At a police station in Vagamon, preparations are underway for an event organized by the Kerala Police Housing Co-operative Society and the Kerala Government’s LIFE Mission Scheme, which Forest Minister Geetha Rajendran (Srindaa) will be attending. Police officers rehearse a song, put out chairs for guests, reporters check their phones while waiting for things to get underway. Nearby, on a property adjacent to the police station, two boys play cricket. Guests begin to take their seats, while inside the police station, a suspect asks if he’ll get bail from a police officer putting the drugs they confiscated from him into the evidence lock-up. A couple comes to check on the case of their missing dog. Everything seems to be orderly and routine – barring the late arrival of the minister to the function – when suddenly the calm is broken by the sound of three gunshots ringing out from inside the police station.
While all this is happening, we learn that the station’s DySP Pramod (Joju George) is in the hospital after suffering another panic attack. He watches a singing reality show that features a young singer named Swetha and her mother Sreeja (Sreeja Ajith), who we learn are Pramod’s estranged wife and daughter who left him 18 years earlier to go live in Mumbai. Pramod wants to reconnect with them, and especially with his daughter, and his doctor (James Eliya) is acting as an intermediary to try to make this happen. Sreeja agrees to having Pramod call her. We feel Pramod’s pain as he talks to Sreeja, tears welling up in his eyes, and we sympathize with him, even as we understand that it was his drinking and abusive behaviour that caused Sreeja to leave him. But the call is suddenly interrupted by the news that there is an emergency at the police station. Pramod heads back to the police station, where we discover the victim in the shooting: ASI Vinod (Joju George), who happens to be Pramod’s twin brother, dead from three bullets shot through his chest.
Despite working in the same police station, Pramod and Vinod are, we learn, also estranged, and the film offers glimpses into their childhood, especially into the relationship between their mother and their violent, womanizing father. The boys and their mother are kicked out of their home when their mother dares to question her husband bringing his latest mistress into their home, and although she tries to make him pay some support for them, his response is to just take one of the twins – Vinod – to live with him, leaving Pramod and his mother to fend for themselves. When his father is eventually killed (it seems he pissed a lot of people off), Pramod and their mother return, and Vinod shuts the door on them and runs away. We are left to assume, though, that neither of the twins had the easiest of upbringings.
Iratta, which means “twin”, had me thinking about the idea of twins in movies. Often the trope is used in comedies, as in the Hindi language films Judwaa and Cirkus, where one twin suffers from the actions of the other. In dramas, we see the idea of good twin versus evil twin, where the twins have an inverted morality. Iratta’s poster – with one twin seated and serious, and the other twin looking somewhat mischevious – made me think that this is what we were going to see in the film; however, Iratta is more complex than this. Yes, Vinod seems to be the one who is disliked by his colleagues – especially the three police officers suspected in his death – but we see that Pramod is, in some ways, just as complex a character as his brother.
The three officers who are immediately considered suspects in the shooting, were amongst the few officers left inside during the preparations for the function. But each of them was known for not getting along with Vinod, and the investigation into Vinod’s death reveals the incidents in which Vinod clashed with the suspects, and which give us their perception of him: womanizer, suspected paedophile, drunkard, and rapist.
And yet, the film also gives us a perspective of Vinod that reveals that he is, perhaps, more complex than the negative picture his colleagues paint of him. He does seem to relish provoking them, but we also see, through his relationship with Malini (Anjali), that he is a man with flaws, certainly, but also one who is able to be kind and considerate. I was left with the impression that Vinod, not unlike his brother Pramod, was learning to break away from the trauma of their childhood and break the cycle of violence that in some way affected their personalities. So, while Pramod learns to curb his drinking and violence, and finally decides to try to reconnect with his wife and daughter, we also see Vinod become a different, perhaps better man while he looks after Malini. We are left with the impression that both of these men are more complex than we might expect in a nature versus nurture sitation (there is no small irony in Pramod giving a talk about nature versus nurture to a group of teachers that includes Malini). Neither of them is wholly good; neither is wholly evil.
Iratta plays out like a conventional police procedural. The body is examined, fingerprints are taken, suspects are questioned. And you would be forgiven for thinking, well, this is all well and good, but it’s not doing anything I haven’t seen before. The film ticks along nicely doing all the things police procedurals are supposed to do. There are two things that make this film as stunning as it is. Firstly, the performance by Joju George, especially in establishing the two characters. Some of this, of course, is aided by small physical differences between the two brothers: Vinod’s hair is curlier, more unkempt. He has more grey in his moustache. Vinod moves more than his brother, he hunches more, he lumbers more when he walks, whereas Pramod stands straighter and seems more still. Even the way they speak is slightly different: Pramod speaks in a more measured way, more evenly; Vinod tends to speak in short bursts, quickly. It’s honestly such a joy to watch an actor create two connected yet different characters.
The second thing that sets Iratta apart is, quite honestly, its climax, which I will not spoil, but which will make you go back and rethink everything else in the film. What information were we given that we – like the investigators – dismissed, or felt didn’t advance the case, or didn’t understand the significance of? The film and its climax are actually inspired by a well known case of the death of a policeman named Sonam, in Panoor, whose death by three gun shots was documented in Dr. B Umadathan’s book Oru Police Surgeonte Ormakkurippukal (published in English as Dead Men Tell Tales – The Memoir of a Police Surgeon), a case which is just casually referenced when Pramod mentions a similar case happening in Kannur (the district where Panoor is located). The film kept me guessing the whole way through, coming up with possible solutions, until I figured I had it solved. Boy, was I wrong.