In director H Vinoth's Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru, a real life case from the history of the Tamil Nadu police explodes on screen, with all the brutality that has become the hallmark of a cop film.
The film begins with the police's move to digitise case records. An old file finds its way to the hands of a police officer. He gives it a glance, his eyes widen, and he calls up his senior who dealt with the case. Enter Karthi as Theeran, an honest cop who is transferred every now and then because of his penchant for beating up criminals and conducting encounters.
The introduction and the title set up Theeran to be a series and 'Chapter 1', which emerges from the dusty file, is a story of horror and extreme violence that leads to a nationwide manhunt.
Theeran sticks to many of the cliches that we've come to expect from cop films - a wife whose life is endangered, the National Human Rights Commission looking like a bunch of elite jokers, a loyal team that sticks together and so on. However, despite its use of these familiar tropes and lengthy runtime, the gripping screenplay ensures that you are never bored.
Except maybe when Rakul Preet Singh is squealing 'Maama!'. Helpfully, she's called 'Paapa' by the hero - at least, the director doesn't force us to buy the character as an adult woman. Small mercies.There's precious little imagination which has gone into her character and the romance sequences between her and Theeran are a drag. Lines like 'If you want to win over a girl, you have to follow her am and pm even if you are the CM' make you wonder if you've suddenly been transported to a Sivakarthikeyan film.
When the director shakes himself free of these crutches and sinks himself into the story, however, Theeran makes for an absorbing thriller. Based on the real life 'Operation Bawaria' which saw the Tamil Nadu police lock horns with a dreaded dacoit gang from North India, Theeran takes us through the gang's modus operandi and the course of the police investigation.
Though Karthi gets his star moments, the plot doesn't give him easy wins. That police work often involves crawling through mounds of data, dealing with backbreaking red-tape, and eating unfamiliar food (and throwing up) is an admission that the narrative readily makes.
Delving into the problematic territory of Denotified Tribes (DNTs), who were once called Criminal Tribes, Vinoth attempts to give us a history of the Hawarias (fictionalised version of the Bawarias), a nomadic tribe, through graphics. Vinoth is careful to stress that the tribes were once wrongly and unfairly accused of being criminal by birth and also recounts the social ostracism that they faced.
However, given that to date, the DNTs are stereotyped and harassed by law enforcers, the representation of Ohma (Abhimanyu Singh) and his gang as nothing but brutes dehumanises a community that has faced oppression and injustice for decades. The film may be based on real events but perhaps a more balanced representation was called for, one that goes beyond growly voices baying for blood and a bunch of bad men throwing notes at a "nautch" girl.
The action sequences in the film are superbly choreographed, especially the one which leads to the capture of one of the prime members of the gang. The high angle shots reflect the hopelessness and desolation that the men feel as they spend months together in the arid landscapes of the North. The robbery scenes shot in the dark are chilling and make you flinch.
Ghibran's background score is sometimes overly loud. You can barely hear the instructions that Theeran shouts to his team as they get cracking on the chase. Nevertheless, the score adds to the breakneck speed of the screenplay although you do wish for a breather at times (the 'Maama!' scenes don't qualify).
Theeran is a cop film entirely from the perspective of law enforcers and that makes its politics troubling. Nevertheless, given that we've had a slew of films in this genre in recent times (including the now-getting-stale Singam series), its triumph lies in managing to pull off something fresh and original.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.