Iratta movie review: Just when you think Joju George cannot get any better, he does
Iratta’s slamdunker of an ending makes it a searing study of consequences, extending far beyond the notions of action and reaction commonly explored in cinema.
Cast: Joju George, Anjali, Arya Salim, Srikant Murali, Manoj K.U., Srindaa
Director: Rohit M.G. Krishnan
Men who are positioned as the protagonists of their stories rarely suffer proportional consequences for their egregious conduct towards women in Malayalam cinema. In Rajesh Pillai’s Traffic (2011), an early herald of the new Malayalam New Wave, a primary character found forgiveness for actually hitting his wife with a car – that forgiveness may have come after his fear of retribution caused him to almost destroy his life, but it came all the same. The more recent Kettiyollaanu Ente Maalakha (2019) is of enormous significance, being that rare Indian film to unequivocally describe sexual violence in the marital bed as rape, yet it must be noted that the culprit in the story ultimately did not meet a fate equal to his crime. Even Kaanekkaane (2021), a thorough examination of momentary lapses of conscience, was kinder to Tovino Thomas’ character than it should have been. What makes these three stand out nevertheless is that the men were held accountable for their acts of omission and commission towards their women partners, which is more than can be said of most mainstream Indian cinema or Malayalam in particular. When viewed collectively though, they do raise a question about the extreme behaviours that these scriptwriters have deemed fit to write into their stories, behaviour for which one would be hard pressed to find women finding absolution in an Indian film. This is the context in which Iratta (Twin) comes to us.
Joju George plays the twins of the title, ASI Vinod and DySP Pramod, who are posted at a police station in Vagamon. Vinod is shot in the very first scene. The government, under pressure from the news media, pushes the police to solve the case quickly.
A team under the SP (Arya Salim) investigates the mystery. As they go about their work, through conversations and flashbacks we learn about the siblings’ childhood, their differing personalities and moral compass. The knowledge of these facts ultimately leads us to the reason for Vinod’s tragic end.
As the police work hums along, the script appears to lag. This is partly due to certain writing insufficiencies – some poorly characterised supporting parts, broad brush strikes in the treatment of Vinod and Pramod’s childhood – but largely, I suspect, because writer-director Rohit M.G. Krishnan wants to lull us into wondering whether Iratta is just another humdrum police procedural, until that slamdunker of an ending bursts in on us. It is not just that the climax contains a massive twist but that everything the film stands for becomes clear then. This is also where Joju George’s brilliance peaks.
Iratta follows a string of performances from Joju that have each rivalled the other in their quality, but this one must rank among his top works, if not the very top. To watch his face when his character in Iratta realises at one point the magnitude of what he has done, to see him as he comes to fully understand a terrible truth about what it means to be a twin, to observe one brother’s conflicted feelings towards the other, is to witness an artiste on top of his game. Joju gives both Vinod and Pramod a tightly wound-up quality, moulding them into barely controlled men constantly on the verge of an explosion.
The script is centred around Vinod and Pramod, and falters in its uneven approach to the supporting players. Manoj K.U. from Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam gets a nicely written small part as a colleague, John, who comes under suspicion for Vinod’s death. But Anjali in the role of Vinod’s lover is stuck with the job of merely looking diffident and distressed. Considering his initially repulsive behaviour towards her, the feelings she develops for him needed to be better examined.
Let it be known though that Arya Salim is not a showpiece in Iratta. Too many Malayalam films in recent years have placed women in leadership positions in their storylines but given them little to do, making it obvious that these female characters were tossed in there as a pre-emptive defence against likely criticism of the marginalisation and erasure of women in the script. One of the most exasperating, demeaning such instances is of Unnimaya Prasad being criminally wasted in Anjaam Pathiraa (2020) in which she played a high-ranking police official who looked like she would matter at the start of the film but turned out to be an incompetent fool doing nothing but screwing up and hanging around while a man tracked down a serial killer. It comes as a relief therefore that the woman SP in Iratta is not a bumbling ass but actually steers the investigation with a firm hand, and deftly balances her force’s difficulties with the unreasonable demands of a state Minister (Srindaa). If the writing of the Minister is inadequate, the issue is less to do with gender than that many characters around Vinod and Pramod are neglected. Malayalam cinema is still a long way from equal representation, but by featuring these women in the script without making a song and dance about their gender identity, films like Iratta will hopefully at least gradually normalise women in power on screen.
If Iratta is to be seen as an extension of the nature versus nurture debate then it appears to be taking the stand that neither a person’s circumstances nor their upbringing can be held entirely accountable for who they turn out to be. (Spoiler alert for the rest of the paragraph) The film’s attitude to domestic abuse is particularly worth noting. The abuser’s treatment of a woman would not be considered violence by large sections of society. Yet he later apologises to her. It is rare enough for a male protagonist in Indian cinema to say sorry to a woman, rarer still for the sorry to come for something that would not be as widely condemned in real life as it should be. (Spoiler alert ends)
To describe Iratta as a police procedural or crime thriller would be inadequate although it is both of course. But it is also a searing study of consequences and how our most casually committed wrongs can ruin us in ways that extend far beyond the notions of action and reaction or sowing what you reap that are commonly explored in cinema.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5 stars)
Iratta was released in theatres in February 2023. It is now streaming on Netflix.
Anna M.M. Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specialises in the intersection of cinema with feminist and other socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial
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