Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru – Operation Desert Storm

There is a scene in the second half of the movie where under extreme duress, the police officer Theeran (Karthi in a role that allows him to play to his strengths) just closes his eyes for a moment and gets transported to a world where his wife Priya (Rakul Preet Singh) whispers sweet nothings into his ears.

In the next scene, Theeran and his team nab a dacoit after a high-octane chase sequence.

Call me old-fashioned or just old, but for me it is moments like these, the moments that critics, connoisseurs and even the director himself refers to as ‘compromises’, that hold the movie together.

Cliches exist for a reason.

They work.

It is many a time not about subverting these cliches but how they are repackaged for an ever-evolving audience who are watching movies ranging from ones directed by a Sundar C to Martin Scorcese.

But, to give credit where its due, Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru(TAO) gets its basics right.

TAO is said to be based on a true story.

A story involving a righteous policeman and his team going in pursuit of a ruthless group of dacoits who have plundered and murdered a number of people all across the country.

There are also issues of red-tapism, bureaucratic inefficiency, apathy for the common man and a meet-cute love story for the protagonist because… Tamil Cinema and cliches.

A movie set in the 90s and early noughties with the characters sticking to that time frame and behaving accordingly. Mobile phones are still a rarity, technological advancements in the field of criminology and forensics hasn’t quite reached Tamil Nadu yet.

With a period setting and taking on a true story, TAO has a lot of boxes to tick and the director H Vinoth manages to tick most of them with complete aplomb.

However, for a movie slotted in the action-thriller genre, TAO is found wanting in a few action sequences where the effort is visible but it doesn’t quite have the necessary impact.

Except a long drawn sequence in the climax and a set-piece involving buses and hanging men, the movie fails to capitalise on the buzz garnered with the action sequences in the effectively-cut trailer.

The other minor aberration in an otherwise neatly packaged thriller are the one too many voice-overs that are used to introduce the antagonists led by a scarily effective Abhimanyu Singh.

It is also important to credit the director for taking steps to ensure that the antagonists though (unfairly) painted with general strokes of barbarism and ruthlessness are allowed a sense of sympathy or at least a surface-level understanding as to why they turned out to be that way.

The case itself is for major portions of the movie devoid of any emotional connect with the protagonist and hence what we see is just a group of policemen executing their duty.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

The fact that it is based on a true story makes it even more frightening thinking of how easily one of our names could have been on the list of murdered and looted people.

The sheer randomness sent a chill down the spine.

The deliberate slow-pacing and staging of the scenes sows the seeds of a sense of investment with the investigation and its result. Ghibran’s music along with exceptional production design and cinematography helps achieving the said investment.

But, the police don’t have it easy.

The fatigue and discontentment of a 15-month operation shows in the faces of the cops.

The movie doesn’t allow its cops to take the road oft and easily used. They struggle through dustbowls, gag on untimely food, sweat in searing temperatures of Rajasthan and starve their way to enforce justice.

It might not exactly be reality but this as close as it gets.

TAO is a reminder of how successful policemen are not necessarily beacons of suaveness, rayban-sporting, crisp white shirt and jeans wearing, Royal Enfield driving keepers of justice.

They are prone to errors, led astray by temptations and emotional to the point of shedding copious amounts of tears.

They might drive a TVS 50, wear a wrinkled beige shirt, be pot-bellied, physically weak, but still have the hunger to bring a criminal to justice and keep the people in their jurisdiction or outside of it, a tad bit safer.

Police are probably one of the most ridiculed and most misrepresented demographic of people in cinema.

My father who worked in close quarters with law enforcement has always had issues with the way they are portrayed on screen. His biggest grouse apart from the never-ending supply of bullets and the way police are spoken to in the reel world was the complete disregard to the police uniform.

He would have been proud of the detailing done by H Vinoth and probably walked out of the theatre with his chest swelled, chin up and his hands unconsciously twirling his moustache.

The movie begins with a scene where old case files are being digitised and one thing leads to another and a cop comes across a particular case file and talks to the the presiding officer behind this case – Theeran.

In the closing moments of the movie, this officer says he wanted to meet Theeran and offer him a salute.

As the end titles rolled with a dedication to all the police officers whose efforts to ensure justice is largely left unsung by many, I wanted to just stand and offer a salute to them.

Police officers, who despite all the insults, ridiculing, poor wages, pathetic work timings and a host of other sacrifices just go about doing their duty of keeping the place and people as safe as possible.

Well, Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru might not be a Singam (1,2 or 3) or Siruthai.

Thank heavens for that.

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