I finally saw Action Hero Biju! I missed it in theaters, so I was waiting for it to show up on einthusan, and it finally did! Well worth the wait. Very satisfying and soothing.
You know what this movie reminded me of? Those BBC mystery miniseries, like Midsomer Murders or Grantchester or Foyle’s War. Where it is all a mixture of the case of the week, and the random small village gossip and everyday occurrences. This movie had the same mixture of actual terrible crimes and serious stories, and just sort of nice slice of life things that you see at a police station. And the over all message was that bad things happen, but the world is generally good.
I think I saw that the filmmakers spent some time with real police officers? I don’t know if I am remembering that correctly or not, but that’s what the film feels like. They weren’t looking to make a big action movie, or have a deep and important story, they mostly wanted to show the detail work and strange little incidents that you might see in the average police station.
Which is what makes the title so brilliant, it’s this great little wink and nod to the standard police film, saying Nivin is an “Action Hero”, and then spending 90% of the movie showing him solve disputes about a lost police radio and wage theft and just these small little incidents. No action, no big bad guy and no big good guy, just stuff in the middle.
(Unlike, say, Singham. Which I also love. But it is a very different vision of police work than this film)
Well, that’s not quite right. I guess, no big bad guy and no big good guy like we are used to seeing them in films. Right at the beginning, before we meet him, Biju is described as “not like those older cops”, as part of the modern professional police force, not the wild-eyed inspectors from the older movies. And then that comment is immediately undercut by his introduction showing him beating a suspect with a coconut. Only, not really. He is still different from those “older cops”, because he isn’t really angry.
What this film makes clear is that Nivin’s whole “angry cop” routine is just that, a routine. Something you learn how to do as part of your police training. When he needs to, he shouts and turns on the temper. But he can also be kind to a nervous witness, or joking with his subordinates, or sweet with his fiancee. The anger and fierceness is just one small part of his job and his character.
And the “Action” isn’t a part of his character at all! Again, I think I read that in preparation for this role, Nivin did all sorts of fight training and stuff. But it doesn’t really come up until the last 15 minutes of the movie. It’s a great fight once it happens, don’t get me wrong. And even before the fight, I appreciate that the way Nivin carried himself and the bulk of his body in the rest of the film made him legitimately threatening, in a way he wouldn’t be with his usual softer build. But the whole point of the film is that Nivin isn’t an “Action” hero at all. He’s a “paperwork” hero and an “interview” hero and a “fair and reasonable boss” hero. And I love that, that it shows the nitty-gritty day to day of police work, and how it is much more about investigating the situation and finding a fair resolution than it is about beating people up.
(Definitely not Dabangg either. Although, again, I love the movie. But there aren’t that many scenes of calmly talking to suspects and witnesses and putting papers in files)
I think the first two cases we see Nivin handle are brilliant in introducing us to the world of the film. First, there is a nervous young woman who is coming in to complain about wage theft, she worked 50 days and was never paid more than her advance. Nivin is practical and efficient in getting her information, then sends her out and asks his subordinate to bring in her employers. And then he is similarly practical and efficient in talking with them. There is no emotion at all, neither anger at the accused or sympathy for the victim.
But even though we don’t see a particular emotional reaction, he must have already made his decision in these first conversations, because he started right away setting the stage for his final act, sending the victim off to compose herself and think about what she really wants, and having the accused bring in more records and cool their heels a bit, just to throw them off guard. And only after all of that, when he has the victim back in the office, sitting down, and the two accused awkwardly standing and handing him papers, that is when he turns on the anger. Just like turning on a faucet, not an uncontrollable burst, but a flip of the switch to bring it up as needed. He throws the papers they handed him back at them, finds the small flaw in their records that would give him a legitimate excuse to bring a case against them, terrifies them with his anger, and gets them to agree to the victim’s demands. No case filed, no arrests, but everyone leaves happy(ish) and justice is served.
Contrast that with the second case we see him cover. This time, he actually gets angry. But still stays focused on just solving the case, not giving in to his anger. And we also see how the police work as a team. In the first case, it was a simple matter of bringing the case before him to act as a judge and jury. This time, there is an actual investigation and delegation involved. They get the initial report from the hospital of a small child attacked by a dog, a subordinate is sent in to investigate, he calls back to the station for back-up, they track down the suspect who set the dog on the child through a call to the technical branch to trace his cell phone, and they work through the law books to find the proper charge to use against him. And they also give him a few slaps along the way. And make sure he listens in as they respond to calls from highly placed politicians and is very aware of how all his political connections and influence are not going to help him.
The first case we kind of gross, and I was glad that our hero was around to make sure this poor young woman got her salary. But it was a sort of a venal crime, the kind of thing that you could ignore without much damage to society, or that could have possibly been solved another way without the involvement of the police. But this second crime, a wealthy man who thinks he can avoid any consequences for his actions in setting a dog on small children, that is something that requires the exact skills and position of our hero. He can call on the support of the police structure to bring the criminal to justice, he can use his wits to find the right case to file against him, and he can use his sense of right and wrong to hold firm to prosecution even when he is pressured to let the case go.
And we also get to see the difference between his actual anger and his put on anger, as well as his violence that comes from anger versus as punishment. In the very first with Nivin scene, we saw him beat a suspect with a coconut, but it didn’t feel like he was necessarily enjoying it. It was more a matter of making sure the punishment fit the crime, and the criminal. This person would only respond to a beating, so he was beating him.
(Also, this movie really made me want coconut)
But the dog owner, he will be punished more by the humiliation and helplessness of being treated as a common criminal than by anything else. Really, humiliation is the best way to hurt him. So that is why Nivin makes sure he hears how none of his power or connections are willing to help him now. And also why he slaps him, instead of beats him. The slap hurts, but it is also humiliating. And probably more satisfying for the slapper than just beating someone with another object.
Those two cases are excellent beginnings, to get the audience familiar with how the police station works and how Nivin handles cases. Every little case we see after that is handled differently, but follows the same general process. That is, Nivin starts by surveying the situation, deciding whether it is something he needs to handle himself or not, then gathering information, and finally reacting as he deems appropriate. Whether it is terrifying 3 teenage boys with a threat of imprisonment, or joking with a nervous housewife bringing a case against her neighbor for obscenity, or beating on a hardened criminal.
What the movie also makes clear all along is how Nivin is the center of the system, and that is a good thing. This is not a portrait of a broken police system, with no powers or respect from the public (like in Kireedam), or with corrupt workers and too much power (like in Spadikam). The system is working the way it is supposed to, and it all hinges on an honest and skilled chief of station (or whatever the terminology is for Nivin’s position).
Nivin’s boss is too removed from the situation on the ground, he gives big pronouncements about crime stats and political cases. He isn’t corrupt or anything like that, he just doesn’t have time to solve a small time wage dispute. And Nivin’s subordinates are too close to it, they see the basic needs of arresting someone making a disturbance, investigating a complaint, taking a report. But they don’t have the over all knowledge of the laws and the system to find the resolutions.
Nivin is the linchpin, he is there for any problem, no matter how small, but he can view it from a distance, determine the correct solution using his knowledge and experience. The majority of his work, as we see, involves sitting behind his desk in his office listening to situations and dispensing justice. Not chasing criminals down back alleys or jumping off buildings, or even solving huge mysteries. But it is this very dull and regular kind of work that keeps society functioning. Much more so than the usual “action hero” kind of work.
(Another movie I loved, which does actual have a lot of investigation and talking to witnesses and stuff. But it is more about solving massive international issues, not about little crimes and petty social problems)
Which is where the ending of the film is so interesting. We end where we began, with the prologue of the film being a realistic handheld camera view of following a tip to find a local gang leader with a warrant out on him. And then all the way at the end, after we have almost forgotten about it, we come back to the same scene, this time professional filmed with characters we know and care about.
The opening was a reminder that this is a “real” story, that police officers face danger every day and you never know where it may come from. And then we backed up and saw more of the “real” story in the day to day cases he solved and resolved over the course of one month. But now here we are back to the scene of walking into danger in response to a tip. There’s no more need to artificially create fear in the audience through camera tricks, it is there already in our concern for the hero we have come to care for, walking unknowing into danger.
But then there is a MASSIVE FIGHT SCENE!!!. A really well done one, that feels like Nivin is actually in danger, is actually challenging himself and overcoming obstacles, not just dancing his way to inevitable victory. And it ends with him having five suspects on the ground, his gun on them, as he tells them that he is a police officer, and it is all he has ever wanted to be!
It’s a great ending. Like I said, the film is 90% non-Action, just day to day paperwork and investigations and a lot of talking with people. But the ending is a reminder that the 10% of action is part of police work too. And that our “hero” has to find a way to do the 90% of boring paperwork, and still be ready for the 10% of action. That’s what makes him a hero, being able to have that range and control all contained in one person, not slacking on the paperwork just because it isn’t as exciting as the action, but also not clinging to the paperwork and being afraid to risk his life when needed.