Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Ranjith Kalidoss along with his team consisting of detective officers Joseph and Vandhana, attempt to hunt down a psychotic killer before realizing he is suffering from an unexpected illness.
Nibunan is an action thriller with suspense and mystery. The suspense gets high as the team uncovers the mystery through mind games. A DSP and his team are after a serial killer who is always one step ahead. His murders are always meticulously planned. After figuring out who the next potential victim is going to be, the offices do their best to solve the mystery before it’s too late.
Nibunan is a 2017 Tamil-Language action thriller film co-written, co-produced, and directed by Arun Vaidyanathan. The Indian film stars Arjun Sarja (Irumbo Thirai), Prasanna, and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar (Sarkar) in the lead roles with Sruthi Hariharan, Vaibhav, Swaksha Ganesh, and Krishna Kulasekaran in supporting roles. The music is composed by Navin. The title means expert.
The film was released in 2017 in Kannada as Vismaya meaning Amazing. The film was released in 2018 in Telugu with the title Kurukshetram meaning Battlefield. The satellite rights for the Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu versions were sold to Polimer TV, Colors Kannada, and Zee Telugu.
WHERE TO WATCH
THE STORY OF NIBUNAN
In this section, I will share with you how I understood the story 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…
The movie starts with someone painting what appears to be a male doll with an animal face that resembles a bull. Then we see a news update about politics and a government official talking with a representative of the Criminal Investigation Department requesting the best man to handle a case. Then we basically see the introduction of the main characters. Each is shown on a panel with their stats.
Ranjith Kalidoss, played by Arjun Sarja, is a DSP born in 1970 specializing in crime scene analysis, and training in armed & tactical combat. Joseph, played by Prasanna, is a detective officer born in 1984 working as an interrogation specialist, and Vandhana, played by Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, is a detective officer born in 1986 specializing in forensic criminology. All working for the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID). Before the intro credits, we see how the team successfully handles an incident efficiently and effectively in just a few minutes.
After the credits, we see that someone left a bag containing a doll at the police station. The team takes on high-profile cases and closes them successfully. Ranjith’s superiors assign his team a task to pursue a group of 5 criminals, who continue to avoid justice with their political and economic influence. Ranjith suggests a more direct approach to taking them out, but his superior declines to go along with it. Before they can pursue the current case, they get dragged into the mystery of the doll. The doll resembles a man’s body with a horse head hanging on a noose. The figure has what resembles bullet holes, but otherwise no other details. Not thinking much of it, the team decides to ignore it.
Ranjith goes back home where he interacts with his family. Counter to his high-intensity job, Ranjith has a peaceful family life. He talks to his younger brother Sandeep, played by Vaibhav, and goes to check on his little girl Oviya, played by Swaksha Ganesh. In her room, he has a painting of her dad as Superman.
His wife, Shilpa, played by Sruthi Hariharan, spends her free time painting and asks him for feedback on her current painting when all he wants to do is romance her. The family also has a dog called Rocky. Ranjith’s relationship with his family and team is further expanded in a music sequence wherein they show them spending time together and caring for each other.
Vandhana gets a phone call at night while she’s sleeping but it seems to be a prank call as the other side remains silent when she answers. A car is shown with a scorpion ornament tangling on the windshield driven by a man walking alone on the side of the road at night. The next day the department is celebrating Ranjith’s birthday.
After the celebration, he receives instructions from his superior to handle a case. A politician, a local communist leader, seems to have been kidnapped. Later, they are informed that they have probably found the deceased body of the politician. They reach a warehouse where they see the body hanging with the face covered with a realistic mask of a bull, very similar to the doll they received earlier, with the number 4864 on his back.
The place is swarmed with officers collecting evidence from the scene. When the mask is removed from the body the victim is identified as the missing politician. Later it is shown that he was the man walking on the streets. The driver offered him a lift. During the autopsy, the body is shown with grave injuries probably caused by torture. The cause of death is affiliation after being hanged and the body was shot postmortem.
Ranjith has not been feeling well and goes to the doctor. He is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease which compromises his job, and his happiness with his family is strained. He’s at the initial stage of the disease. By now he should have experienced hand malfunctioning and loss of smell.
The doctor gave him 2 weeks to solve the case before starting his treatment as he insisted that it is important for him to work on it. After leaving the doctor they see an old couple. Ranjith takes Shilpa’s hand. They are both disturbed. On the way home Shilpa silently cries. Ranjith reaches out and gives her a tissue to dry her tears. She starts praying afterward.
When they reach home Ranjith goes out without taking his medicines. He takes a drive. The other teammates are skilled at the station working. He drives near a church while thinking about the random things he sees on the road. He reaches a pump station and calls his team. On the road he stops, and his right hand starts trembling he receives a call from the killer. He records it and informs the team that he may have a clue as to where he is. Unfortunately, they are late again. The circumstances are similar except this time the victim has the number 2450, a police uniform, and the mask of a demon. That night he started putting the puzzle together and connects the killings to an older case.
The killer continues to taunt the team by sending clues as he kills more people, the second victim is Dr. Ramya, a pathologist. The victim had a lion mask. Ranjith follows one of the clues and finds the killer, but before he could take him down, the tremors that he has been experiencing lately slow him down. The killer knocks out Ranjith and escapes. The team trains at the gym, when Ranjith starts to train with Vandhana and sees her tattoo, he gets distracted and starts to think about the bull & lion images. They start to discuss possibilities and put parts of the puzzle together concluding that they need to act faster than the serial killer.
When his team arrives, they inform him about a dead body in one of the buildings, but he already expects a third victim and describes what he would find without seeing it. The third victim is Vishnu, a lawyer. He also expects that he himself will be the killer’s next target.
PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER
Back at the office, Ranjith manages to piece things together and connects the killings to a case that he investigated a few years earlier. Emmanuel and his wife are a wealthy couple in town, who lived with their 16-year-old daughter Catherine and a caretaker Mariadas. The couple were very successful businesspeople but had very little time for their daughter. Mariadas took care of Catherine. The house had been ransacked. The police close the case concluding that it was a burglary gone bad, and Mariadas is on the run.
Shivanand, the local communist leader, pushes to reopen the case, which lands with Ranjith. He quickly focuses his attention on Emmanuel, where he sees a new golf club in his bag, and his investigation leads to the missing golf club with the caretaker’s blood on it. He interrogates Emmanuel and his wife with the evidence, and they confess the truth. They came home one day to find Mariadas having sex with Catherine. Catherine only reached puberty a few days earlier. Her parents were busy preparing for the puberty ceremony. Enraged, Emmanuel hits Mariadas with the club and kills him. Horrified Catherine asks her father why he did it.
When Catherine threatens to call the police, her mother tries to stop her. In the scuffle, she accidentally falls on a sharp object that kills her instantly. Not able to wiggle their way out as Ranjith and Vishnu refuse to take bribes and cover the truth. Driven by guilt and not wanting to face the consequences, Emmanuel and his wife commit suicide. Dr. Ramya is involved in the autopsy of Catherine, and the prosecutor is set to argue the case at the court and is present with Ranjith during the interrogation and confession.
DANGER AT HOME
Ranjith informs the team that their boss is not convinced and will meet with the press. Ranjith goes back home. He talks with his brother about his situation and gets emotional. He tells his brother how solving the case is very important to him. Suddenly there is thunder and lightning. Ranjith calls Rocky but he doesn’t come. He goes out to find him. Suddenly he feels and sees drupels of blood on his hand. He looks up and sees a doll hanging from the tree and finds out that Rocky has been shot. The next day at the office he’s remembering his time with Rocky.
While all this is happening, Ranjith finds a doll hanging outside his house. When coming back, his dog Rocky was shot in the head. The killer is someone seeking vengeance for the deaths of the couple and is probably connected to the family. His boss takes over the case and tells Ranjith to be saved and get medical help for his condition. Joseph and Vandhana continue the investigation, looking for a connection between Ranjith’s case and the murders. There were no other family members that could be the murderer. Emmanuel has a nephew named Christopher, but he lives in the US. They are looking for someone with pharmaceutical knowledge, as the killer manufactured his own brand of anesthesia to knock out his victims.
At home, Ranjith is following the case closely, and Shilpa is spending time with him. Oviya is concerned about the killer, but Oviya is concerned about the killer, but Ranjith reassured her that he will catch him. They play together and she calls him Superman. Shilpa is silently watching with tears in her eyes. The next day Ranjith and his wife go to the hospital for his admission to get treatment.
In the meantime, we see the killer doing something. Joseph is called and goes with Vandhana to find the next victim. This time again it has a police uniform with a skeleton mask. The team further investigates working with the team at the hospital. Vandhana spends most of her time with Ranjith, even though his brother gets involved in trying to help them solve the case.
Ranjith gets admitted to the hospital, where he continues to crack the clues, he concludes that it must be Christopher, as he has the motive, means, and know-how. After checking with immigration services, they learn that Christopher did arrive in India not too long ago.
A cop is dispatched to Christopher’s house to investigate, he finds all the evidence including the identity of the next victim, Ranjith. While Vandhana is calling him it is shown that he was killed before he could alert his team. In the meantime, Ranjith and Vandhana are convinced that Christopher is the serial killer.
FACING THE NIGHTMARE
In the meantime, Joseph is still on the road. He gets called by the inspector. He calls Vandhana while driving, he sees a black scorpion vehicle and pursuits it as it seems to be on the route to the hospital. Vandhana alerts the hospital that there will be a possible kidnapping and they will manage the necessary security.
Security sees the black scorpion passing by the entrance of the hospital. Joseph arrives at the scene and informs Vandhana that the vehicle left. He takes a bike and goes to pursue the vehicle along with Vandhana. They reach a deserted crossroad and get hit by the black scorpion from the back. It was a trap.
Christopher captures Joseph and Vandhana. In the meantime, Ranjith is restless in his hospital room alongside his family. Shilpa tells him to calm down. He receives a call from Christopher. Having no choice, Ranjith leaves the hospital to meet Christopher. He tells his wife to be strong. He takes a bike to reach his destination. On the way, he finds the bike Joseph & Vandhana were on. Christopher sends him the coordinates.
He arrives at the warehouse and finds Joseph and Vandhana standing with their hands bound and with nooses around their necks. Christopher attacks Ranjith from above. He has a scorpion mask. We see a needle falling on the ground and Ranjith checking his neck. Ranjith starts to fight but falls. Joseph and Vandhana look concerned. We see that both are beaten up. Christopher, played by Krishna Kulasekaran, removes his mask and then tells him his story. Ranjith gets a call from his superiors.
Unknowingly to Christopher Ranjith activates his watch. Christopher then calls Sandeep to mock him on how he’s going to kill everyone if he doesn’t use the hashtag #copskilllife with a picture of Ranjit beaten up. Somehow, using his watch to blow up the lights with vibrating frequency (I think), and frees himself and starts fighting with Christopher. It appears he wins but his right-hand fails him when he’s about to hit him with a piece of wood. He quickly recovers and fights him again.
After a long struggle, Ranjith manages to overpower Christopher and hangs him, and shoots him the same way he does to his victims. The press arrives at the site, and Ranjith tells them that Christopher is another victim of the serial killer.
A few days later, Joseph and Vandhana meet Ranjith at his house and ask him why he did not inform the press that Christopher was the serial killer. Ranjith then reveals his plan for their earlier case. He plans to kill the five criminals, who were high-profile criminals with status in a society where it would be almost impossible for them to face the law and blame the killings on the serial killer. The fifth criminal will be framed as a serial killer. At the beginning of the end credits, it is shown that his plan worked.
To start with the bad, the song during the intro credits sounded unnerving in my opinion, not my cup of tea. Further, I did not like the portrayal of Catherine. Her character was basically a minor having voluntary sexual relations with an older man. On her recent birthday according to the story she had just reached puberty. There is supposed to be a puberty celebration according to the culture and the parents were looking forward to it.
Puberty typically occurs between ages 8 and 13 for girls so she should be 13 then? In the movie, she seems older, and the impact of the situation doesn’t translate well. The caretaker has been basically grooming her to accept his affections which makes him a pedophile. The villain had a great setup but was a little disappointing in the end. The final fight was also a little bit underwhelming.
But I have to say that I was fully entertained and invested in the story. I liked the camaraderie between the team members and the close relationship Ranjith has with his family. It is in my opinion what many wishes they had. The scene at the hospital with his wife watching an older couple after receiving his diagnosis was good. It showed his vulnerability without having to say anything.
By the end I felt a little bit of déjà vu with Imaikkaa Nodigal where the serial killer was not revealed but the circumstances there were completely different. I like the relationship Ranjith has with his daughter.
I cared about the main characters, but the supporting characters got their screen time as well. I liked the interactions between Joseph and Vandhana and was glad that they didn’t make them a couple.
GIVING IT A CHANCE
One of the issues with the mainstream critics is that they never address that law enforcement officers have normal lives, outside their work. This would make them more relatable and wouldn’t fit the narrative that they are completely evil.
I just simply watched it because it looks interesting and has a woman in a prominent role. Something that according to the Indian mainstream media, there isn’t much off. So far Imaikkaa Nodigal and Nibunan show females in action thrillers films with important positions in law enforcement. I found so many female-centric movies and films with females in prominent roles or supporting roles, to watch. I have no idea how I will manage to watch everything but it just shows you that there is enough alternative content to watch.
Some examples from the South include Yashoda, Dora, Charing, Ponniyin Selvan: I & II, Miss India, Fidaa, Ponmagal Vondhal, Tejasvini 1 & 2, Maya, U-Turn, Raatchaasi, Paava Kadhaigal, Coco, Aruvi, Penguin, Bhaiagamatie, Mahanati, Take Off, Shyam Signha Ray. From the Hindi industry, I found Maardani 1&2, Hitchki, Mrs. Chatervedi vs. Norway, Raazi, Jazbaa, Kahaani, Queen, Mary Kom, No one killed Jessica, Thappad, Gunjan Saxeja, English Vinglish, Mom, Naam Shabana, and Dhakaad.
In my opinion, there is so much, and yet the mainstream seems to ignore all these. Luckily the local audience shares their experiences watching these movies and you will rapidly find how popular they are among the regular folks on social media. More and more mainstream reviewers are becoming irrelevant, you see how many of them have become hosts of their own shows interviewing celebrities. The price for access shows when there is clear favoritism for the media darlings and the condescending way of asking questions to the rest, even when they are established artists in their hometown. I have respect for those who have the patience to deal with this treatment and admire those that put them in their place.
It seems to me like Bollywood reviewers are stuck with that mentality because they are used to selling films made for stars that bring the bank and most of those were males. The story is centered around the lead and even the supporting cast be it male or female doesn’t get screen time. You see a generation of female actresses such as Rani, Aishwarya Ray, Vidya Balan, and Kangana Ranaut putting in the work to make female-centric films including action movies, and doing the physical training for it. I think the physical training to be in shape to do stunts is the reason why there are so few female action films in the North. It’s not glamorous. Actresses in the South seem more open to putting in the work.
Nibudan is an engaging crime thriller. I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to those who liked Imaikkaa Nodigal and Irumbo Thirai. Coincidentally the villain from Irumbo Thirai is one of the main leads in Nibunan. I enjoyed the first and second half of the movie.
The team trying to figure out who the serial killer is, seeing how Ranjith is dealing with his disease, and the support he gets from his team got me invested in the movie. The setup of the villain for me was a complete disappointment. In the end, he seemed like a typical crazy person, and how he expressed his motivations and what he thinks seems just “meh”.
The final fight could have been better. I understand that Ranjith should give the final blow since it’s personal for him, but they could have set the team to work together somehow to bring him down. Joseph and Vandhana just stood there unable to do anything.
My Rating: 7/10
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