'Por Thozhil' movie review: A solid debut built on smart writing
The overall idea must ring familiar to anyone exposed to Hollywood films. A battle-hardened senior cop and an eager, new cop are forced to join hands to solve serial murders.
I have long been an admirer of Sarathkumar’s performances—particularly, his screen presence. He added value to PS-2; he stood unblemished in Varisu; and now, in Por Thozhil, we get more evidence of his performing excellence—thanks to a debutant filmmaker offering much scope to this seasoned actor. In a scene, the actor, playing Loganathan (a veteran cop, scars and all) is taken aback by his new young partner, Prakash (Ashok Selvan), showing unexpected sleuthing ability—but it’s not in his nature to be effusive in praise. Sarathkumar reacts with a small look of surprise, perhaps a half-nod of acknowledgment of Prakash’s good work… Perhaps somewhere in his eyes, there’s a tinge of self-admonishment as well for having judged Prakash too early. All of this comes through without dialogues—and in the briefest of moments. It’s a lovely scene—one of many such little, enjoyable moments in Por Thozhil.
The overall idea must ring familiar to anyone exposed to Hollywood films. A battle-hardened senior cop and an eager, new cop are forced to join hands to solve serial murders… We know not just this idea but also all the tropes within. We know that the duo will struggle for control in the relationship; we know that the junior cop will seek validation that never seems to come from his senior… Por Thozhil knows the joys inherent in this template, but it’s also clever enough to subvert it for pleasant surprises—both in the visuals when it toys with your understanding of events unfolding onscreen, and in the writing, like with the origins story for why Prakash becomes a cop. While the back story may not speak of heroism, there’s enough of it in how Prakash transforms and it’s impressive how all of this is achieved without the reality of this world ever getting broken. The back story, despite being funny, hints at a warmth in Prakash’s childhood that played a part in him turning into a largely well-adjusted individual—never mind his strange bouts of fear.
I liked that Prakash and Loganathan feel like real people with believable strengths. Loganathan has learned from experience and patterns. Prakash is young and has great reflexes, an idea that gets utilised to great satisfaction in the end. The many significant callbacks to small, seemingly insignificant ideas like this, stand testament to some assured writing. In fact, there’s an almost mathematically precise quality to it. Perhaps that’s part of why I kept wishing that the material would be allowed to breathe a bit more. The film gets so caught up with the not-so-riveting procedural aspects of the two cops that it doesn’t quite present us with those offhanded, revelatory moments of conversation between them. Even at a generous 140-odd minutes of running time, I didn’t think I learned too much about the psyches of Prakash and Loganathan—apart from their character outlines that to the credit of the writing, serve a clear narrative purpose.
The film also feels rather music-heavy. In moments where I might have enjoyed more silence, even during the not-so-pressing passages, the music is a constant, eager to impress, eager to keep you from feeling… restless? Silence is such an important part of such police procedures, and I might have better appreciated being left to observe and process some of the work Prakash and Loganathan do. Their work itself feels a tad conveniently written from time to time. An example is when Prakash drops the word ‘experience’ and Loganathan immediately has a revelation associated with the word. As one might imagine, there’s a lot of paperwork going on, and yet, even in a rather real film like this one, I wondered why we don’t really get a sense of how frustrating/time-consuming such work can be. Films seem to present it almost as an exciting task. However, there are subversions in the writing that keep you away from lingering on such fleeting issues. Is the killer who you think he is? Are some of Loganathan’s conclusions entirely accurate? I enjoyed that the film plays off our own instinctive trust of Loganathan; he is fallible and so are we.
Also, each time a cop film is made, given the context of police operations in our society, it’s imperative that we investigate the portrayal of the department. A cop’s relationship with his gun stops being just a point of psychological interest; it’s of social interest too. For fear of spoiling Por Thozhil, I won’t get into details, but it’s interesting that this film, aware enough to show a corrupt cop framing an innocent man, also presents a slightly discomfiting idea at the end. Perhaps because this genre and its tropes are from the West, it was hard not to spot a couple of... homages? When a man is overcoming his fears and a bunch of bats fly away… it’s hard not to think of you-know-what. And later, I thought about it once again when a righteous cop reassures a young boy with an act of kindness that will likely reshape his life. I enjoyed such little touches. Yes, the Veena character could have been better integrated; yes, perhaps it feels like the film is ambling along in some trying middle stretches; but ultimately, the well-done end stretch left me feeling affection for protagonists and even thinking, perhaps, that a sequel might not be a bad idea at all. And that’s the sign of a job well done and an assured debut.
Director: Vignesh Raja
Cast: Sarathkumar, Ashok Selvan, Nikhila Vimal