Director: Sri Senthil
Cast: Bharath, Ann Sheetal, Suresh Chandra Menon and Aadhav Kannadasan
Sri Senthil's Kaalidas — named after the cop played by a buffed-up Bharath — begins like a whodunit. A woman falls from the terrace of a building. Or was she pushed? And then, another woman ends up dead — it's another fall from a terrace. We are being set up for a whodunit. Or so we think. But there are signs that something else is afoot. Take, for instance, how these deaths go unnoticed, at first. In the first instance, the splat! of the body hitting the ground is drowned by the noise of an airplane. (Plus, the building's watchman is half-asleep.) The next time, the person nearest the incident is listening to music on earphones. In other words: What if you screamed and there's no one listening?
That's the case with Kaalidas, too. He's married to Vidya (Ann Sheetal) and he's not listening to her… silent screams. Is he one of those cops so obsessed with work that he ignores his lonely wife's complaints? Or is there a deeper reason for the dysfunction? The dialogues tend to be ornate and stagey, more suited for a public oration, but they ring true, especially when Kaalidas comments that we seek out organic food but our relationships aren't organic anymore. The first few times we see the Kaalidas-Vidya home, there's a picture of him and there are pictures of her — but nothing with them together. (Only later do we see one, across the hallway.) Even in their photographs, they seem to be leading separate lives.
Slowly, we see that Kaalidas isn't the usual detective thriller. (There are points it reminded me of Talaash.) For one, it's as much about the mysterious deaths as a marriage that appears to be dying. Two, Sri Senthil downplays the traditional elements of this genre. Consider the scene where Kaalidas and his team (Suresh Chandra Menon plays a senior cop) enter a hospital to find a woman. She is alerted by an accomplice and attempts to escape. The cross-cutting is expected, but what's surprising is the pacing — it's not frantic, nerve-jangling. Neither is Vishal Chandrasekhar's score. Even the solo violin sounds are more like a country-music fiddle, throbbing with lower-register notes. The feeling isn't that of nail-biting tension. It's that of mild disharmony, of things being slightly off.
Perhaps the biggest divergence from the traditional thriller is the amount of time we spend with Vidya. In the most unexpected scene, she pours herself a drink, like her husband does when he gets home. What follows is an amusing bit where she cannot handle the bitterness of the liquor but is determined to go through with it, and she finds a way. This stretch not only gives us a sense of this woman, who's mostly on her own — it also leads to the entry of a new character (Aadhav Kannadasan), in the form of a tenant who moves into the room upstairs. Is he going to move into Vidya's life, too?
There are two superb romantic numbers, and both are from this woman's viewpoint. (They're not duets.) In one, she sings: 'Manadhu unadhu, maradhi unadhu' / 'Maranam enadhallavaa!' The alliteration is lost in translation, but she's telling her husband: It's your mind that's forgotten me, but it's me who's dying. (Again, there's a conflation of the literal deaths being investigated and a more metaphorical death.) Later, when she gets attracted to the tenant, we get a song with these words: 'Aanandham enbadhe aan mogam enbadho'. She's saying that happiness is a bit of lust, too. The film shows Kaalidas as being a bit of a moralist, one who judges "easy" women. And yet, here's his wife, on the brink of becoming "easy" herself.
If Kaalidas doesn't become all it could have been, it's because it lacks an overall cohesiveness — the two narrative tracks don't come together satisfyingly. The red herrings are too obvious. (Blue Whale Challenge? Really?) The ending with the explanations is too rushed. The last half-hour could have used a few more drafts. And yet, it's refreshing to see a movie cop who isn't a supercop. Bharath and Suresh Menon make a solid team. The latter's character, even in the midst of the deaths he's looking into, keeps talking about the importance of a life away from work. Hence the final scene, which isn't about the closure of an investigation so much as the opening of a new chapter. This thriller is really a love story.