I was absolutely gobsmacked by the amazing performance of Prithviraj in the Malayalam crime mystery drama Mumbai Police. I had seen Prithviraj in a stellar if unflashy supporting role in the Hindi film Aurangzeb, also as a cop. Then I saw Classmates as I was told how influential it is in modern Malayalam cinema. He was very solid also in the romantic drama Ennu Ninte Moideen. I had been impressed by his body of work, but nothing prepared me for his incredible performance in Mumbai Police. Essentially, he’s almost playing a double role.
In the opening scene, Tony (Prithviraj) is driving down an empty street at night in his police jeep. He is speaking into a phone saying, “I have found the culprit.” in Malayalam and then repeats it in English. Suddenly a refrigerator falls off a truck in front of him, and he swerves and the jeep rolls over. The next scene has a bewildered scarred Tony in a car with Farhan who tells Tony he is his best friend. Tony has lost all his memory, and this fellow cop friend and the doctor are the only people who know that. Tony was in the middle of the investigation of the murder of a fellow policeman and the political and press pressure is intense for the case to be solved.
Tony doesn’t know who is friend and who is foe. After Farhan drops him off at his apartment, Tony is attacked by several men, and is stunned that he can quickly dispatch all of them. He asks his doctor if he can really return to work, and she has him solve a sudoku puzzle. She explains that before the accident he was “Person A”, and after he lost his memory he is “Person B”. He may have different likes and preferences as Person B, but all the skills he learned as Person A, any languages he learned, he will still know. She brings up that Steve Wozniak lost his memory the same way for five weeks after a plane accident. (All the computers in the film are Macs).
So, Tony returns to work, bluffing his way through his interactions with subordinates and poring over the investigation notes. He learns the murder victim was his good friend Aryan, and Tony, Farhan and Aryan were known as the “Mumbai Police” since they had served there together before returning to Kerala.
The films Memento and Ghajini deal with short term memory loss, but Mumbai Police reminded me more of the old Harrison Ford movie Regarding Henry. In Regarding Henry, Harrison Ford plays a hard charging lawyer who loses his memory and has almost a complete personality change after being shot. He’s two different people and his family has to adjust to the “new” Henry.
Tony at first wants to get back to what he was before, but in the course of reinvestigating the murder, he discovers that he was quite the asshole. He was confident and arrogant, with a certain swagger, but his staff walked on eggshells around him waiting for him to explode. There is a scene where Tony is questioning a possible witness, and grabs the guy’s wife and manhandles her, molesting her in front of everyone. His female subordinate looks on in complete disgust at his abuse of power. And we in the audience had been falling for this super competent cop, and then his darkness slaps us in the face.
Gradually, Tony finds that the murder happened from a specific kind of sniper gun from a nearby building to the murder parade ground. Aryan was about to be decorated with a medal for bravery and his speech is cut short by the bullet to the heart. Tony was the one who actually deserved the medal, but was letting Aryan take the credit. Tony’s team lose confidence in him because they can see that he had steered the investigation to protect someone. And you sense, that maybe it was Tony himself. But WHY?? It makes no sense!
The last 20 minutes of the film are shocking. Yes, the film has been out for three years, but I’m not going to spoil it, in case you, dear reader, have not seen it yet. I was sitting there with my mouth hanging open. It’s Six Sense or Crying Game level shocking and I wouldn’t spoil the reveal in those films either. Prithviraj in those final scenes had a level of acting that was just so beyond anything I had ever seen him do. He is raw, completely vulnerable and just devastating.
The script of this film is put together like clockwork, written by the team Bobby-Sanjay who also wrote Traffic. A lot of Indian films can feel like they have slap dash scripts, or maybe had no written script upon filming (ahem), but this was almost like a Hitchcock film in how it was so carefully crafted. Solid directing by Rosshan Andrrew, and a nice moody soundtrack. The supporting players are all good, but none really stood out to me as exceptional. What is extraordinary is Prithviraj’s performance and he gave his all for this film. Everyone needs to see this superb tour de force movie.
Four and a half stars out of five, and now one of my all-time favorite Malayalam films.
Only if you’ve already seen the film and know the surprise ending, read the Don’t Call It Bollywood analysis of the film which has tons of spoilers.