Director Vetrimaaran’s third film is first and foremost about a serious and ongoing problem in Indian civic society, but in the current world climate it’s hard not to draw parallels between the events of Visaaranai and global politics. Inspired by real events, the film explores the breakdown of habeas corpus as lived experience. It is raw, urgent and essential. Pandi (Dinesh) is a homeless Tamil Indian immigrant working in neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh, unable to speak the local language and working 19 hour days at a news stand.
Ultimately, though, this mid-section slump does little to dampen the film’s searing message, and once the final act kicks into gear, emotion, social commentary and political urgency coalesce into brutal focus. But Vetrimaaran reserves his most devastating scene for the end credits: footage of the real-life Kumar (Raj Pradeesh) – who leaves for home after the four are initially released – now a human rights activist, reveals that an estimated 30% of police cases are still closed with forced confessions. For Indian audiences, Visaaranai is a painful examination of corruption and injustice, and for Western audiences a timely reminder that the democratic checks and balances so easily taken for granted can just as easily be swept from under our feet.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell