Thalavan Review: Stuck Between Complex and Convoluted Is This Well-Made Workplace Drama

When the film gives a great setup to actors like Asif Ali and Biju Menon, the investigation comes alive, creating real narrative urgency
Thalavan Review: Stuck Between Complex and Convoluted Is This Well-Made Workplace Drama

Director: Jis Joy

Writers: Jis Joy, Sharath Perumbavoor, Anand Thevarkad

Cast: Biju Menon, Asif Ali, Miya George

Duration: 150 mins

Available in: Theatres

One can take notes from Thalavan’s screenwriters, Anand Thevarkatt and Sarath Perumbavoor, on how to write a great setup. The investigation the film revolves around is first presented in hindsight as one of the many episodes in a retired police officer’s video biography series (read Charithram Enniloode). But as we go into the past and into this case, the film isn’t trigger-happy to begin with THE murder. It spends valuable time building up to it, doing a stellar job of introducing us to a police station, its officers and the complex interpersonal dynamics that dictate its workings. 

They seem to have cracked a code in the way they’ve done this given how quickly we’re immersed into this case. It doesn’t paint all officers as either bad or good, creating within us the sort of curiosity that makes each character worth investing in. We’re pushed into their petty fights, ego battles and hierarchies with the intensity of a well-written workplace drama. So when a murder takes place with one officer at its centre, everyone becomes culpable. 

It’s this root idea that makes Thalavan immediately different from other crime dramas. By spending this half hour on its characters, we’re trained to never take anyone lightly. What makes this setup cleverer is how it gets us to think that the crime may or may not have been committed by police officers who are ultimately trained to think like criminals. So when you give this setup to actors like Asif Ali (Karthik) and Biju Menon (Jayashankar), the investigation comes alive, creating real narrative urgency.

Asif Ali and Biju Menon in Thalavan
Asif Ali and Biju Menon in Thalavan

What this does is make the film’s next move impossible to predict and at any given time, you’re suspecting at least four to five characters. Even smaller sub-plots like the one involving a spurned cable TV operator, keep playing in the back of our mind as we try to puzzle together its complex setup. With half a dozen threads and multiple revenge motives written into its central plot, Thalavan could have gone anywhere with its third act. But how much of this complexity becomes too much of a good thing and when does it all become a bit too convoluted? 

Somewhere in the second half, you tend to feel as though you’re wrestling with too much information. Not only are there too many characters by this point but then you find that the film is introducing even more. The tight grip it had over all the sub-plots starts to get loose at some point and we get the sense that the film is simply shifting the goalpost keep things unpredictable. Which is the price it ultimately pays even when it gets to its highly dramatic ending. In a great crime drama, the suspense comes from the fact that the killer is right in front of you, hiding in plain sight. But in Thalavan, although the ending remains impossible to imagine, you never feel the twist hit you because you were never given the information to get there by yourself. 

A still from Thalavan
A still from Thalavan

No harm in watching this film simply as a spectator but this treatment robs itself of the intensity of having created a participant out of the viewer. Even so, with its solid performances and absorbing visuals, it remains engaging for the most part. And with that solid opening, there are always payoffs that are just waiting to deliver like how the film resolves the equation between Karthik and Jayashankar. What begins as an ego battle transforms organically into camaraderie and then into a silent friendship without making a big deal of it. When you look closely, it’s eventually their ego that saves them, with both of them getting their own redemption arcs. 

And with the right amount of surprises, including a hilarious stretch involving a police search party and a seedy lodge, the film finds ways to win back your attention. You may still have issues with the need for a long prison fight scene, an ultra-gimmicky tail-end and the odd placement of a character like Jaffer Idukki’s, but you find yourself witnessing a film made by a man with real control over his craft. If Jis Joy felt out of place making a U-turn with Innale Vare, he’s right at home in the seedy, bloody world of Thalavan. Apparently, this brand ambassador of feel-good cinema is just as good at making you feel bad as well.         

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