Oppam, Drishyam and how Police are Depicted in our Movies

Oppam was a much-hyped Malayalam movie starring Mohanlal, hyped because it was directed by Priyadarshan. The actor-director duo who are real-life childhood friends had once upon a time produced a string of Malayalam comedy and drama movies, all of which have become cult classics and shaped how Malayalis think and laugh, even three decades since. It is another matter that they were all remakes of then-classic western movies. Priyadarshan had since re-remade all of them into Hindi, those comedy caper laughathons usually starring Akshay Kumar, Paresh Rawal, and co. Oppam, however, is a trainwreck. It as much of a movie as just a series of disconnected badly shot and strung together scenes with the sole purpose of showing Mohanlal doing things. The spin machine consisting of fans, paid media reviews, and social media keyboard warriors painted a picture of it being an intense suspense thriller, the greatest since Drishyam and hence a huge hit, luring unsuspecting people (like me) into theaters like the proverbial sacrificial lambs. Never trust online and social media reviews, especially from those you know to be ‘fans’.

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Mohanlal is a blind  lift operator with an exceptionally sharp mind, very sensitive ears and trained in the martial art of Kalari. He is very close to Nedumudi Venu, a retired High Court judge. Venu once sentenced an innocent Samuthirakani to prison and his family committed suicide in shame but his little daughter survived, whom Venu adopted. he put her in a residential school somewhere in some hills, away from the eyes of Kani who wants to kill them both for revenge. When Venu is killed, Mohanlal becomes the prime suspect because of his closeness to Venu and because he was with him when he withdrew 50 lakhs from a bank.

No, Oppam is not a whodunit suspense thriller murder mystery because we are shown that Samudrakani is the killer, who he is, what his motives are and everything as soon as the crime is committed. There is no mystery of him following Mohanlal in the dark and all that. It isn’t about how Mohanlal tries to prove his innocence, either. The movie half-heartedly tries to make us believe it is about how Mohanlal tries to save the little girl from the killer while making another feeble attempt at mystery with some story connected murders and flashbacks and all that. The “connected murders” thing Anusree discusses with her colleague at the beginning is nowhere mentioned again. Then, there was the entire thing about that dead body falling on top of that yellow Zen driven by the cliched “partying city girl”. The movie full of such open-ended threads that make no connection with each other.

Actually, there is no ground for the Oppam plot at all. Samudrakani was not informed that her daughter was alive? This is a legal requirement, and jails are no black holes were no information goes through. Even if so, Venu wanting to adopt the kid will require Kani’s consent. The entire movie itself falls apart at this premise itself. And in the end, when Mohanlal shoots Kani, the bullet enters through his back and exits through his chest, shattering his mobile phone in the process (its ringing sound was his aim). Now, at that time, Kani was kneeling directly in front of the girl. The bullet which had enough force to go through Kani’s body will easily travel forward and hit the girl and kill her as well. So that’s that. In the end, Oppam is just a series of such frustratingly disconnected sequences that collectively make no sense at all, leaving viewers with nothing but an incredible sense of anger at having wasted three precious hours of their time. This chapter was not meant to be a review of Oppam, but all that had to be said. Anyway, the real, central narrative of this supposed “murder mystery” seems to be something else, entirely.

How the Police Department is Depicted in Oppam

In fact, it seems that the script of Oppam like all “superstar” movies, seems to be an ode to the hero and little else. Even the entire “investigation” of the so-called “murder mystery” which is supposed to be the central theme of the movie is treated like an additional afterthought, full of irritating and painfully, obvious holes and incredulities that fly in the face of logic, especially the way the police force is shown and depicted. In fact, Oppam seems to be deliberately trying to paint the police department as fools. Here are some of those glaringly obvious irritants:

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  • Inspector “Chemban” Vinod Jose: The archetypical prejudiced brute movie cop who refuses to listen, think, analyze or do anything rationally, evident from his first “who saw the body first?” scene with Mamukoya itself. He repeatedly requests the Commissioner permission to beat Mohanlal into confession to prove his prejudiced vision right, which is the only “investigation” he does, apart from shouting at and threatening people. In Real Life: I don’t think the police department will really tolerate such repeated shows of idiocy from its officers.
  • Samuthirakani: He keeps popping up at any location even remotely related to the Nedumudi Venu murder, follows Mohanlal wherever he goes, frequents the apartment complex despite not being a resident, sticking out like a sore thumb everywhere. He even chases and brings down Jose right in front of the police. Still, the police do not even seem to notice him, forget them trying to find who he is and what his story is. In Real Life: Any officer trained to recognize patterns like this will easily spot him and bring him in for questioning.
  • Nedumudi Venu’s adopted “daughter”: Adopting a human child is not like picking up a kitten from the street or posting a tweet on how a puppy needs a home but an extremely complicated process that leaves a paper trail visible from space. Surely the police would investigate this very obvious angle when Venu was killed? In Real Life: The police would’ve figured out who the little girl is, and identified the Kani connection.
  • Mohanlal’s Escape: Mohanlal badly beats up three police officers and escapes. In such cases, an extensive manhunt would be initiated to recover through stakeouts (his apartment, friend’s shop), informer networks, lookout notices, cameras etc. But here we see Mohanlal going to his apartment, his friend’s shop in the city and then roaming around the city with no interference whatsoever! Forget everything else, the police would surely be tracking his mobile phone? In Real Life: Police would’ve cornered Mohanlal within a matter of hours through stakeouts and by tracking his mobile phone signal.
  • ACP Anusree: She helps and hides Mohanlal after he beats up the cops. Would any high-ranking police officer help suspects escape because they believe in their innocence? Surely they wouldn’t dare even if they wanted to. In Real Life: The ACP would’ve been suspended (and disgraced) on the spot for aiding and abetting a wanted person, that too a cop-beater.

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No police force in the world worth its salt would behave this way, Even someone with half a brain could spot and be convinced that Mohanlal is not the killer, much less a highly trained, experienced and intelligent police force such as the Kerala Police, renowned for solving extremely complicated and tough cases. What Oppam tries to do is cover up the holes in its script by painting the entire police force as a bunch of incompetent, irrational, stupid, prejudiced, bumbling brutes who can’t think or deduce properly and miss the obvious, who are only interested in beating the shit out of people to make them confess to committing crimes. And this is lapped up by the public who well, hate the police. And of course, everyone but the hero and maybe some of his close friends has to be pictured as totally brainless idiots, especially the police, evident by how the hero easily keeps trashing any attempt the police who seemly can’t get past the fixation of him as the perpetrator of the crime prepares for him.

The Morality of Movie Vigilante Justice 

Before Oppam, there was Drishyam, one of Malayalam’s biggest hits ever, which tells how a semi-literate Mohanlal goes to lengthy extremes and weaves a complex story to successfully throw the Police off track to protect his daughter who murdered her would-be rapist. There is something both these movies have in common. In Drishyam, Mohanlal resorts to vigilantism because he believes his family would not get justice since the aggressor was the son of a high-ranking police officer. In Oppam, the central theme of the movie seems to be that the police is hell-bent on framing and punishing innocent people, especially the weak, on mere suspicion, no matter if evidence and circumstance show otherwise. Both movies try to justify the kind of “vigilante” justice on the fact that poor, common people in this country will not get justice and will be made easy targets because the Police will only side with the rich and powerful, and that we should not trust law enforcement and rather take law into our own hands to “prove” our innocence. And, the stupendous success of both films and some responses seem to underscore how the general public feels about our systems. Understandably, the Kerala Police top brass was not amused.

Of course, this tendency of showing the Police force in a bad light is of course not something new. It is easy to vilify the police and most of the audience who see the police as the symbol of the state’s oppressive power, whistle to it. But given that, most people still feel that individually, most police officers are inherently good guys who want to do good things but are themselves victims of the system. We all know how intelligent and learned IPS officers have to kowtow to senseless diktats of illiterate politicians with vested interests mostly never in favor of the people or nation. Those who refuse will pay the price with having their careers ruined. We know how our police actually solve cases which are not politically or otherwise motivated. In the end, they are also just government-appointed bureaucrats trying to do a job, beautifully portrayed Nivin Pauly’s Action Hero Biju (which, by the way, was also a huge hit), on how police officers in Kerala work and deal with people, crime, criminals, and investigations on a day-to-day basis. But in the end, people have no option but to vent their distrust at the most publically visible enforcing organ of the state, the Police department, which ends with them getting all the flak.

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Now, of course, no one, even in the police force will acknowledge that they all are angels. The Indian legal system has deep flaws and there are corrupt police and judiciary who work to subvert the system and justice, and many members of the force might be corrupt and cruel, but trying to paint the entire force as corrupt, brutish, inhuman and stupid as our movies do and that Policemen and women are not given even a fraction of the respect soldiers get are simply not right or fair. The way our system works based on witnesses and evidence and advocates’ capacity, which can be played to tilt the balance of justice either way, for instance, to free convicted rapists. In such a scenario, it is not hard to see why “common man” takes these films to heart, which is why such a pathetic excuse of a film like Oppam can also become a success. The public perception of the police department as an unjust tool of force by those in power gets amplified through these movies and people applaud those. Another fact is that the police force in India is an extension of the British Police force of the Raj, whose primary duty was to protect officials from the ‘natives”, which continues even today, as our Police’s primary duty seems to be “VIP duty” and not investigating crimes or law and order. When this changes, much of the bad name our police department will go away.

Yes, there are also enough movies about heroic police officer heroes valiantly battling corruption, criminals etc. in the same way how  However, if you look closely, you can find that those stories are almost always about a single, honest, upright officer fights for his convictions alone, in the middle of corrupt systems and officers, as seen in iconic cop movies like Commissioner, Saamy and all those Amitabh Bachchan flicks.

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In Indian movies, it is the norm to depict the system and the force as always corrupt and inefficient as a whole, while the individual officer might be right and just. But in western flicks, the force is always shown tp be honest and just, while it will be the individual officer who is corrupt. Think about it.

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One could say that movies are fantasy and that they do not reflect real life. However, for the hundreds of millions of semi-literate educated-only-in-name Indians who cannot think or deduce rationally, movies are real depictions of life and actors are demi (or sometimes full) Gods who wield immense powers, for whom they will happily sacrifice their lives. And this is causing serious repercussions in our society. For instance, when the semi-literate guy sees movie girls willfully and happily succumbing to the charms of their dancing heroes, they get the idea that any girl on the road is secretly yearning for their touch; when they see silver screen manipulators resort to vigilante justice because police are corrupt they get the idea that all police are their enemy, waiting to pounce upon them at the first chance they get. And Drishyam seems to have inspired murders in Thrissur, Nilambur, and in Bihar, where evidence was disposed of in ways shown in the movie. The only silver lining could be criminals believing the police are dumb as well, only to act surprised when they actually are caught in the net!

PS: After Laila O Laila and now Oppam, I have decided to not watch any new Mohanlal movies anymore (I stopped watching Mammootty movies after Kamath & Kamath). The latest release, Pulimurugan, seems to be another of those superhero-Mohanlal stories with him flying through the air and running up trees while casually slaying tigers and all. No thanks. I would rather remember Mohanlal as that gentle simpleton struggling through life of the 1980s and 90s while dealing with a myriad of problems every man faces in his life, rather than these bombastic bully characters created to satisfy testosterone surges of prancing ‘fans’.

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