March 16, 2018
Unni Mukundan, Gokul Suresh, Alencier Ley Lopez, Niranjana Anoop, Miya, Neeraja, Mareena Michael, Lena, Shanker Ramakrishnan, Saju Navodaya, Kailash, Nelson
Of all the superpowers that commercial Indian cinema has bestowed on men down the decades, this must rank as the most inventive: the ability to know what happened at a time and place where they were not present, there were no eyewitnesses, and the only account of it comes from a flashback to the episode in a movie.
I kid you not. A murder is committed in Ira at a spot where no one but the murderers are present. The victim dies without making a statement. The culprits do not reveal themselves. Yet somehow, an important male character knows who was responsible, and the knowledge sets him off on a revenge spree.
At no point do we get an indication of who gave him the killer’s identity. The only explanation can be that he too was watching Ira and saw the flashback to the murder along with us, the audience. Just kidding, but you get my drift.
To say more would require me to give away the names of this omniscient man, the murderers and the victim, which I will not. No spoilers here, but come back and read this review after you watch Ira, and you will know who and what I am talking about.
Suffice it to say that the plot of this film is pivoted on this occurrence and since it turns out to be one big gaping loophole, everything else adds up to shunya.
Ira is the story of a senior policeman called Rajeev (played by Unni Mukundan) investigating the sudden death of K.P. Chandy (Alencier Ley Lopez), a controversial minister in the Kerala government. Murder is alleged. The prime suspect is young Dr Aaryan (Gokul Suresh) who insists he is innocent. Aaryan happens to be in a relationship with the old man’s granddaughter Jennifer Jacob (Niranjana Anoop).
When the film begins, Chandy is already no more and Rajeev is looking into the circumstances of his death. Through Rajeev’s interviews with various people who know Aaryan, the film pieces together his story while also painting a picture of Chandy for us.
(You may consider this a spoiler, I do not, but still…)
After watching the film, I chanced upon an interview with director Saiju S.S. in which he has said “Ira dignifies the oppressed”. The truth though is that this lofty ideal is just a tool around which he has built a flashy thriller puffed up with self-importance, and that “the oppressed” being referenced here – a poor tribal community – are sidelined within the film too, in a bid to build up the hero as their larger than-life saviour.
Besides, you cannot claim a commitment to one marginalised group while trivialising and stereotyping another. A rape is at one point portrayed here as the end of a woman’s life with ye olde cliché of a lamp dying out when the deed is done by the villain of the piece. Sexual harassment at the workplace is comedified via a chap called Varun Nambiar, the MD of the hospital at which Aaryan was employed. Lecherous behaviour too is treated as comedy via the fond portrayal of Rajeev’s sidekick Venkidi – he leers at bathing women through binoculars, calls women “pakshikal” (birds), yet is supposed to be a nice guy.
In case anyone offers up as a counterpoint the fact that there are many female characters in this film, including some powerful women, please note that the primary identifier of each is their relationship with Rajeev and/or Aaryan or their usefulness to one of these men. The hospital employee played by Mareena Michael, for one, is introduced as though she is of significance yet is dropped like a hot potato once she serves a purpose in these men’s lives.
So much for dignifying the oppressed. In this matter, Saiju is following in the footsteps of his mentor Vysakh, Ira’s producer along with writer Udaykrishna, who had a running joke in 2016’s blockbuster Pulimurugan (directed by Vysakh, written by Udaykrishna) involving a man who gets his kicks from peeping into bathrooms while women are bathing.
The declaration of noble intent in Ira notwithstanding, Saiju and his writer Naveen John have no commitment either to the tribals in their film or to the women. Their only commitment, clearly, is to Rajeev and Aaryan.
(Spoiler-if-at-all alert ends)
Unni Mukundan is yet to develop an engrossing screen presence, but he is interesting enough to hold attention and he does seem totally involved in the role of Rajeev. His tendency to strut about is reasonably controlled in Ira. Gokul Suresh is suitably sweet, which is all he needs to be here. The supporting cast is packed with good actors who are largely under-utilised.
The glaring flaw in Ira’s mystery apart, the dialogue writing too is shabby whenever it tries to be overly smart, mostly with Rajeev’s lines. In one scene, when Rajeev finds himself drawn to a woman, he says: “Aval oru firebrand breed aanu (She is a firebrand breed). A rare sweet breed.” Tacky, tacky, tacky.
The unfortunate part is that Ira does initially build up considerable suspense around the reasons for Chandy’s death and the apparent framing of Aaryan. However, when the end comes and you realise that the very cornerstone of the whodunnit is a writing gaffe, everything that has gone before loses meaning.
Not that everything that has gone before is sparkling. When Rajeev first meets Miya’s character, for instance, even a kindergarten kid might guess her true identity within minutes, but the screenplay seems to think it is keeping us guessing. This is the sort of film in which, when one person eavesdrops on a conversation, the ones being spied upon spell out the background to their relationship with each other although they clearly know these facts. Why? Because this is the device the writer has decided to use to spill the beans to the woman who is listening in and to the audience. This is decidedly unintelligent writing.
Ira is a lesson in how not to do a thriller.
Footnote: In the run-up to Ira’s release, there has been some effort to whip up interest in the film by creating an impression that it bears similarities to Dileep’s arrest last year in the case involving the abduction and assault on an industry colleague. There is absolutely no resemblance between the two – none, zero, zilch – unless you count the fact that both involve crimes. That is like saying the Jayasurya-starrer Captain and Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham are similar because they both feature football. This transparent promotional bid is even sillier than Ira’s screenplay.
Rating (out of five stars): *
CBFC Rating (India):
This review was also published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_(film)