There’s a phrase often used in the context of cinema: suspension of disbelief. It is applied as much to the films of David Dhawan as to the slick, expensively-mounted, action-packed star vehicles that inundate the multiplexes every summer. With the former, it is used as an excuse — leave your brains behind and enjoy the film, yaar. With the latter, it is used as advertisement — when Bruce Willis shoots a helicopter with a car (yes, you read that right, a car), we find ourselves enjoying the ride, and the point of all that finely-timed action choreography is to make us not care, for those ninety-odd minutes, how absurd it all is. At a very meta level, it applies to all of cinema, but let’s not go there now.
The concept applies to quiet thrillers too, in that crucial developments often hinge on things happening exactly so. Except here, the pace gives your mind a bit of time to wander, and that can break the spell. So how do you get your audience to stay with you? By making them care, not about what happens, but about who it happens to, that’s how.
A police officer calls his colleague to inform him that he has solved a murder, and meets with an accident while he is talking. He wakes up with complete amnesia. His colleague asks him to re-solve the case, while not letting anyone else know of his condition. In an abstract sense, it is an interesting premise, but it doesn’t take much to count the myriad ways in which this could go wrong.
Why, then, does Mumbai Police work so well?
The answer, I think, lies in two things. The first is the quality of the performances. Jayasurya’s character (he plays the murdered cop) is the least complicated of the lot, and he does it justice. Rahman’s top cop is not an easy character to play — opaque and transparent at the same time, in ways we don’t completely understand at first. He knocks it out of the park.
Prithviraj gets the toughie — his Inspector Moses is more layered than the average onion, and his ability to draw us into his journey and make us care is what makes the film work, even in those patches where the plot is barely plausible.
The second is the quality of the writing, especially narrative style which seamlessly interweaves the happenings prior to the accident and those after. Apart from getting the protagonist up to date with what he has forgotten, it also subtly ensures that we are a little less disoriented than he is. And yet, it’s a complex whodunit.
At one level, this is a procedural. But look closely, and you realize that it is actually three procedurals wrapped into one: how the case was solved the first time around, how it was solved the second time around, and an examination of why the first investigation proceeded the way it did. Add to this the personal torment of a man searching for himself with only scant clues as to who he used to be, and a few others with their own baggage to carry. All of these threads hinge on one crucial revelation.
Stephen King speaks of stories that hinge on the plot (where the characters behave as the plot needs them to, and hopefully remain consistent in the process), and ones that hinge on the characters (where the plot is simply the result of a set of characters thrown into a certain situation).
Here’s the utterly amazing thing about Mumbai Police: despite having so much plot to handle, it manages to fall into the second category. Exactly how often does that happen in the movies?