Sunday, April 17, 2022

Taanakkaran: A Colonial police legacy

 In many quarters the police have a bad reputation.  "Taanakkar," (2022) a Tamil film shows a colonial legacy that did deserve a bad reputation, but also reveals a positive view of police that is an ideal.  For the bulk of the movie you will be disgusted at how different aspects of policing have tarnished their image.

This was a highly rated movie that I felt uncomfortable watching.  Sure, lots of movies show bad situations that are meant to be overcome.  Researching I learned this was based on real events.

But first it is explained that in British colonial times, the colonizers were encountering violent resistance.  In 1857 the Sepoy mutiny threw authorities into a panic.  By 1861 they had implemented a program to forcibly recruit Indian youths for local police.  They were not allowed to talk to groups, meet friends or read or write.  As a distraction they instituted competitions for parade marching that were intended to be brutal with extra drills (ED in the film) that would induce some to run away.  As incentives the prizes included rice for eating and alcohol as well as titles and other honors. This worked well for the British.  After independence the practices were carried on because it suited politicians and police establishment.  Bribery to the trainers had become part of the process.

When the story begins set in 1998 after the explanation we encounter a group of men who want to join the police force for various reasons, but many of them are poorly qualified partly because originally they had passed, but not been able to join the police for political reasons many years previous.  They are forced to train for a marching contest which might seem innocent enough, but the process is very brutal.  The protagonist, Arivu forces himself to restrain from over-reacting and is subject to more extreme brutality.  One prospect dies from exhaustion and another commits suicide. 

The men do have different motivations--a few said to get bribes, others to beat protesters and  a few to support their poor family.  Gradually we learn the motivation of the protagonist which boils down to a dying request from his father when he was very young.

His father pointed out that a police man is the first person sought when citizens encounters a problem.  Arrivu is a very strong man who encounters a great deal of unfairness.  

In British North America our situation is different.  Still the police have their history and we have received some excellent critical policing, but the news is able to find lots to criticize.  Some protesters have urged defunding the police, while others perhaps more sophisticated that many of the situations the police are confronted with require different training.

"Taanakkaran" portrays an unhealthy situation that has been rectified.  By showing an ideal it suggests we should find better solutions to policing which certainly does contribute to society.

Tamil cinema has found that violence is useful to draw an audience.  Although this one certainly has a lot of violence it makes a good point in an effective manner.  Lately I have enjoyed a number of Tamil movies that also effectively make good points.  I wish I had more access to the background of making this film, but would note some of the people involved.

This was first movie directed by Tamizeh.

Music from  Ghibran who since 2002 has done music for over 50 films including ""Maara" (2021)

Madhesh Manickam handled the cinematography.

Philomin Raj was the editor.  He has been involved with such films as "Mandela" (2021) and "Jai Bhim" (2021), two favorites.   Check:

Vikram Prabhu played the protagonist, Arrivu.  He studied in San Diego earning an M.B.A. and came back to Chennai to help in the production department of family's film business.

 Anjali Nair played a romantic interest

M.S. Bhaskar played one of the bad guys.  Has appeared in "Sometimes" (2016) and "Jai Bhim" (2021), my favorite for that year.

Lal played  the meaness trainer, Essa Moorthy.  He has been seen in"Thottappan" (2019) and "Pulimurugan" (2016).  Also a prolific writer, director and producer.  As writer he did the script for "Heri Pheri" (2000).

Parts of the movie are difficult to stomach as much of the brutality is senseless, however they do get to the point and for me it was important.  Police have an important job and deserve more support.  The support is more than wages and benefits, but includes training.  In the movie Arrivu argues instead of the pointless brutality they could be learning something more useful such as psychology, sociology and mediation. 

Tamil cinema has made great strides and I am finding more worth viewing.

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