Police Diary 2.0: Without skill or sense, the show is a mishmash of unnecessary sex, institutional violence and machoism
Police Diary 2.0, a new web-series streaming on Zee5, is the story of four police officers, led by an SP, who runs the Special Task Force.
Serial Chiller is Ranjani Krishnakumar’s monthly column about all things Tamil television. Read more from the series here.
In his book MGR: The Man and the Myth, former Tamil Nadu DGP K Mohandas recalls, from the mid-1980s, his work in master-minding ‘Operation Naxalite’ in the North Arcot and Dharmapuri districts. He describes it as an effective crackdown of Naxalites ‘finishing the job’ in 20 days, less than the one month that the then Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR) had promised the public. He writes triumphantly and proudly.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t aware of the criticism of his actions. To demonstrate the civil society’s response, he quotes author OV Vijayan calling Tamil Nadu an ‘occupied territory’. He also quotes environmentalist and editor Claude Alvares describing Tamil Nadu a ‘police state’ and Walter Devaram (DIG) as a ‘Frankenstein monster created by Mohandas’.
Throughout, without introspection or acceptance, Mohandas holds his ground — he mocks civil rights activists and their critiques in his book. There is an entire epilogue in the book with passages from critical coverage of him. Mohandas presents them as if these are all big hue and cry over nothing — a few minor irritations in an otherwise remarkable career. In fact, he even treats this criticism as a compliment for his iron-fisted approach.
However, if you read Claude Alvares’ essay 'Tamil Nadu’s Police State’ in the book Violation of Democratic Rights in India edited by A R Desai, you will see the alternative — and in my opinion, the more reliable — story about what happened in North Arcot and Dharmapuri in the 80s. Men getting arrested in the din of the night, custodial violence, being “asked to stand against the wall and shot”, disappearance from police lockups, Alvares shows us the condemnable and soul-crushing police brutality of the time. “The case of Gounder will make Kafka turn in his grave,” he writes about Nataraja Gounder who died of torture in police custody, while his father, who signed surety for him, continued to pay fine for not producing his son in court.
Nearly forty years later, this month, Kutty Padmini of Arpad Cine Factory and Zee5, have chosen this and other similar stories as inspiration to adapt for the web. Guess whose story they told?
Police Diary 2.0, a new web-series streaming on Zee5, is the story of four police officers, led by an SP, who runs the Special Task Force. Unleashing one case a week, broken into two episodes each, the show is expected to be about 52 cases “inspired from real life”. If the first episode is anything to go by, Police Diary 2.0 has neither the skill not the sense to deliver meaningful crime fiction.
Episode one, titled Thiruvizha, begins with an extended rape scene. A man grabs his domestic help and brutally rapes her in a vast abandoned building. We see the man forcing himself on her, we hear her wail. Half a dozen men and women sit at the other end of the garage chewing on their dosai, somewhat cringing at the sound of the woman’s cry for help. One of these women even mouths the word ‘paavam’, while steadfastly turning the dosai. An armed force sets up their perimeter around the building.
The rape is over. The armed forces charge. They shoot down several unarmed men and women, without so much as a warning. The dosa-turning woman runs out in horror to see what happened, only to be shot in the chest.
Cut to news, where we are told that the armed force was, in fact, the law enforcement wing of the democratically elected state of Tamil Nadu. This was a special operation — an encounter to kill Naxalites. Head of the operation SP Vishwanath receives praise from the Governer himself for eliminating the threat. We are also told that he has taken an oath to unconditionally kill all Naxalites infiltrating Tamil Nadu.
Just this sequence should run a chill down the spine of anyone who believes they live in a democracy, in which they have fundamental rights and liberties. But this is only the beginning.
The first two episodes of Police Diary 2.0 shows us nearly all of what Claude Alvares described as police atrocity in the 1980s. In two episodes of about 30 minutes each, we see wrongful imprisonment, custodial violence, torture, misuse of police weapons, waterboarding (once pouring water down the nose of a man hanging upside down), even lockup deaths. None of these is looked at even with a squint of a critical eye. The team perpetrating this institutional violence, we are told, are heroes. In fact, at the end of the episode, they walk in slow motion as the SP congratulates them in a voiceover — “I’m very sure that the whole of Tamil Nadu will be protected from all evil, as long as you guys are around”.
In addition to the absolutely hare-brained understanding of democratic values and police procedure, Police Diary 2.0 uses nudity, sex and violence merely for titillation. For instance, the aforementioned Naxalite has a sex scene, in which his companion — who we learn is a sex-worker — plays Candy Crush over his shoulder. One of the cops also has a sex scene, where in middle of the action, he answers a call and tells his colleague that he’s “at gunpoint” and will call back in ten… no fifteen minutes.
What purpose do these scenes serve? What do they tell us about the people in them? That the Naxalite is more of a criminal because he’s also a rapist, and therefore worthy of mindless state-sanctioned violence? Or that he’s such a low-life that he’s unworthy of lust or attention from a sex-worker? Or the cop with a sex life is more human or modern or cool?
I’d hazard a guess that these scenes were included because the web is a less regulated medium. They are there because they can — to give the show the pretence of being grim, bold or even edgy.
In reality, though, Police Diary 2.0 is an ugly pretence. It demonstrates no skill in filmmaking, the writing and the execution is amateur (and I’m being kind here). The show’s sense of police’s role in a democracy is one of unquestioning devotion, making it despicable.
But, throughout writing this column, I worried if I’m judging too soon. After all, just watching the pilot episode shouldn’t be enough to judge a show that has 51 more hours’ worth of content. But going by the horror that is the first two episodes, producer and show-runner Kutty Padmini’s previous outing as creative producer of the Zee5 series Alarm, her claim that Police Diary 2.0 will help reduce crime, and the general sentiment of filmmakers to aggrandise the righteous-but-rogue cop, I’m not too hopeful.
If the show redeems itself anytime over the next year, you, my reader, would be the first to know.
Ranjani Krishnakumar is a writer, obsessor and a nascent Chennai-vasi. You can reach her at @_tharkuri
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