Cast: Anant Nag, Suman
Director: Hemanth M. Rao
Everybody loves a well-made whodunit, and Hemanth has made a good cocktail of noir and deception to serve the audience this time. The movie starts off pretty mundanely—Shyam (Rishi), a traffic cop, meets women over cups of coffee to see if they can get married. The dates are, obviously, arranged by his parents. But there's no sign of awkwardness on his part. He does paint a rosy picture of his job, though.
However, only he knows how much he's suffering inside due to the lack of thrills in his line of work. He wants to solve crimes, but his seniors give him a stink-eye. All the same, Shyam isn't somebody who sells his sadness for a dance in the bar. This is not that kind of a film. Hemanth isn't Imtiaz Ali either to repeat a series of shots to show how frustrated his protagonist is.
The opening credits mention that Kavaludaari is dedicated to the police officers. And that may be enough to point to the absence of bad cops in Hemanth's world. You can see the colorless interiors of Shyam's house. He's an honest cop who doesn't live on big bribes. Instead, he takes pride in his job.
He goes out of his way to fit into the idea of an investigator. When he finds a stranger lurking in a crime scene, he raises his voice. Actually, he isn't supposed to be there too. He's not there to take care of the traffic woes. He's there to see if he can gather some clues regarding the three sets of bones that were found earlier that day. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but here, the same curiosity keeps him awake and helps him forge a bond with the stranger – a crime reporter, named Kumar (Achyuth Kumar) – and Muthanna (Anand Nag), a retired cop.
Shyam goes through the case files as though he's nose-deep in the work of narrative non-fiction. These scenes are brilliantly staged by Hemanth, for they give you a short history about the characters without revealing too many details. Shyam zeroes in on the identities of the victims based on their ages and the year in which they went missing. The murders took place during the Emergency (late 70s) and the hero is looking to connect the dots in 2017.
Imagine the things that could have happened in these four decades. As Muthanna jokingly says, Shyam wasn't even born when the murders happened. Then why do you think he's running behind the disappearing shadows of the night to uncover the mystery? Well, you can blame it on his need to prove to his seniors of his capability; or, you can file it under butterfly effect since all the pieces of the puzzle emerge in the closing minutes.
Kavaludaari doesn't talk about the roads that connect the police department, media, politics, and the film industry alone. It tries to debunk the myth of multiple coincidences by giving it a karmic touch – the last nail in the coffin related to the link between Shyam and the victims put me off, as it appeared gimmicky.
There was another place where I felt that Hemanth's treatment failed to maintain his vision. The initial scenes involving Muthanna – as are evident in the trailer – revolve around bottles of liquor. He's an alcoholic who's confined to the four walls of his house. He steps out of his abode merely to feed his dog and collect new bottles from the seller. For such a pathetic loser, one line of insult wouldn't be sufficient to make him see the sun. When Shyam berates Muthanna for not lending his hand to unmask the killer, the latter immediately realizes that he's swimming in a pool of sorrow. He soon gets rid of his scraggly beard and shows up to join the investigation.
Kavaludaari clicks in spite of these minor scratching disturbances because of its spotless cast and crew. Take the scene where Kumar lets his guard down and cries uncontrollably. Those aren't simple tears of pain. You'll learn later that they're also sobs of remorse. Or, take that scene where Muthanna gives a lesson on khaki to Shyam – this wonderful nugget carried me to the shores of Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu where Venkob Rao (Anant Nag) narrated his love story, albeit haltingly, to Sahana (Sruthi Hariharan).
I must say that Hemanth has used Nag's talent in both his movies excellently. The septuagenarian-actor, under his lenses, reaches for greater powers. For this, he must be given gentle pats on the back.
And Charan Raj must be equally celebrated for staying true to the genre. Words like nigooda (mysterious) and samshaya (suspicious) add much flavor to this kind of cinema. The songs enhance the mood of the film, and, they're in no way a hindrance, like they usually are in Indian thrillers.