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Irumbu Thirai and a reality check on our digital footprints

The moment we access the internet through any one of the plethoras of means, two words start popping up and start running at the back of our minds - 'privacy' and 'surveillance'. On the other hand, the sheer voyeuristic pleasure of watching somebody's private life sitting within the privacy of the darkness inside the cinema halls elevates our sense of surveillance, because we can see what the characters can’t.

Whenever we roam along the myriad, dark alleys of the internet, we become those helpless characters in a movie, who are mercilessly being watched by the viewers. Sounds like a head-spinning Mysskin set piece like Thupparivaalan? That’s why Vishal’s latest Kollywood outing after Thupparivalan, Irumbu Thirai draws some curious thought lines for its themes and warnings regarding cybersecurity and private data theft.

One again after Thupparivalan, Irumbu Thirai showcases Vishal as an ambitious actor who is willing to push his boundaries beyond the mind game of detective, interestingly into a more hazardous and slippery universe of cyber crimes. The movie is well timed with recent incidents like Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook data breach, around 100 terabytes of sensitive data stolen from major entertainment company Sony Pictures, the WannaCry virus infiltrated the NHS in UK, disrupting the national network of health services, and the heated and ongoing battle of sides surrounding UIDAI’s Aadhaar Card.

The movie intelligently drives the viewers to a futuristic alert that culminate from all the above incidents, “there is no privacy in the digital world.” The director, Mithran, creates a villain, who is called “digital world oda don,” to execute his scheme of digital theft analysis. While India is divisive over how the Aadhaar Card might be used as a weapon for various evil causes, the movie takes a dig at the flagship security and identification project of Unique Identification Authority of India.

Since its inception, India’s biometric authentication programme was at the center of heated controversies and issues like data security, privacy, and surveillance of the ruling machine. The movie hints at the alleged lack of basic security practices against brute force and other hacker attacks. Without losing the commercial and entertainment quotient, the filmmaker tries to deliver a message about safeguarding bank accounts, online transactions, and, most importantly, the hazards of switching to a digital economy, unprepared.

Being a newbie filmmaker, Mithran daringly plunges into themes like data breach, including usernames, email addresses, and passwords, which would have been avoided by filmmakers who are apprehensive about the old A, B and C center borderlines. Irumbu Thirai marks the urge of a thriving industry to merge the class classification and push the boundaries of the scope of the movies by venturing into hitherto untouched terrains.

In other words, the movie underlines the bitter facts that our digital footprints will deceive us anytime, and surveillance is the new way of life in the town. Merging contemporary and socially relevant themes with the tested and proven commercial templates of the mainstream cinema has become the new success formula for Tamil filmmakers.

Been at its nascent stage, the formula does deliver enthralling results like Mersal, Aruvi, Iraivi, and Taramani, and Irumbu Thirai joins the bandwagon as a surprise entry. Despite its clichéd narrative tools, the movie also stands for Tamil cinema’s versatility and flexibility to incorporate complex, perplexing and deceptive experiences of contemporary life, both virtual and physical. Maybe, one more reason for us to go to the movies as if it’s a ritual and we are all the secret members of a cult group, the moviegoers. Oh, Yes! The big brother is watching!

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