Viduthalai Review: Powerful yet redundant take on police brutality

Released on March 31, Viduthalai Part 1 is a Tamil-language period crime thriller film written and directed by Vetrimaaran

Viduthalai Part 1 Promotional Poster (Source: IMDb)
Viduthalai Part 1 Promotional Poster (Source: IMDb)

Subhash K Jha

Director Vetrimaaran is to Tamil cinema what Anurag Kashyap attempts to be for Hindi cinema. His hard hitting, raw, and blunt indictment of a corrupt and insensitive establishment has often labeled Vetrimaaran as a “rebel with a cause”.

However, with Vidhuthalai, I really feel that it’s time for a pause. We have seen enough police brutality and social inequality in Vetrimaaran’s cinema. In Vidhuthalai, a lot of it appears redundant: not in the social but cinematic context. In how many ways can the director show tribals being showered with lathi blows by cops who seem to enjoy hearing the downtrodden whimpering and shrieking pain?

In Vetrimaaran’s Visaranai (2016) police torture was carried to the extreme. The audience felt so immersed in the lockup torture it felt as if we had committed some unknown crime.

This is exactly what Vetrimaran’s wants us to feel while watching tribals from the forests being picked up and thrashed mercilessly.The women are stripped and vilified. It all begins to seem more oppressive than immersive after a while. It is more of a homage to homicide than a mirror image of a society based on inequality.

The one bright spark in the dark is the constable Kumaresan, played with splendid self-deprecatory energy by Soori, who is the lone sheep among the howling wolves of the task force sent into the jungle to nab the Naxals of the 1980s. Kumaresan has a genuine aversion to torture and brutality. Kumaresan is what the director Vetrimaaran is.But neither can hide away from the fascism generated by inequality .

Vetrimaaran wants us, the spectators, to see and hear every thwack of the lathi on the disempowered back. In Viduthalai he brings the women into the police-sanctioned torture chamber. The rites of police excesses on screen are meant to shame not so much the victims of torture on screen as us the mute spectators.

Duly shamed, we cling to Kumarasen for comfort. His tender unconditional romance with a local tribal woman Tamilarasi (played by Bhavani Sre) is like the milk in a hard impenetrable coconut.

Viduthalai is unrelentingly violent. It starts with a lengthy stylish one-shot sequence of a train bombing and ends with a stretched-out shootout where the most-wanted leader of the People’s Army Perumal (Vijay Sethupathi) is apprehended. Hopefully this would be the end of the police torture saga and we will get to see more of Sethupathi's riveting Robin Hood act in the second part of the film. Hopefully in Part 2, Vetrimaaran will focus more on the emotions than the thwacks.

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