Imagine a little kid born in Kerala being named Dawood Ibrahim by his parents. Life for him would perhaps be even more challenging than it was for an African-American with the middle name Hussein and a surname that rhymes with Osama in post-9/11 America.
Little Dawood Ibrahim of our story grows up to be a policeman and is sent off to Kollanahalli village on the Kerala-Karnataka border. It is the kind of posting assigned to no-gooders, not to a promising new entrant. The police station in Kollanahalli is dilapidated, the facilities there so unused that when a phone rings for the first time in years, the lizard that had made the instrument its home is startled. Nothing but petty crime – goat and chicken thefts – take place in this outback of God’s Own Country, and all scores are settled by and within the community. That is, until Inspector Dawood Ibrahim takes matters into his own hands.
Whatever it is you think happens next, you are wrong. The opening scenes of debutant writer-director Sajid Yahiya’s Inspector Dawood Ibrahim imply that we are in for a hardcore masala film with an invincible cop at the helm, Jayasurya doing a Suriya in Singham style, complete with slow-mo, swagger and a signature song. Wrong again.
Inspector Dawood Ibrahim (abbreviated in the title to IDI, which is also the Malayalam word for a blow/punch) is a clever spoof on regular commercial cop dramas – clever, because it is designed to please consumers of unabashedly massy fare as much as those who are cynical about such content. And so, it features plenty of biff, boom, bang, loud music and dialoguebaazi, but each time you think it is about to fall into a formulaic rut, each time you wonder if it has begun to take itself seriously, it turns around and laughs at itself in the face.
It takes a while for the film to reveal its intentions, but once it does IDI is a fun ride right down to the sidesplitting ending. Note of caution: you had better stay glued to the screen in the climactic fight, because if you miss that split-second flash of a throne turning to something else and then back, you may miss the realisation that at this point too, nothing may be what it seems.
Jayasurya, who is currently also in theatres with the comparatively insipid Pretham, is a joy to watch as a policeman whose circumstances are scoffing at him. It is always nice to see such a major star in self-deprecating mode. In this particular instance, the star is taking the mickey out of not just his own role or his own film, but all commercial police films across Indian industries.
He embodies the film’s Dawood: striking, good-looking, perfectly suited to those low-angle shots that build him up as an imposing figure, filled with hopes of vanquishing villains to a resounding background score, only to realise that real life is not a mainstream Indian movie.
The rest of the cast do precisely what they are required to do: Yog Japee as the international don Akbar Ali and Saiju Kurup as the crook operating in Mangalore overact appropriately. Joju George as the local petty criminal Vasu is by turns fearsome and fearful. Sunil Sukhada and Molly Kannamaly cracked me up in their roles as Dawood’s sidekicks Kuttanpilla and Angel Mary. Thanks to them, never again will I be able to see an incoming call from an “unknown caller” on my phone without doubling up with laughter. Yes it is true that their looks are used here as metaphors for the decrepit Kollanahalli police station, but to be fair, IDI does not pick on anyone in particular, it picks on everyone. If you must be non-PC, this is how you do it.
IDI’s dialogue writing by Arouz Irfan (who co-wrote the screenplay with Yahiya) is smart and cocks a snook at so many clichés. Even the smattering of potty jokes are bearable because the film never lets up on its self-effacing tone. I am not sure the English lines dished out by Akbar Ali were intentionally awkward, but wittingly or unwittingly they have ended up matching his wannabe-grandiose character.
There are plenty of plot points that can be viewed as weak links in IDI, including the ludicrous implausibility of a gangster sought after by Interpol deciding to personally respond to a summons of sorts by an unknown cop in a deserted outpost, yet it works. Because every apparent weak link could also be explained away as an attempt to underline the inherent stupidity in most commercial films about police and undercover spies that we are willing to buy into when the film effectively compels us to suspend disbelief. I mean, c’mon, we’ve bought into the efficacy of Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt’s many disguises in the Mission Impossible series, we have willingly swallowed Bruce Willis/John McClane’s physical indestructibility in the Die Hard series, so why would we not accept the probability of a wanted criminal being an idiot or the possibility that a policeman may indeed only always blink in slow motion? And why would we not believe that there is no weapon more lethal in this world than a Malayali man’s mundu?
The film’s major failing is its extreme male-centricity, extreme even by the low gender-related standards of commercial Indian cinema. Ninety per cent of the scenes in IDI do not feature even a female extra? Sshivada plays a spunky IIM-Ahmedabad graduate called Nithya Niranjan who bases herself in Kollanahalli because she wants to make a difference. That one scene in which she bashes up two cowering crooks is enough proof of the actress’ and the character’s potential to elevate IDI, yet Yahiya uses her as the only thing heroines are meant to be when seen through a blinkered male gaze: the hero’s ‘love interest’. Even that angle gets short shrift.
Crime and cop flicks tend to be male-centric, but some of the best of the lot – the ones that have risen above the formulae this film is parodying – have given women substantial, even if not primary, roles. What would the Suriya-starrer Kaakha Kaakha have been without Jyothika and the character she played? Would Ghajini (the original Tamil version with Suriya or the Hindi remake with Aamir Khan) have been the same without the depth and space given to Asin’s character? Women are not mere asides to be loved or lamented you know, Mr Yahiya. Obviously this is a potential element lost to IDI.
The film’s production design by Rajeev Kovilakam and cinematography by Sujith Sarang are effective. Sarang, for one, manages to successfully convey the desolation of Kollanahalli within picturesque surroundings. Dawood’s booming theme music by Rahul Raj is in keeping with the mood of the film, but none of the songs is memorable.
For the most part though, Inspector Dawood Ibrahim is an interesting police flick, a hysterical spoof of the genre and of itself. Even its over-the- top-ness is a mockery of over-the- topness. The pride and flourish with which the protagonist refers to the Kerala Police is a reminder of the parochialism, regionalism and nationalism often summoned up to earn wolf whistles in films of this genre. Remember the repeated referencing of Marathi pride in the Hindi version of Singham starring Ajay Devgn? Know this from IDI: you can bash up a Kerala policeman, bring him to his knees, abduct the father he loves and terrorise the old man, but God forbid that you should insult his uniform. Hell hath no fury like a Malayali cop whose khaki topi you are about to step on.
Of course it is all very silly and OTT. It is thoroughly entertaining though because it does not pretend to be anything but that, because it manages to not be condescending at any point, and most of all because within the realm of silliness it does not insult our intelligence.