8 Thotakkal Synopsis: A cop’s pistol gets stolen and even as the search for it gets underway, it ends up in the hands of someone who uses it to rob a bank.
8 Thotakkal Review: There is an episode involving a cop’s walkie-talkie that is stolen in the 2016 Malayalam film Action Hero Biju. While that stretch is used in that film mainly for comedy, underneath it, you get a sense of how serious such a loss can be to a cop. So, imagine the gravity of the situation in which Sathya (Vetri, whose hurt-puppy expression helps the character), the protagonist of 8 Thotakkal, finds himself in. He is someone who had to spend years in juvenile prison for a crime he did not commit, and has managed to get into the police force as a last resort. And he is ‘clean’ (as another cop describes him, “Yaar enna sonnaalum endha vambukkum pogadha mudhugelumbilladha nallavan”), much to the chagrin of the station’s inspector Gunasekar (Mime Gopi), for whom the job spells money and power. In fact, Sathya’s predicament is partly the result of Gunasekar’s attempt at getting back at his subordinate for going behind his back and helping out an elderly man whom he has been harassing.
Even as Sathya frantically starts searching for the pistol by reaching out to the people who form the nuts and bolts of Chennai’s crime network, it surfaces as a weapon of crime in a bank robbery, which results in the death of a little girl. Sathya is suspended but the investigating officer, Pandian (Nasser, whose timing lends sting to his lines), ropes him in for the investigation.
Taking the set-up of Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (credited as an inspiration), Sri Ganesh gives us a slow-burning cop thriller which changes track halfway and becomes a contemplation on life. It is a risky move because the film starts to empathise more with its antagonist and wants us to do the same as well, but surprisingly, Sri Ganesh manages this feat. And in MS Bhaskar, who plays Krishnamoorthy, the “boss” of the robbers, he has an actor who can earn the sympathy of the audience even though his character is that of someone who commits grievous crimes. The actor’s unfussy performance is what gives the film its emotional punch.
The manner in which the revelation of Krishnamoorthy’s identity helps us make sense of some of the earlier moments (like his marksmanship, for instance) is proof of Ganesh’s intricate script, which is driven largely by characters. We see the nuance in how he handles the relationship between Sathya and Meera (Aparna Balamurali), a rookie reporter who is attracted to him by his innate decency, and is still practical enough that she chooses to betray his trust for personal reasons.
Still, there are moments when 8 Thotakkal is indulgent in a few places. Krishnamoorthy’s monologue that gives us the motivations behind his decision to ‘Break(ing) Bad’ feels overlong despite MS Bhaskar’s moving performance; and the character is made to monologue again in the climax! And the director gives us songs that break the mood and momentum of the film. You really are baffled that a director who displays such confidence in letting his film unfurl at a meditative pace would settle for such compromises.