Aminor niggle I’ve always had with our police protagonists — from Moondru Mugam to Yennai Arindhaal — is they are all an embodiment of perfection. They are righteous, handsome, stylish. They are what we can call cinema police. How refreshing then to see inspector Pandian (Natarajan, who drips charm in every frame) look every bit the policeman you’ll probably encounter when returning home after an evening at a pub. His body language is perfect, his English imperfect. But as he says in a scene, “Who needs language when you have body language?” All comparisons with real policemen must end here, for Pandian is corrupt to the core — he accepts bribes, he sleeps with sex workers, he strikes deals with every criminal… heck, he even has a ‘menu card’ at the station where every crime is listed with the appropriate price that it’ll fetch him. The opening scene is a gem. He dreams of putting criminals to the sword and receiving an award. While this may be many policemen’s dream, he wakes up sweating in terror. “Who’ll pay us if we arrest them all?” he asks.
Director Babu Thooyavan, however, wants us to believe that Nandha (Nandha), the sub inspector, is the protagonist. He is upright, has been transferred 15 times in three months, and gets to mouth lines like, “Police aagardhu ennoda thavam .” Don’t be fooled though because Pandian is the real protagonist. He’s the one who keeps the film moving and us entertained. He even has an opening song. While the song is quite bad, for once, the lyrics of an opening number are downright demeaning of the protagonist, in stark contrast to all the laudatory lyrics we have had to stomach for so many years. The scenes that have him refer to Nandha’s integrity as a disease that must soon be cured are a riot. In a long time, you have a film where you hope no harm befalls an utterly corrupt, debase man.
Both Nandha and Pandiyan have love tracks, and here too, you prefer the latter’s. Nandha’s is the love story you see all the time in police films like Saamy — an innocent, chirpy girl (Sanam Shetty) falling for a righteous man. Pandiyan’s, despite being evocative of ideas you have seen in films like Nayakan , is more interesting, more controversial. A sex worker is in love with him. I even found myself thinking of Sonya’s unrequited love — for the most part, at least — for Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment .
Katham Katham has many flaws — chief among them is its music. Every once in a while, you’re rudely interrupted by a bad song — some that have skimpily clad women, shaking their belly like a bowlful of jelly. Also, for a police film, it’s crucial to have a menacing villain, something Katham Katham cannot claim to have. Its villain is merely an uninspired caricature — the usual power-hungry politician who murders for a hobby. There are also disappointing scenes where women are objectified. When a villain ogles a woman, I think the audience must be trusted to know what they are looking at, without the camera necessarily becoming the villain’s eyes. The real story that could have been fleshed out is the possibility of a bad cop turning good and vice versa. It’s a story of how easily positive can turn negative. It’s a story that even glamorises the negative. That’s perhaps why all the title credits are shown in the foreground of visuals that are treated to the ‘negative’ effect.
If the director had avoided the temptation of including ‘necessary commercial elements’, Katham Katham would have been a quality film. But as Pandian, almost as if he were speaking on the director’s behalf, says, “Awards venaam . Collection vandha podhum .”