Theeran Adhigaram Ondru: An overlong but solid cop film, despite flaws

The best bits in Theeran Adhigaram Ondru for me were the jokes. Vinoth’s a director who’s not above having irreverent fun with his material. He did that with his debut film, Sathurangavettai., but here, it must have been harder. This film, based on a true story, is about righteous policemen and ruthless dacoits. On paper, an intense story like this shouldn’t lend naturally to such humour, but Vinoth finds a way to write in some genuinely funny moments. In one scene, DSP Theeran (Karthi, who is immense in the role), who’s been frustrated in his attempts to get any leads in his case, is finally on the cusp of a breakthrough. He needs to capture the bad guy in a crowd, and do this quietly. It’s a serious scene, but Theeran’s idea to shut the guy up after surrounding him with policemen in disguise? Stuff his mouth with a couple of bananas. It’s very hard not to laugh.

Theeran Adhigaram Ondru
Director: H Vinoth
Cast: Karthi, Rakul Preet Singh, Abhimanyu Singh

In that sense, Theeran isn’t your average Tamil cinema cop. It’s made clear right from his training days when he, unlike his colleagues, shows that his investigative techniques aren’t inspired by Tamil films (a dig by the police chief). He believes in observation and analysis, and above all, in using his mouth very little. If Aaruchaamy and Doraisingam decided to do this, we wouldn’t even have one film featuring them, let alone a franchise. Theeran is the sort of cop to throw a quick look at an accident scene and figure who’s at fault. Later, he spends a few minutes at a crime scene and unearths a body that policeman till then failed to spot. Theeran Adhigaram Ondru is what happens when this righteous, intelligent officer meets his match in a gang of dacoits, whose leader, despite apparently hating ‘intelligence’, employs intelligent methods to avoid being caught. It’s a group that gives Theeran sleepless nights, and he just doesn’t get how other policemen are able to eat and sleep, while these criminals are on the prowl.

I enjoyed how Vinoth doesn’t give you instant gratification. Theeran, much like real policemen, has to undergo an almighty struggle before he can come in the vicinity of the guys he’s hunting. Almost an hour into the film, at a crucial, tense juncture, the timing seems perfect for the heroic arrival of Theeran. His wife’s in danger, some people have been killed, and he’s on the way. Another masala film director would announce the arrival with loud background music, and bring you the hero in slo-mo. But Vinoth isn’t done teasing. He gives you the heroic arrival, yes, but not of Theeran. He brings somebody else to equally rousing reception: an adult German Shepherd which has its own tragic back story. It’s a lovely little touch.

So, yes, Theeran Adhigaram Ondru isn’t your usual Tamil cop film, but that sadly doesn’t stop it from being crippled by some usual issues. The love angle is wholly dispensable, regardless of what Theeran’s manipulative voice-over will make you believe. Vinoth tries his best to salvage this track though. He introduces a certain physicality to their relationship that makes proceedings quite lively. Theeran and Priya (Rakul Preet Singh, who’s a sprightly little presence) are all over each other. They are mock-hurting each other, and in one scene when Theeran makes a breakthrough in his case, he shows his elation by biting Priya’s shoulder. Vinoth also milks this track for some humour, but ultimately, little comes of this relationship. It’s hard to empathise with Theeran because even he doesn’t seem particularly perturbed. The occasional apologist voice-over tries to make amends, but after all the work done to establish their relationship, Theeran needed to be shown in more vulnerable, hurt light, in her absence.

Being a policeman, of course, means putting family behind. And the case Theeran handles makes matters worse because he’s forced to lumber across the country. He isn’t in search of a single villain, but a group — one that rather reminded me a lot of the Dothraki in Game of Thrones. This group too lacks a respect for the law of the land, are loyal to one another, operate by their own code of ethics, are obsessed with spoils, and towards the end, are shown to be pretty decent on horses too. Vinoth paints them more in black than in grey though, even if you get a quick voice-over with some impressive vfx work trying to explain why they may have been pushed by circumstances to adapt this way of life. But much like the voice-over in Theeran’s love story, this too seems rushed. But the pillaging scenes are all executed impressively. In one raid, the brutality is almost stylised, as live action melds into sketches. It may be odd to say this, but it is quite beautiful to behold.

Perhaps the biggest problem in Theeran Adhigaram Ondru is how overlong it seems. As Theeran’s chasing the bad guys towards the end, he isn’t the only one exhausted. Part of the love you feel for the film is also watered down by this inability to wrap up things efficiently, and also by the inclusion of disappointing elements like the outdated villain-item-number, which I’d wrongly come to believe was a thing of the past.

I was also rather uncomfortable with all the romanticising of police encounters. In Vinoth’s defence, he’s constantly trying to show how policemen work despite their bosses and the politicians, not because of them; but it’s alarming to see, for instance, how trigger-happy Theeran is. At the end, there’s an emotional argument for why Theeran and team deserve a lot more than they get, but I’m not so sure at all, given some of their interrogation methods, for one. Theeran’s team, among other offences, is guilty of backhanded methods to extend custody of a man whose guilt they are convinced by due to hearsay. In one scene, his boss, the police chief, asks him to close the case by framing two random people. With such people flagrantly misusing authority, it’s ironical that Theeran Adhigaram Ondru romanticises policemen taking the law into their hands, and almost makes a joke out of torture methods that are used to draw confessions. Vinoth expects you to be rather saddened by the job Theeran ends up with eventually, but on some level, I was mildly relieved.

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. “The occasional apologist voice-over tries to make amends, but after all the work done to establish their relationship, Theeran needed to be shown in more vulnerable, hurt light, in her absence.”
    Sure, Vinoth would have done well to do away with the love track but I disagree that the DSP needed to be shown as vulnerable or hurting. It seemed very much in character for him to do the ‘Stiff upper lip’ thing, drown himself in work and power his way through personal trauma. I mean, we are discussing an alpha male who was conditioned to believe that boys don’t cry right and do his duty unto death right?
    I agree that an item number in a film like this sticks out like a sore thumb but strangely enough, I was less squeamish about the questionable interrogation techniques employed as well as the tendency of the DSP to be trigger happy. We can all argue till we are blue in the face about the ethics of it all, but in a very practical sense even brutish, bestial dacoits know all too well that if they are stupid enough to go after a cop’s family there is sure as s**t gonna be hell to pay. I think Mario Puzo explained it best in Godfather. It is a line which even hardened criminals think twice before crossing. And even if these dacoits are not in the least intimidated by cops, the film makes it very clear that there is a far stronger reaction when the more powerful folks in society are the victims. Also I felt Dheeran had no choice but to fight fire with fire and it sucked that he lost so much and got so little by way of recompense…. It was a realistic ending though that showed a certain artistic integrity which I can’t help but respect.

    And how come you said nothing about one of the best antagonists ever? Wasn’t Abhimanyu so devilish it was positively delightful? Loved him in Rakta Charitra too! Karthi and Abhimanyu really make this film work despite it’s flaws by turning in top notch performances. It’s settled then, till STR gets his act together and Vikram his mojo back, these two are going to be my favorites!!

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    1. Either he does or he doesn’t. The problem I had was with the half-hearted montages that tried to cash in on that angle, without ever truly doing justice to it. The fact that the girl’s in a coma on account of his job, and he’s given the occasional montage, so the audience doesn’t judge him for forgetting about her, is the problem.
      On Abhimanyu, sure, yeah, he fit the profile well, I suppose — that of a violent brute. But the villain was more the gang itself than him, no? He was simple the face of it. There were a few others who I remember being as menacing.

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