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Director: Prashanth Varma

Cast: Rajashekhar, Shatru, Ashutosh Rana, Rahul Ramakrishna, Adah Sharma, Nandita Swetha, Siddu Jonnalagadda

Rajasekhar is back on the big screen with an intelligent action thriller after PSV Garuda Vega (2017). All of a sudden, the actor seems to be picking the right scripts. His strengths are obviously action dramas. His most successful films from the 80s and 90s had him either shouting or fighting for the most part. Now that the trends have changed, the angry man has calmed down a bit. If Praveen Sattaru (director of PSV Garuda Vega) put his lead in a marriage that was hitting a dead-end to produce comedy, Prashanth Varma (director of Kalki) puts his protagonist in the shoes of a cop who’s always ready with wisecracks.

The film begins with an introduction of the various characters that have taken Kollapur under their control. Even before the faces of Perumandlu (Shatru) and Narsappa (Ashutosh Rana) show up, you know that they’re the villains. Narsappa, especially, reminded me of Bavuji (Vineet Kumar) from Vikramarkudu – they’re uncouth people who have an army of savages. They rape women and suffer no consequences since everybody is afraid of them. Commoners, in these films, usually cry and look up to the sky hoping that the gods they pray to will save them.

Varma’s hero, Kalki (Rajasekhar), isn’t just a namesake. The movie, like his directorial debut Awe, is full of metaphors and references to Hindu gods. Kali, Meera, Radha, Shiva, Yogi, Moksha, Krishnaveni, and Parvathi are some of the characters from Awe. Similarly, in Kalki, you’ll find an idol of Narasimha in the background when somebody gets stabbed in the stomach by the hero. Kalki also uses an axe, a weapon that resembles the Sudarshana Chakra, and even a bow and arrow to fight the modern-day demons. He, sometimes, uses them to protect himself, too. He is, after all, investigating a murder case in Kollapur. If you’re still guessing about his spiritual identity (an avatar of Lord Vishnu), look at the name of his sidekick – Devadatta (Rahul Ramakrishna).

Devadatta is a crime reporter here and not the name of the horse that Lord Kalki rides. In last week’s release, Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, Shruti Sharma starred as an assistant to whom the detective (played by Naveen Polishetty) revealed his plans. By literally thinking out loud and saying what his future course of action would involve to the assistant, the viewers didn’t have to spend time in connecting the dots. Similarly, Kalki and Devadatta travel together throughout the small town and put the pieces together. Kalki comes up with an answer for every question that Devadatta asks, for the latter is a stand-in for the audiences’ opinions and doubts. And with Rahul as the face of a journalist, there’s more room for humor.

The entire film looks like it’s been dunked in a sepia-lake. This is definitely done to give it the feeling of an early eighties setting. The time period is probably 83-84 since K. Viswanath’s Sagara Sangamam is playing in the theatres and it’s mentioned that Indira Gandhi is the Prime Minister.

When Kalki comes to Kollapur in his jeep in the beginning, he looks out of place. Most of the men in the town are seen in dhotis, whereas Kalki is seen in colorful clothes. Of course, his entry is meant to take our attention away from Narsappa, who’s unveiling a statue of his deceased brother, Sekhar Babu, in the middle of the town. Kalki seems to be the only person who can finally put the aging antagonist behind the bars. But Varma doesn’t even make his hero break into a sweat during action scenes.

There’s a terrific battle-episode set outside the police station where Kalki uses an umbrella as a dangerous weapon. It’s not terrific because of Kalki’s ingeniousness; it’s terrific because of the way it unfolds. The rains gently fall while the extras fall like flies. This is cinematographic poetry. And Shravan Bharadwaj’s energetic background score takes the scenes a few notches higher.

The entire film looks like it’s been dunked in a sepia-lake. This is definitely done to give it the feeling of an early eighties setting. The time period is probably 83-84 since K. Viswanath’s Sagara Sangamam is playing in the theatres and it’s mentioned that Indira Gandhi is the Prime Minister. Oh, the favourite drink from that era, Gold Spot, also makes a cameo appearance. But Kalki, the film, is tonally different from Sukumar’s Rangasthalam. Though both of them are set in the same period, they don’t appear to give us the same picture of the Andhra Pradesh of the 80s. From the way the Telugu language is spoken to the filmmakers’ sensibilities, there’s not a thing that runs parallelly between them except for item songs – “Jigelu Rani,” and “Horn Pom, Pom OK Please.”

And the bigger disappointment, in Kalki, is the inclusion of a romantic subplot. Padma (Adah Sharma) has nothing to do in the film other than stare at her love-interest with sorrowful eyes. She’s a doctor who doesn’t have any significant role in the proceedings. Couldn’t half the dozen screenplay writers think of a better idea to bring a woman, whose job is to play a sad girlfriend, into the plot other than by making her look like an utter fool?

So, Kalki didn’t exactly leave me with an awful aftertaste. It is, unquestionably, an enjoyable fare. But I wish it were a wholesome action movie that didn’t have to try too hard to land.

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