In Irumbu Thirai, an army officer starts hunting down a gang of cyber criminals after they steal money from his bank account.
Irumbu Thirai tells a story that concerns hacking and the leak of information, how in the days of interconnections, the privacy of a person is compromised, as anyone can be hacked, and their personal information stolen from them. It shows how people’s data can be stolen and used against them by modern criminals.
The film is a 2018 Indian Tamil-language cyber-crime/thriller musical starring Vishal, Arjun Sarja, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Delhi Ganesh, Suman, Kaali Venkat, Robo Shankar, and directed by debutant P. S. Mithran. The background score is composed of Yuvan Shankar Raja. The title of the film means Iron Curtain. The film was produced by Vishal Film Factory. Vishal decided to fund and act in a venture directed by newcomer P. S. Mithran in August 2016 and subsequently signed on actress Samantha to play the leading female role in the film.
The story revolves around Kathiravan (Vishal), who borrows a loan from a bank by producing fake documents. His happiness does not last long as the entire money from his account gets siphoned off. When Kathiravan begins the investigation, he gets to know about the mastermind cyber hacker behind this crime – White Devil. Will Kathiravan catch the White Devil and get his money back? Will Kathiravan expose the people behind this social cybercrime racket?
WHERE TO WATCH
The film was dubbed and released into Hindi as The Return of Abhimanyu. It also has a Malayalam and Telegu dubbed version under the same title are available on Sun NXT and Manorama MAX. The Tamil version with English subtitles is available on Amazon Prime, Zee5, and YouTube on the United India exporters’ official channel.
In the next section, I will share with you how I understood the film with subtitles. Yes, there are going to be major spoilers but I think it’s important to share this perspective because sometimes things can get lost in translation or cultural differences may have an impact on how one interprets the story. I think it’s unfair when this happens with critics that are very quick to judge. Especially with foreign cinema, audiences tend to rely on critics and influencers that sometimes have their own biases or even have no idea about what they are reviewing.
Eventually, I think it’s better to watch it and make your own assessment. Sometimes rewatching is necessary. Afterward, it’s fun to compare with these “critics and influencers” and see how much they got wrong. There is always something. Now, let’s get into the story…
ABOUT THE FILM
Indian Army Major R. Kathiravan, played by Vishal, is expelled from the army due to his anger management issues. To rejoin the army, he is ordered to treat his anger management issues with chief psychiatrist Rathi Devi, played by Samantha Ruth Prabhu. She is an intelligent woman. Soon they both fall in love and she counsels him to leave for his village to spend time with his family, his father, played by Delhi Ganesh, and his sister, played by Darshana Rajendran. He always hated his father, due to his habit of borrowing money which may be a factor in his anger problem, but Kathiravan reluctantly agrees to visit his family.
FACING FINANCIAL PROBLEMS
Kathiravan learns that the family of his sister’s fiancé is asking for dowry and for them to bear the marriage expenses. Kathiravan returns to Chennai to apply for a loan to help his sister, only to get rejected everywhere. His uncle, played by Robo Shankar, advises him to take his father to Chennai along with him and tries to get a loan in his father’s name which is also rejected everywhere due to his financial history or lack thereof.
They are approached by a person outside the bank, who claims to be a loan agent and tells them to falsify documents to get a loan in exchange for a commission. Kathiravan initially refuses, but reluctantly agrees to the man’s offer and submits all the original documents to him. The person helps them to obtain a loan. Kathiravan is overjoyed and starts the marriage preparation.
Later, when his father was unable to withdraw money due to insufficient balance, he informs Kathiravan. Kathiravan enquires the bank, but the bank doesn’t help. The bank representative asked if they shared their pin number with anyone. They tell him no. Kathiravan gets frustrated and blows his anger on his father who attempts suicide. Kathiravan learns that his father borrowed money in the past to help his sick mother. He feels remorseful after hearing this and reconciles with his father.
MORE VICTIMS OF CYBERCRIME
Rathi let him meet another victim and tells him that is not about personal vengeance anymore. It’s affecting the general public and he as an army officer should seek justice for those people. He agrees and with the help of his uncle he tracks down the person responsible for the scams in his area after beating his comrades. He learns about the White Devil, who is the kingpin of the Dark Net. And we see the White Devel giving a speech on the value of information and how you can lower or increase the values and morality of a person.
Kathiravan captures a loan agent similar to his loan agent to gather information from him and figure out who is behind all the scams. The White Devil is shown listening in and giving instructions to release the forged documents to the bank of all the people that the agent scammed and let the bank handle it.
With the help of his friends in the military and Rathi, he tries to brainstorm and understood that these people that persuade their victims to lie and falsify documents are part of a network that has access to their personal information. They buy their information from several sources. Kathiravan slowly learns about all the tricks the cybercriminals use to track their victims. And how the information business works, from copy centers, banks, credit cards, biometrics, security cameras, to call centers.
FINDING THE WHITE DEVIL
They then set a trap within the bank itself to see who falls. One falls and immediately calls the White Devil. They manage to capture him, and they are tracked and followed by the White Devil’s lackeys. They continue the pursuit till late in the night when they reach a field with only a goat in sight. Then they are immediately surrounded by the military. Afraid to lose their lives, they rapidly tell them all they know.
After further investigation, Kathiravan learns that the person responsible for all the crimes is Sathyamoorthy aka White Devil, played by Arjun Sarja. He runs an educational trust as a front for his cybercrime network. Kathiravan tracks him and confronts Sathyamoorthy. The man already knew that Kathiravan was tracking him and as a consequence, he gives the order to his goons to attack Kathiravan’s sister.
Sathyamoorthy also tells Kathiravan that he transferred money to his account from a flagged account for which he is arrested by the military and court-martialed. Kathiravan makes a plan and tracks Sathyamoorthy’s henchmen with Rathi’s help. He fights them and then calls Sathyamoorthy and further tells him that he deposited all the payroll money from the police department in Sathyamoorthy’s account. However, the White Devil showed his skills by crashing the whole police system. They won’t be back up online until after 48 hours.
FACING OFF THE WHITE DEVIL
He then instructs his lackeys to close down all his accounts, destroy evidence, transfer all the money to his trust accounts and bring all fiat money to his server farm. Kathiravan confronts Sathyamoorthy at his server farm. There he sees a large stack of all the money Sathyamoorthy stole. Kathiravan tells him how a message was sent to all his victims telling them that they got their money and to go to the bank to claim it. Once they reach the bank, they’ll know that there is no money. Sathyamoorthy tells him that it doesn’t matter she can easily collect the fingerprint of anyone and get what he wants.
They start to fight and Sathyamoorthy defeats Kathiravan and burns the money thinking that all evidence will be lost, and nobody would know. During their fight, there is loud noise indicating that something wants to break in. What’s stopping it is an iron curtain. Sathyamoorthy thinks it’s the police. Kathiravan tells him that the police wouldn’t charge him with much, he would get away easily. The noise is made by all the people who were conned by Sathyamoorthy that received a WhatsApp message telling them his location who are there ready to beat him. “Your account is hacked. Ha! Ha! Ha!”.
Sathyamoorthy gets angry and attacks him. Kathiravan fights back and defeats Sathyamoorthy. Kathiravan reminds him that all his victims were so desperate they reach rock bottom and lied including him and he took advantage without a second thought. Kathiravan uses the money in the account to give back the money lost to all the victims. Now it’s time for Sathyamoorthy to face the consequences. Kathiravan opens the iron curtain and lets everyone in. Sathyamoorthy survives the beating and is arrested by the police but manages to create a new username named Dark Angel.
In addition to cybercrime, the film tackles several themes, including anger management, money lending, lack of cyber security, lack of financial literacy, and the power of information.
ANGER MANAGEMENT AND MONEY LENDING
The Major’s anger-related problems are in part because of his father’s tendency to take loans from others. The Major is advised to take anger management therapy. The films shine a light on a problem many countries deal with “loan sharks”. It also shows how loan sharks also go along with the digital age working with hackers and making banks indiscriminately from the rich and the poor. It is also tragic to see how behind authorities are on the cyber security front. The dowry issue was also surprising. I thought that was illegal? I still struggle to understand Kathiravan’s reasoning for basically committing a crime. I understand that he wants to help his sister but he hasn’t seen her in years. Is it because he feels remorseful? But still, he as an army officer is supposed to have a certain level of integrity.
LACK OF FINANCIAL LITERACY AND CYBER SECURITY
The Major is shown to be totally helpless and confused after his money got stolen. You see the total lack of financial literacy which could have helped them prevent this situation. His ignorance and desperation are major factors in his decision-making. When he gets berated by the ACP for being scammed by forging false documents, he deserves it. The man is in the military where they should be aware of cyber security and cybercrime. There is also the fact that he is a major and he has financial problems. A major should be earning well. But that doesn’t mean anything, many middle-class people that earn well have high unnecessary debts which shows how they are not able to handle their finances properly. It is a common problem.
Through the film, you learn a lot about existing cyber-crime tools including the web browser Tor which is used to enter the dark web but also the many methods used to get your information. How many of you use an RFID wallet these days? The great thing about the film is that it uses the correct terminology which makes it perfect to use during training in digital financial literacy and cyber security. What is accurate? What is not? The film also addresses the Aadhaar card which is an Indian-specific product and brings up why there are privacy concerns about the Aadhaar card. If the security on Aadhaar cards is breached what would be the consequences?
Isn’t it funny how the old phone models are the most secure ones that hackers use? The push into the digital age was so fast that we didn’t realize how much information we are sharing on the smartphone and how the loss of a phone or access to it can become tragic. How do we take a step back and regain control over our data?
A VILLAIN THAT IS JUST A VILLAIN
White Devil sees everything, knows everything, and can control everything at the touch of a button which is why he is one step ahead of everyone. He is a s a villain who uses his brain more than his muscles but is ready for a fight when needed. He is a master hacker. The don of the digital world. You don’t see his face for most of the film, but you feel his presence. He does his criminal activities just because he can, and he is unapologetic about it.
He is ruthless in his attacks. He doesn’t care whether the victim is poor or rich and thinks since everyone is so stupid enough to give their information, they deserve to lose their stuff. He easily gets access to the offshore bank account information of the Minister. He also emphasizes the importance of information and how information is valuable enough to give anyone power. His motto: “information is wealth”.
And his new code name, how he gets to it is really stupid on the police’s part. How do you arrest a cybercriminal and leave him with his smartwatch on his wrist? Seriously? Unfortunately, as ridiculous as it sounds, this scenario can happen in real life.
GIVING IT A CHANCE
For me, the main theme of cybercrime was interesting enough to check it out. It appears the film received mixed reviews, but most were positive from audiences praising the performances, writing, direction, and action sequences.
This movie tells us how our information is constantly being gathered and tracked. How a hacker gains access to a smartphone or a bank account is explained simply. Most of us don’t realize what are we allowing while installing an application and we just blindly click. The Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal which resulted in a data breach lawsuit was not enough. Remember how Facebook gave Cambridge Analytica access to the private data of tens of millions of users?
The smartphone is a miniature laptop and then treated as such. Think how many security measures you have for your laptop: a password, firewall, antivirus program, adblocker, private browser, secured folders for important documents, a password manager, etc., etc. Now, do you have all these for your phone? You probably have Microsoft Outlook account to check work emails and probably other Microsoft office items as well. Do you download work documents and share them on WhatsApp or skype? Do you delete these afterward? More than people being stupid like the film suggest which is partially true I think is more ignorance than stupidity.
People just don’t know that the most popular social media have open-source tools in the form of apps and extensions that can subtract the data from their platform even when their account is on private. And these tools are openly available online to everyone.
Irumbu Thirai is an intelligent cybercrime thriller. While the themes seem complex the movie tells the story in a simple manner that even my 60+ mother would understand. It gives a social commentary on problems that many countries in Latin America, The Caribbean, and Africa deal with in the digital economy. I like how it centers on cybercrime which is an important topic. The romance story is short, the action is good and the music is incorporated into the storytelling rather than showing dance sequences as it’s accustomed in Indian films.
Especially in countries where most of the people are middle-class, poor, and unbanked digital finance looked like a blessing initially, but it turned into a nightmare very quickly mainly due to a lack of financial literacy and a lack of cyber security. Payments that don’t reach on time or never reach the user are devastating especially for the poor. Farmers that need money to pay their bills don’t get a grace period from the electricity company or any other company when their payment is delayed. It’s even more heartbreaking when they get scammed and lose their livelihood because of it.
The film addresses how banks are reluctant to lend loans to farmers or to students and how loan agents harass poor people who have borrowed small amounts but give the big lenders from the middle class a pass. Unfortunately, this is a problem not only with money lending, but you see this in other business areas such as compliance.
My Rating: 8/10
Interested in more? Let’s keep an eye on Alternative Entertainment!
All images in this publication belong to the original creators and are used as references under fair use.