Indian cinema has always been sympathetic towards the police system for a myriad of reasons. Once in a while we get to see the unsentimental precision in a movie like Visaranai to provoke us to our core about the supposed state of the Indian police force. Vetrimaaran’s hootingly explicit movie was later seen played out for real during the custodial death of a father-son duo in Tuticorin last year.
Martin Prakkat’s Nayattu (Malayalam for The Hunt), available on Netflix, shows us the opposite side of the coin. Three police officers are wrongly accused of murder but no one in the system is willing to clear them.
Just as Praveen Michael (an intense Kunchacko Boban) joins the police force in a small town in Kerala, a local political goon, related to another police officer Sunitha (heartbreakingly innocent Nimisha Sajayan), is summoned to the station. The goon is a trouble-maker, as a Dalit party worker, especially when byelections are the flavour of the season and everyone gets to call the shots. Michael and the hot headed senior policeman Maniyan (the ever reliable Joju George) get into a scuffle with the goon and throw him into the cell amid much brouhaha.
The issue spins out of control however, when the three officers are caught in an accident and go on the run. Nayattu is not a movie where you turn to get your dose of swaggering self-entitlement of policemen.
The movie shows how politics trumps everything and that for political gain any kind of lie can be perpetuated and Kerala is no different. The movie opens with a long scene of Praveen being involved in a tug of war game involving local policemen and we get a microcosmic view of resplendent smalltown Kerala. Prakkat takes his time to set up the characters and the plot’s internal conflict and the audience will still stay invested.
We get another long shot where Maniyan gets his gifted daughter to deliver a dance performance despite Praveen’s hesitancy. Props to Prakkat for keeping this thread alive till the movie’s explosive ending.
The movie gets his heft from the moment the three principal characters are on the run on multiple modes of transport across Kerala. The forensic detail with which these police officers evade multiple check posts is brilliantly done. The movie’s latter half involves a ruthless sleuth who manages to trace down the trio but not before realising the futility of it all.
2021 also gave us another ‘escapist’ movie (something we wouldn’t mind after laying low for months together), Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar. The story is about a suspended Haryanvi police officer Pinky (a slightly disappointing Arjun Kapoor) who has a change of heart and decides to save a successful banker Sandeep Walia (a dolefully inexpressive Parineeti Chopra) instead of killing her as was intended by her own boss.
The movie, available on Amazon Prime, has a gorgeous opening shot where a bunch of kids in Gurgaon are having a joyous car ride in the middle of the night before a flurry of bullets cuts short their trip. I tried to find something even half as effectively terrifying in the rest of the movie and I could only feel the law of diminishing returns kick in.
The titular couple, who are on the run, land in Pithoragarh, a picturesque town near Nepal border. Proceedings get a little interesting with the introduction of Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta as the unwitting old couple who give Sandeep and Pinky the much needed shelter.
One would have expected Banerjee’s first full-length directorial venture in six years to be more of a woozy wonder than just an inert drama involving a couple with the chemistry of a wet towel. Anil Mehta’s ravishing cinematography feels wasted in a movie and can inject only so much infectious positivity if the plot is borderline listless.
Only Jaideep Ahlawat as a corrupt policeman with a snarl infuses some vim into the movie. The movie wouldn’t have looked bad in any other director’s CV but one feels robbed if the film-maker behind some of 21st century most enduring Indian classics like Khosla Ka Ghosla and Shanghai opts to take the easy way out.