Police in Tamil Cinema

Note: Publishing the draft of a post that I started writing in 2013. I think I stepped in a few times in 2014 but was discouraged by the sheer work required to make concrete assertions as opposed to sloppy bullshit. Sometimes I wish I could give up some intelligence to gain disposition for hard work/discipline (especially in academic endeavours). 5 years later, I have not made any progress on the research side of this topic. It's sad that I have a note within the draft. Fuck.

From the 2013-2014 draft:

Note: I would like to be forthright about some things before you continue on to the post. I wanted to write a some what researched essay on Mysskin's movies vis-a-vis his portrayal of the police and other civil servants in his films. I wanted to discuss it within at least two contexts: a. the perceived reality of the role of police in law enforcement, crime and corruption by the people [1] and b. the evolving, constructed, fragmented reality of the above on screen. Ideally, I would like to have (re)watched at least parts of a dozen films each from the last 4 decades, read a book or two and several journal articles. But I couldn't quite get around all of it so what follows is an attempt to present some of my views as coherently as possible purely based on my recollection of things. Think of this as an open draft that begs several revisions. Time and interest permitting, I'd like to open it up to include other films such as Kuruthi Punal and Kadamai Kanniyam Kattuppaadu.

Corruption among civil servants in India has been known and often accounted for by anyone who had to deal with them -- and people, in general, do not want to -- since the early years of the colonial era. As it has been argued convincingly elsewhere, colonization is a corrupting force in itself. It is one of the unshakeable residues that most post-colonial societies, especially in Asia and Africa, are reeling from[1]. But the police is unique in that colonization is not a necessary component to explain its corruptive nature. Any group ordained with the responsibility of enforcing the law, be it the police or the military in  'graver' circumstances, is in essence given the subjective power to judge events and execute actions.

Now, let's focus on the police. It's hard for me to say if the films of the first three decades post-independence were ever explicitly critical of them even though they have always had bad name. Barring a few exceptions, the police in Tamil films of the 50s and 60s mostly enforced law in its strictest sense. After all, the mock phrase "police'nale kadaseela dhane varuveenga!" (after all, the police shows up only in the end) was inspired by numerous Tamil films that end with the 'hero' beating up the villain to pulp only to be arrested by the police with a note of gratitude. Police roles played by MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, like any other, were centered around being unimpassioned (while being compassionate, of course), dutiful and working for the greater good. It was probably in the latter half of the 70s that we see the police taking more antagonistic roles. When the likes of SA Chandrasekhar came on the scene, in the 80s, the police were 'elevated' from being mere participants of a corrupt system to those who perpetrated the crimes to serve their direct ends. The complexity of the mix progresses from distant and symbolic to ambivalent or good to the damned. In the last three decades they are mostly kept within a good vs. evil binary.

An over-simplified contrast between Shankar and Mysskin's approach to crime could be summed as follows: One is about an upright and all-powerful individual overcoming a corrupt system and the other is about an upright system overcoming corrupt individuals. It's safe to say that neither of them tread close to reality in any sense.

in light of the 7 people shot dead and several suspects killed in custody mysskin's police's purported vulnerability and victimhood is perverted.

will prolly never venture into the caste angle (it's alluded to in Virumaandi).

[1]The argument is simple: the bureaucracy under the colonial rule had no qualms about engaging in 'illegitimate' activities because the government they were 'stealing' from had little legitimacy to stand on. So when the government was handed over to India, not much changed in the civil servants' psyche, presumably.

End of draft


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