The treatment of the crime and criminal may seem predictable, but not quite the way you'd imagined it to be, discovers Divya Nair.
Approximately 35 minutes into the film, after two young women have been found murdered in similar circumstances, a senior CBI officer takes an enthusiastic trainee cop to the crime scene and asks him to explain what the latter knows about the crimes so far.
The freshly-minted gold medallist trainee confidently blurts out obvious information when the senior officer interrupts him and says: 'In certain cases, there are things you'd need to know that go beyond physical evidence -- like the killer's thought process, his anger, his cravings, fetishes, etc. To understand and identify the killer better, you must thoroughly study him through his crime, in a way that you would be able to easily identify him in a crowd.'
This craftily-written scene and the details of the conversation exchanged between two ideologically different characters, who are forced to work together as they are bound by a common mission, is what sets apart Por Thozhil from the run-of-the-mill crime sagas we have seen in recent times.
The title of the film, Por Thozhil (meaning the art of war), probably inspired from Tamil poet Bharathiyar's idea of Porthozhil Pazhagu (learn the art of war) is a fitting choice for this crime thriller in which two cops are racing against time to stop a seemingly intelligent serial killer from claiming his next victim while learning and unlearning the rules from each other.
Directed by debutante Vighnesh Raja, the Tamil thriller stars R Sarathkumar, Ashok Selvan and Nikhila Vimal as special cops leading a CBI investigation on serial killings.
The writing is taut, combined with an intriguing screenplay that tickles your imagination and conveniently feeds into your perception of how you'd want the movie to progress.
There is a bit of fear, anxiety, shock and awe in the scenes leading to the crime, making it an edge-of-the-seat experience.
Except for the killer, who we are often reminded, is brilliant at his job, the rest of the characters are deliberately written to a fault.
Sarathkumar plays SP Lokanathan, an arrogant, experienced cop with temper issues and zero social skills.
The only person who challenges him is Prakash (Ashok Selvan), who is confident about his own abilities while he quietly deals with anxiety issues.
With a brutal, skilled killer on the loose, how can you possibly expect these two men to catch up?
Then comes the twist.
One after another.
Overall, the pattern and the treatment of the crime and criminal may seem predictable, but not quite the way you'd imagined it to be.
And that's exactly where the brilliance of this rather potential film ends.
Once the twist has been revealed, it doesn't peak any further. It plummets.
While the makers have invested a considerable amount of time to sketch the backstory of the crime, hoping to bring in some empathy at the risk of not sounding discerning. It does not take a moral stand to sympathise with its victims or the circumstances that led to the crime.
But what I truly liked about the film is the intent of the makers, summarised beautifully in the climax.
In the final scene, after having cracked his first case, Prakash watches a neighbourhood kid step out of his house because he can't bear to see his parents abuse each other.
What he does next may seem like a simple thing to do, but it leaves behind a powerful message, one that may alter several lives.
Por Thozhil is a compelling thriller, one that has the potential to serve as the prequel to another bumpy but fascinating ride of nabbing serial offenders.