Director: Pradeep Krishnamoorthy
Cast: Sibi Sathyaraj, Nandita Swetha, Nassar, Jayaprakash, Suman Ranganathan
Pradeep Krishnamoorthy's Kabadadaari is based on Hemanth Rao's 2019 Kannada feature Kavaludaari, and in terms of plot and structure, it stays fairly close to the source material. Sibi Sathyaraj plays a traffic cop named Sakthi. He wants to do more. He wants to be a detective. And he gets his chance (unofficially) when three skeletons are discovered in the earth being dug up for Metro Rail construction work. From my review of Kavaludaari: "A small boy, presumably the child of one of the workers, is playing with a ball. The ball bounces into a trench, and the boy follows, stepping carefully on the loose sand on the walls of the trench. The crux of this moment is the discovery of the skeletons – it's what sets the plot in motion, and you'd think this is where the big drama will play out." The boy will see the bones. The soundtrack will seize the opportunity and go ballistic.
But no. "We cut to a scene where the boy's mother steps out of her makeshift hut. She sees him playing with a skull. She screams. That's when the soundtrack goes ballistic. The camera adds to the drama, going higher and higher, giving us a God's-eye view of Bengaluru." Change the name of the city, and the rest of the scene in the Tamil version could be described with a single word: ditto. I wish the rest of this investigative thriller had been ditto, too. I didn't really expect the noir shadings of the Kannada film to be replicated in mainstream Tamil cinema. But that's exactly why Kavaludaari worked: it's the treatment, not the plot. It's the mood. It's the pace. It's the atmosphere. It's the presence of an actor like Anant Nag, who breathed fresh life into a stock role ("the grizzled veteran cop lured out of retirement") with his trademark dignity.
Nasser plays this part in Kabadadaari, and you can see the difference. He's a terrific performer, too, but even the best of actors have to be nudged this way and that (by the director) in order to give a performance that goes beyond what they do in default mode. You can sense that's not happening here. The film is in default mode, too. The lines are flat. There's a certain obviousness in the way everything plays out — put differently, the staging is also flat. There's a lot of underlining, a lot of "this is what Tamil audiences will respond to" manipulation. These calculations may be true. But the result still has to transform from mathematics to cinema. It's as though they just thought a killer background score would take care of it all.