The national award winning Tamil film Visaaranai (Interrogation) has been selected by the Indian Film Federation as the country’s official entry for Academy Awards 2016, under the Foreign Languages category. Kiran Mehta, the head of a twelve-member jury, picked the film from a list of 29 others including Bajirao Mastaani, Sairaat, Fan, and Sultan.
This is the ninth Tamil film to be selected as India’s official entry for the Oscars; the previous entry was Kamal Haasan’s Hey Ram in 2001. The film is directed by the critically acclaimed director Vetri Maaran, who has bagged a national award for his earlier films. It is produced under actor Dhanush’s banner, Wunderbar films.
Visaaranai caught the attention of critics and moviegoers worldwide when it was released in September 2015 because of the harsh light it sheds on police brutality and misconduct. It traces the lives of four migrant labourers – Pandi (‘Attakathi’ Dinesh), Murugan (‘Aadukalam’ Murugadoss), Afsal (Silambarasan) and Kumar (Pradeesh), who are falsely accused and subsequently locked up in the Guntur prison, after an incidence of burglary at a local big shot’s mansion.
The violence in the movie makes it unsuitable for children, apart from the fact that is an uneasy depiction of an incompetent political and judicial system (which most people come to terms only when they’re on the verge of adulthood.) The technicalities of the film — the way the camera moves over the injured bodies of the prisoners, the sound of the lathi against skin reddened from repeated beatings, etc. add to the discomfort that one feels.
But like many great movies have taught us, the truth makes everyone a bit uncomfortable. Through its tense narrative, Visaaranai sticks to telling an honest story.
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It manages to do this mostly because it is based on a real-life incident. The film was adapted from a Tamil novel called Lock Up, which was written by an auto-rickshaw driver called M Chandrakumar. He is popularly known as Auto Chandran. It is a deeply moving tale about how he and a bunch of friends were locked up for thirteen days in a prison cell in Guntur, where they were subjected to dreadful police brutality for a crime they never committed.
Chandrakumar told The Times of India, “To be frank, I wrote the novel almost 10 years ago and never thought it would be made into a film. So when the date of release finally arrived, I couldn’t sleep. I had watched the film and was aware that the film has won awards. Yet I was nervous on the evening. I kept thinking how my friends and relatives would react. I didn’t want their outlook on me to change in any way. But none of them looked at me. They neither questioned me anything nor saw me with pity.”
Both Vetri Maaran and the producers of the film were keen on having an overseas release for Visaaranai. It was first screened at the 72nd edition of the Venice Film Festival. It premiered as the first Tamil movie in the history of the film festival to be screened for the competition section, following which it won ‘Cinema for Human Rights’ award at the event. When it was released in Indian theatres, it received rave reviews from critics and managed to bag three national awards for the Best Tamil Film, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Editing.
It is yet to be known whether the film will make it to the shortlist for the 89th Academy Awards, which is scheduled to take place in February 2017 in Los Angeles.