Director: Akash Srivatsa
Cast: Ramesh Aravind, Radhika Narayan, Raaghu Raamanakoppa
In Akash Srivatsa's Shivaji Surathkal, Ramesh Aravind stars as a famous detective who shares the film's name. He is known to solve cases with his "imagination". No, no. This doesn't mean he dreams up who the killer is. It's just that he can look at a corpse splayed out by a swimming pool and say that the dead man was a left-hander. Because he kept his wallet in the left butt-pocket of his jeans. Or maybe it's the other way around. But you know what I mean. If Shivaji Surathkal looked around him, at his sets, he'd deduce — instantly — that his film was sponsored in part by Bindu packaged water, Sparsh rasam powder and especially Levista coffee. A branded mug of this brew is featured so prominently in scenes, I was crestfallen that it was not named in the supporting cast.
The film is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. (It's actually based on an Agatha Christie murder mystery, but to save the suspense, I won't tell you which one.) The son of the Home Minister is found dead in a resort in a remote, forested area called Ranagiri, which explains the expanded — and very Holmes-ian — title of the film: Shivaji Surathkal: The Case of Ranagiri Rahasya. Our detective is assigned to find the killer. At first he refuses. He has a "personal connect" to the place, something that's gradually revealed. But duty calls. Plus, I suppose you can't say no when it's something to do with the Home Minister. With his assistant Govindu (Raaghu Raamanakoppa), Shivaji lands up at the resort. But wait? Has that "personal connect" got something to do with this murder?
Consider the room number the victim was in: 1001. Now, consider Shivaji's date of birth: January 10, aka 10/01. Now, consider the number of cases Shivaji has cracked so far: 100, which means this one's No. 101. The film, thus, flows in two timelines. Even as Shivaji investigates this case, we see him in the past, investigating the case of… his missing wife (Radhika Narayan). There's one neat trick, here. At first, the older track is presented in warm, richly saturated colours, and the other one is in colder shades of blues and blacks. But slowly, the present day takes on the colours of the past. It's as though that timeline has bled into this one: there really is a "personal connect". There's also a she-ghost, anklet bells and all. She's supposed to be the one luring single men to death on full-moon nights. The body count mounts with decapitated pigeons and at least one butchered Labrador.
The suspects include a documentary filmmaker, a palmist, an NRI couple and sundry others. But the real killers are the tone and mood, which waver between full-throttle horror and suspense and gruesomeness and romance (yes, a duet with Shivaji and his wife) and "comedy". With the latter, I'm referring to our detective's quirks, like suddenly turning to the camera to complete his lines. (If the line is "You mean sleepwalking?", the first two words are delivered to a character, the last word to the camera.) And all this makes it very hard to take anything seriously, especially when the reveals kick in. The last half-hour is reasonably engrossing, but given the premise, Shivaji Surathkal should have been much more. Maybe things would have turned out better if the scriptwriting sessions had been powered with more Levista coffee?