If you’ve grown up in any big city, you’d remember the mandatory bus stop that is referred to as PRS. Peer inside and you’d see vast grounds, some greenery and the odd person walking in khakhi or doing some exercise. It was a space you knew nothing about, but passed by every single day.
What director Tamizh does in Taanakkaran, streaming on Disney+ Hotstar, is take you inside that very same PRS (Police Recruit School) for nearly 150 minutes, to experience the hope and crushing disappointment of the recruits and witness spirits and bodies being broken. But, some sort of hope floats too.
Taanakkaran is a good example of a casting director who has done their job well. Is it a film that headlines Vikram Prabhu? It could be, but it is also as much Lal’s film as it is MS Bhaskar’s or Madhusudhan Rao’s. Not one person in the lovely cast, which includes Pavel Navageethan, Bose Venkat and Anjali Nair, really sticks out. They are just a part of Tamizh’s storyscape.
Arivu is one of the many police recruits, including a batch of 100 people selected for the force in the 80s, but sent for their training in 1998, who enters the PRS with the hope of wearing the uniform one day and fulfilling his father’s dream. He’s an MA in Criminology and has a very clear idea about what is right and what is wrong, and what a PRS ought to be doing. He’s the nurturing kind who helps along those who are slow, and he naturally veers towards those older in age and struggling. He cannot stand injustice.
Is a PRS the place to train people for the parade and help them win a contest or a place where young recruits are brought up to date with the requirements of their job? Is it a place where values are instilled or one where they are taught that if they don’t pay a bribe, they’ll suffer? Is the PRS a place where training follows a logic or one where a lone cop is still guarding a former sapling that is now a tree, only because no one really struck down that order? Is it a place where you travel together and grow as a group, or one where the weak ones are dropped out to strengthen the others?
Tamizh yanks you into this set-up, and thanks to Madhesh Manickam’s camera work, Raghavan’s art direction and Philomin Raj’s editing, the relentless monotony of the testosterone-filled world gets to you.
Arivu is trying to make sense of a world where the ‘system’ overrules all logic. Where the commandant openly says that if his son were to win over one of the trainers, he’d still award the trainer, because the trainer is the system. Where the trainers can overrule a commandant who wants more toilets opened for the recruits. Where you are asked to speak up, but punished for exercising that choice.
Two people – the trainer played by MS Bhaskar, who is punished and remains one for decades after he hit a batchmate for calling him names, and Bose Venkat’s Madhi (ironically, the person named after the mind is the only one with heart) – are the only sources of oxygen in Arivu’s life. They help him surmount every challenge and help him see the bigger picture.
In a set up like the PRS, how does the system deal with a person like Arivu, who rarely loses his cool and possesses both physical endurance and largeness of heart? That is what troubles Eswaramoorthy (a brilliant Lal in a one-note character), who is the face of the system. They want obedience, Arivu thinks. And thought threatens custodians of the system.
The dialogues are nuanced, even inspirational at times (especially Madhi’s lines) in their simplicity. Ghibran’s music is unobtrusive, but the songs stick out in a stark film that could have done without them.
Everyone’s been raving about Vikram Prabhu’s portrayal of Arivu, and rightly so. Over the years, we’ve seen the actor struggle to find roles that suit his gentle face, flaring nostrils and general air of dignity. Arivu needs all three to work, and Vikram gives the role his all.
Anjali Nair is good as the cop who takes a shine to Arivu, but her character does not really have a purpose. MS Bhaskar is wonderful as always, a treasure the industry discovers off and on. Lal lends life to Eswaramoorthy, written as a character you’d love to hate. But, it would have been more than just that had some nuance gone into why he’d become what he is. Money does not seem to drive him, only abject discipline. You see the human in him only towards the end when he slips and falters and knows that he’s been given something he does not deserve.
Is Taanakkaran perfect? Not quite. But, is it a necessary film? Yes, in a film world that celebrates violence and encounters and super cops, you need a Writer (directed by Franklin Jacob, starring Samuthirakani) and a Taanakkaran to show you how deep the rot is, and how, even in the sludge, some flowers do bloom.
This Taanakkaran review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.