceedings. I would have loved to see them have meaningful conversations probing more into their relationship instead of the 'love songs' with bland compilations of intimate moments that we get. The dialogues turn preachy too often. Whenever someone starts delivering a monologue, the film enters 'Vijaykanth film' territory and we get the character spitting out facts after facts, undermining the tension that has been built up till then.
Even though Subramani's good cop keeps canvassing that there are a lot more like him in the department, we never get to see one even by an accident in KUN. Every person in khaki you see on screen is invariably heartless — even the female cops are like urbanised versions of Dhool's Swarna ka. There are no upright Alex Pandians and Durai Singams, nor vulnerable Sathyavans (Anjathey) and Vishwas (Thirudan Police) in this universe. The pre-credit disclaimer giving shoutouts to honest cops feels meaningless when there is hardly any representation of them on screen.
These flaws aside, Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban is a reminder that content is king and presenting a hard-hitting story is still possible sans any big names. If only this effectively arresting film hadn't falled prey to some commercial compromises and monotonous representation, it could have been so much more.