Kabadadaari, With Sibi Sathyaraj And Nandita Swetha: This Investigative Thriller Is Focussed, But Also Flat And Flavourless
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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.

 Kabadadaari, With Sibi Sathyaraj And Nandita Swetha: This Investigative Thriller Is Focussed, But Also Flat And Flavourless

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.

That it does, to an extent. Simon K King uses a moaning violin riff as a motif (the instrument actually seems to be in physical pain), and the way it weaves in and out of the opening-credits music is fabulous. But a score can only do so much. Kabadadaari isn’t bad. But it’s overlong, and without a strong sense of style, we are left with just the functional plot points: the rookie cop searching for clues, the “man who isn’t what he seems” angle, the big reveal delivered like an information dump. (I wished they’d reworked and improved this bit, which was underwhelming in the original, too.) But for one thing, I was thankful. Despite the presence of Nandita Swetha (she plays the daughter of a crime reporter), there’s no romance. The film may lack flavour, but at least it has focus.

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