Pon Manickavel Movie Review: Predictability sinks this cop drama
A mishmash of police films of the future past
When we first meet Nivetha Pethuraj’s Anbarasi in Pon Manickavel, she is on a video call with her cop husband, and is holding a TNPSC book. When was the last time we saw a filmmaker show the wife of a police officer having any ambition of her own? In fact, the film also shows Prabhudeva’s Pon Manickavel as someone who would stay outside his wife’s exam hall and wait for her to complete the exam instead of zooming around the city trying to solve a high-profile murder. A murder that actually made senior officials bring Pon Manickavel out of semi-retirement and thrust the investigation on his disinterested shoulders. The investigation is so lethargic that one of his subordinates is always on the verge of losing it. We can’t really blame him because there is nothing that happens for a long time in this film. Also, just like how the film goes nowhere for a long time, Anbarasi’s “ambition” is just a checkbox, and there is really nothing that the filmmaker does with it, and she is reduced to two songs and one scene.
Director: AC Mugil Chellappan
Cast: Prabhudheva, Nivetha Pethuraj, Suresh Menon, Mahendran
Streaming On: Disney+Hotstar
This surface-level exploration of novelty does more harm than good to Pon Manickavel because the cliches that follow are exasperating. None of the twists are half as thrilling as the makers expect them to be. They are so predictable that it is almost illegal for an investigation thriller to be this formulaic. With the late actor-director Mahendran featuring in a thankless cameo, we know that the film was before the pandemic, and yet, Pon Manickavel feels like a quick lockdown film. Apart from that one exam hall scene, Nivetha’s scenes are only relegated to the confines of the house. There are no more than five characters in a particular scene. There is a sense of dreamy languor in almost every character, their body language, and dialogue delivery. It almost feels like the filmmaker confused slowness to style.
The less said about the investigations the better. In fact, there is a supporting role, played by Madras-fame Charles Vinoth, who does a lot more police work than Pon Manickavel. Of course, there is a twist at the end that ties all these issues together. However, just like every other twist in Pon Manickavel, the predictability of it all sounds the death knell of that arc. Also, the strength of villains is what determines the efficacy of a cop. In Pon Manickavel, we are left with a one-note villain for two-thirds of the film, and one other one-note villain who is shoehorned into the last act, and they are so ineffective that it robs even the semblance of sheen from the titular cop’s characterisation.
It is not that Prabhudeva isn’t convincing as a cop. In fact, it is interesting to see him don the khaki and strut about with a cool demeanour, even if it feels a bit too forced. When he abhors police brutality in the initial few scenes, it felt like an important step forward in our depiction of cop films, but then… of course, the film then goes on to make fun of our naivete.
Be it the plot of bringing back a cop from semi-retirement (the legality is questionable) or double-crossing the double crosser, or the theme of women’s safety, Pon Manickavel is a mishmash of police films of the future past. But that’s not the real problem. It isn’t a crime to be inspired by a bunch of successful films, but it is definitely a crime for an investigative thriller to be trite, and on that count, Pon Manickavel gets caught dead to rights.