Burglars Hit Movie Director’s Home, Then Deliver a Cinematic Plot Twist

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When the thieves broke into the country home of a renowned film director in southern India, taking gold, silver and cash, they made a clean getaway. But days later, a small plastic bag appeared outside the house’s gates, stitched shut with thin sticks and containing something wrapped in a white handkerchief.

Inside was a medal for a prestigious national award that the director, M. Manikandan, had won in 2021 for one of his films.

With it was a brief note handwritten in Tamil, a regional language.

“Sir, please forgive us,” the note read. “Your hard work belongs to you alone.”

The burglary and partial return, with its small-town intrigue and big-hearted absurdity, could have figured in the kind of movies Mr. Manikandan and other filmmakers in India’s south make.

While Bollywood gets much attention and recognition outside the country, some of India’s most endearing and creative films come from its diverse regional cinemas, in languages such as Tamil and Malayalam.

Mr. Manikandan broke through with a film about two egg-stealing, slum-dwelling brothers with a single goal — to do whatever it took to taste pizza. The film for which he won the purloined medal, “Kadaisi Vivasayi” or “The Last Farmer,” was a commentary on the difficulties of farming in India. But its surreal twists also laid bare the absurdities of the nation’s bureaucracy.

When an elderly farmer refuses to give up his plot of land, he is falsely accused of a crime. The courts recognize his innocence, but he must still remain behind bars for weeks for the bureaucratic process to run its course, so a police officer is tasked with taking care of his small plot.

“What will I do with the money?” the farmer says in the film, rejecting any notions of giving up farming or selling his land. “Use it as a pillow when I sleep?”

The thieves who came for Mr. Manikandan’s country home clearly had ideas about what to do with money. But also a conscience, or maybe respect for art.

Sathish Kumar, a head constable who is part of the intelligence-gathering team of the local police unit investigating, said the house, in the town of Usilampatti, was broken into via the front door last week. Taken was about $1,200 in local currency, 40 grams of gold chains and silver ornaments with a total weight of about a kilogram.

It is a one-bedroom property, with an office and a garden. Mr. Manikandan is there only occasionally, living mostly in Chennai, the state capital, about 300 miles away.

“A pug guards the place while servants come in and out to feed him and clean the place,” Mr. Kumar said.

Thefts are frequent in the town, though most have been solved with help of CCTV footage, Mr. Kumar said. But in the burglary at Mr. Manikandan’s place, there were no clues.

When the film director’s manager found the plastic bag with the medal on the east side of the property four days after the burglary, he called the police at once, according to Mr. Kumar. Mr. Kumar and his team took the bag and the medal into police custody, hoping they finally had a lead on the culprits. But the fingerprints collected have resulted in no matches.

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