The formal and serious tone of the title 'Kerala Crime Files (KCF)' might mislead many. Although the series is a murder mystery, it unfolds more like a slow-burn dramedy than a thriller. At the core of it is a murder of a sex worker in a low-end lodge. We know the name of the murderer, a witness who has seen him, his unique identity — squint eye, and his fake address. Over the next six episode, we learn a lot more about him, his life and his work. Yet, every time the police team — which includes Circle Inspector Kurian (Lal), Sub Inspector Manoj (Aju Varghese), an experienced Pradeep (Zhinz Shan), Sunil (Navas Vallikkunnu) and newbie Vinu (Sanju Sanichen) — closes in on him, they move further away from solving the case.
It is heartening to see Kurian and Manoj continue the investigation despite being told that the sex worker’s murder case can be easily closed since no one would bat an eye. There aren’t multiple murders or a famous personality’s involvement or a killer on the run to give us the cinematic thrills that we usually associate with the genre. Instead, we have a man who accidentally or intentionally killed a sex worker and is going about his regular chores somewhere. He even visits the police station once but the cops do not realise it in time. With not much at stake and no new leads for the police to chase, the series puts a thrilling spin on some formulaic scenes of revelation. Several times in the series, as new investigation angles reach a crescendo, we wait in excitement like we wait for a flower pot firecracker to glow but instead, all it does is go up in smoke.
When the same concept is repeated a few more times, you actually find yourself adjusting to the storytelling style of Ashiq Aimar (writer) and Ahammed Khabeer (director), where there are no twists waiting around the corner or any clue lying in plain sight. It is just plain procedures that prove to be futile. “I have seen several pending cases in my life, but nothing has irked me so much,” Kurian says. And this frustration is easily relatable. But that’s also how real police enquires work, right? There's nothing dramatic here either.
Said to be based on a true story, KCF keeps its world closer to reality. So we do not just get to see the investigation but also take a closer look at the personal lives of the policemen, where one battles divorce, one takes care of a pregnant wife, one is newly married and another is coming to terms with what being a cop actually means. Over the six days we spend with these cops, we witness how they make time for their families, their sacrifices, their hunger, and, sometimes, food cravings. For instance, in a sequence where Manoj is waiting for a report on phone call details, Sunil drinks tea and Vinu orders a milkshake. He explains that it will help satiate his hunger and focus on the case. But Manoj returns rather quickly after collecting the details. The camera captures how by the time the shop owner garnishes the milkshake with some jellies and dry fruits and places it on the table, Vinu has to get back into the jeep; he longingly gazes at the milkshake, as they leave for the next investigation spot.
The makers more than make up for the slow screenplay with a few quirky characters and situational humour—such as the scenes shared by Sunil and Vinu and others like where the witness describes the murderer as someone who has a “long nose, lean cheeks, fat lips, tarred-colour eyebrows and a beard that resembles a V-shaped candy". His Malayalam slang make these words sound like a poetic character description in a novel.
The show's attempt to keep it real, however, results in some scenes often overstaying their welcome; we see characters just walk towards a place for at least ten seconds. And take the scene where Manoj locates a police CCTV, for instance. After investigating at the local phone booth from where the murderer made a call, he walks some distance, puffing a cigarette, before his eyes fall on the CCTV. But this one-minute sequence has a lot of random events — sugarcane being crushed for juice, two fellow officers investigating in nearby stores, Manoj’s super slow walks (it’s not slo-mo effect, the camera captures his whole walk to the end of the road with utmost patience), a set of tickets being sealed — packed in to make us feel the race against the clock. However, this effect doesn’t land at all. Even if the sequence is hardly a minute, you find yourself sighing at least a couple of times waiting not in anticipation, but with vexation.
In the same scene, the music is instantly cut as soon as his eyes land on the CCTV, and it makes for a very powerful moment. However, when the same technique is used in a few other scenes later, the instant cut feels abrupt, and Hesham Abdul Wahab’s music often spoonfeeds the tension.
KCF might initially feel like a frustrating watch, one that will drive you up the wall. Could it have worked better as a 2-hour long film, yes. You will feel the passing of time; with seconds feeling like minutes and each episode, despite being under thirty minutes seeming an hour long. But stay patient, and the first Malayalam web series will be a rewarding ride.