Writer Movie Review: Many interesting ideas, but not quite a riveting film
Writer has plenty of important objectives, even if they all don't come together to form an affecting whole
There’s plenty interesting about Writer. It’s interesting that the protagonist is a middle-aged frail policeman, Thangaraj (Samuthirakani), who has somehow held on to his inherent goodness despite being an accessory to distortions of justice for decades. It’s interesting that the main victim of this film is a student, Devakumar (Hari Krishnan), and not just any student, but one who’s a PhD scholar and one who’s a Dalit-Christian. Thangaraj seems to have two wives, two very different women, and it’s interesting that the film doesn’t exactly care to expound on the how and why. Above all, it’s interesting that while films that have the police department in their crosshairs have conventionally pitted them against a do-gooder from the general public, this film’s protagonist is from within the system, someone, in fact, who is an integral part of it.
Director: Franklin Jacob
Cast: Samuthirakani, Hari Krishnan, Kavin Jay Babu
If I will go on to remember Writer, it will be largely for the characterisation of Thangaraj (Samuthirakani). A jaded writer in the police department, he is close to retirement and yet, he is an anomaly in a system of numb workers. He is perhaps a communist; he is keen to create a union for the employees that he hopes might ensure better treatment at work. I liked that this film cared as much, when it might have been easier to vilify them all. And yet, I wish this film had helped us understand a bit more about Thangaraj’s mental makeup. How has he retained that sliver of good conscience? How has he not sold out yet? For lack of any real exploration into who he is, we are left to speculate on some answers. Perhaps the arrival of a young policeman reminded him of who he once was? Perhaps the imminent end of his career has made him less gullible to systemic exploitation? Samuthirakani plays this character with frustration, fatigue, and pent-up anger. You see this all never more than when a boss, younger than him, slaps him early on in the film. And yet, these are but fleeting snapshots of this fascinating man.
Writer seems to have very many objectives to fulfil and doesn’t exactly seem perturbed about whether they emerge organically within its universe. It takes refuge in not one but two ungainly flashbacks to accomplish this. The second one in particular, about the humiliation and abuse of a woman cop, serves only to caricature and simplify the film’s antagonist, a DGP (Kavin Jay Babu, who I rather liked in the role). This power-drunk man comes across as rather complex and intelligent before the film simplifies him as a purely evil man prone to rage issues. The film, as I said, has one too many tasks to accomplish and doesn’t quite have the time to focus on portraits, either of the protagonist or this antagonist. It touches upon many interesting spaces, sure: the problem of hierarchy, the less-known problem of police suicides, the familiar victimisation of vulnerable communities, the symbiotic relationship of the police and the press, caste discrimination, women empowerment… It's a LOT. It’s all important, yes, but in the story of how writer Thangaraj emerges as a hero, they feel like incomplete explorations, for lack of the film being able to bring them together into an affecting whole.
And yet, there’s no denying that there’s a fascinating central message: About how all it takes to ruffle a powerful system is one man who feels discomfort at being an accessory to injustice. In a powerful conversation, a drunk Thangaraj calls his wife to express how uncomfortable he is when his conscience is disturbed. And indeed, isn’t that what truly defines a decent man? These are interesting times in Tamil cinema; these are interesting stories. Look at this film’s protagonist, Thangaraj. He’s not just approaching retirement age; he’s actively mocked for it. He’s physically frail, and he’s morally not exactly white either. He is a person trying to do better—in a sense, like our cinema. And films like Writer, even if they are imperfect steps, are still steps, I think, in the right direction.