Director: Shaji Kailas
Writer: Jinu Abraham
The joy of watching Shaji Kailas' Kaduva on the big screen isn't that of discovering a satisfying new mass action film through the course of its runtime. Set in 90's Kerala, in what's usually described as the 'achayan belt', the film's backdrop allows for the lawlessness of a Western, inhabited by the kind of ego-bruised macho men who've never heard of "talking it out". Come to think of it, the real fun of Kaduva is closer in spirit to finding a fine HD print of an old Shaji Kailas movie, taking us back to a time that pre-dates everyday phrases like political correctness, nuance and most importantly…massu.
You sense this right from the way the film begins by setting the stage for a bash fest. Kaduvakunnel Kuriachan (Prithviraj) is being escorted into his prison cell, but his myth-making has already begun even before he slowly sets his foot in. Even before he arrives, we get two phone calls, one guaranteeing his comfort and another, his death. A set of goons are sent in right before so he doesn't last the night. Along with these arrivals are also a box of cigars, and a briefcase full of things he cannot live without. So, when the first fight begins a few minutes later, we're also welcoming Shaji Kailas to the renovated new world of mass he built decades ago.
This world includes everything from a deep itch to beat up every policeman posted here along with his dizzyingly fast shots that make moments out of nothing. In an instance, a casual one-second shot of Kuriachan opening and shutting a car door demanded that a whole camera gets rigged onto its door for one effect. In another, a crane shot takes us through hundreds of trees in an estate as though a body-cam has been strapped onto Tarzan. And when it comes to the all-important mundu madakkikuthal scene, DOP Abhinandan Ramanujam's camera dances back and forth to match the creases of the mundu. Along with Prithviraj's own powers at becoming the achayan, there are not many who can define mallu swag like Shaji can.
One of the reasons he's able to pull it off is its 90's setting. If Joshiy, with Porinju Mariam Jose, recreated the decade he owned anyway, this is Shaji Kailas doing the same with his decade. That 90's feeling is also very much a part of the writing. So, when an elaborate scene is written around one man chasing down another to communicate one bit of information, the lack of mobile phones in the era springs at you at a script level. These are little things that keep our expectations in check even as the film treads through a series of beats you've already seen coming.
That familiarity is one of Kaduva's biggest assets. This is no place for realistic action scenes that look and feel dirty. Everything is set a few notches higher than normal and the feeling is also that of the Malayalam action film going back to its better, bigger days. And when Shaji Kailas chooses to use the roar of a kaduva (like he did in Narasimham) to compliment these action scenes, it feels strangely nostalgic. And in terms of a plot, even the manner in which the State politics of the time is woven into the screenplay with extremely familiar characters, contribute to this feeling.
You can't underline just how much such ideas have contributed to making Kaduva a satisfying experience. So, when the film introduces a man with mental health issues as a serious weapon against the hero, you have to calm yourself down and remember the film it wants to be. The same goes with women. Their role in the screenplay is that of merely being plot points to further rattle the male ego.
Yet you have to give it to Jakes Bejoy's background score and Abhinandan Ramanujam's camera for working overtime to re-interpret what could have been a 30-year-old film. Not only do they get exactly what the director's trying to make, but they also give it their own individual tributes to make something old feel new. The result is a balls-out unpretentious action movie that owns every second of its pitch as an ultimate male revenge fantasy.