King of Kotha Review: A Clever, Self-Aware Action Drama Turns Into An Empty Postcard Of Daggers And Swagger

With the freshness limited to visuals and music alone, the high moments of King Of Kotha get deflated, just when you feel the film is working
King of Kotha Review: A Clever, Self-Aware Action Drama Turns Into An Empty Postcard Of Daggers And Swagger

Director: Abhilash Joshiy

Writer: Abhilash N Chandran

Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Ritika Singh, Aishwarya Lekshmi

Duration: 165 minutes

Available in: Theatres

The opening first hour of Abhilash Joshiy’s King Of Kotha surprises you with its cleverness. Not only do these portions remain a step ahead of the viewer with its presentation and performances, but there’s also a hint of self-awareness that makes it more than just a big, bloated superstar coronation. An example of this is the writing that has gone into the character played by Chemban Vinod. In the context of the complete film, his character Ranjith is what you’d call the smaller villain: the sort of bad guy the hero has to overpower before he gets to the real boss. But in King Of Kotha, not only does Ranjith get a satisfying back story (his love for English comes from a Canadian) and a unique personality, but he’s the film’s only comic relief. Almost every line of his gets a cheer and you begin to miss him when the story moves on. 

The need to talk about a character like Chemban in a film loaded with people just like him arises from a certain lightness that vanishes the moment he vanishes. This includes the highly bombastic introduction sequence that begins with the film’s hero Raju (Dulquer Salmaan) crashing into Chemban’s lair, hours after a major murder. The situation is grim and dangerous, yet the decision to deflate the inherent tension with a series of funny one-liners makes this stretch the only bit that remains unpredictable in a film that is otherwise overpowering with a sense of déjà vu. 

Dulquer Salmaan in King of Kotha
Dulquer Salmaan in King of Kotha

Awkward Punchlines Dilute Serious Moments

This is doubly ironic because it’s the film’s dialogues that continue to let it down in almost every situation right after. Just when you feel like a scene has fought the good fight to deliver on all of its promises, it culminates in a punchline that is either silly or awkward. Among the most obtrusive of these is the way Raju has to talk to his lover, moments after he discovers she’s been cheating. It’s a “mass scene” DQ himself had aced in the climax of CIA, but in King Of Kotha, right when you think the stage is set for a kickass line that’s either heartbreaking or philosophical, you get a play on the word “kali”, but only to suggest that Raju misses being promiscuous. 

It was one of the early signs of just how self-seriously the film was going to take itself. Separated by a gap of ten years, the two halves of the film are presented with a Dulquer each with two different looks and temperaments. The Raju in the first half is what works best for Dulquer. The character is inherently younger and there’s a realness to him. His charm powers its way through love and heartbreak, friendship and betrayal. Given that Raju is on the verge of alcoholism also allows Dulquer the freedom to do more with Raju here. It’s as though Raju starts off as a colourful character with emotions and expressions, only for all that to be quickly turned down to just black and white. 

And this is probably where the film slides away too. From a real person with bruises and injuries, Raju transforms into a full-blown myth after he becomes Raju ‘Madrassi’. Except for a moment of weakness or two, he remains invincible to the point where the film itself turns into a tug of war where we’re just waiting to see which close family member or friend is going to be bumped off next. Which means that even when Raju himself remains a captivating character, there aren’t many a characteristic that give you a deeper understanding of just what or who he is fighting for. For instance, at the interval point, we’re led to believe that he’s being driven by the love for his sister. At a later point, you begin to feel it’s the love for his father. Also in there somewhere is his ex and his friendships, diluting a complex character into a self-sacrificial movie hero.

A still from King of Kotha
A still from King of Kotha

Snapshots of Daggers and Swagger

And you wonder why because the writing tries to create interesting set-ups that could have been put to better use later on. In an earlier scene, we get a grand football sequence you feel has been placed there as just another idea to establish DQ’s athleticism. But when you look back at the way a character refuses to pass the ball, it becomes a decent enough introduction for the film’s most notorious character. Most characters get details such as this: in one case it’s a cat that adds specificity to an older woman. In the case of Manju (Nyla Usha), it’s a secret she’s been hiding from her husband. When such details coalesce with the larger arc, it helps the film to some extent. But when it doesn’t, like with Manju, it becomes one more sub-plot or one more villain Raju has to deal with, adding nothing but screentime to the film.    

But the reason why the film remains watchable throughout is because it finds new ways to tell you things you already know. A part of this is the excellent cinematography by Nimish Ravi and the world-building by the whole production team that creates a fictional Kotha out of thin air. Even in a throwaway scene where you see Raju talking to a foster mother, you feel like pausing the frame to admire just how beautifully they’ve lit up an entire bridge in the background. Almost the entire film has that screenshot quality, urging you to wait for something special, even when the writing fails to generate that excitement. 

With the freshness limited to the visuals and the music department, the moments of high King Of Kotha achieve quickly deflate just when you feel the film has done its job. Sadly, there’s only so much you can do with daggers and swagger when the runtime is close to three hours.

Watch King of Kotha Official Trailer

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