Cast: Kalaiyarasan, Karunakaran, Vatsan Chakravarthy, Gautham Harikrishnan, Venkat Prabhu, Chinni Jayanth, Abirami Iyer
Director: Murali Karthick
Murali Karthick's directorial debut Kalavu released on the streaming platform Zee5 last week. It means you won't find it on Book My Show. It means the film bypassed the theatres and landed on your digital screens. It means original content will find a home one way or the other. This, however, doesn't mean that everything out there on the millennial-friendly sites is precious. There's far too much filth, but Kalavu is an endearing thriller that'll calm your nerves by the time you reach the end credits.
The movie starts off with Ramesh (Gautham Harikrishnan) throwing up in a B-grade restroom. As he walks out of the door and enters another one, you realise that he's in a single-screen theatre along with his drinking buddies (Kalaiyarasan as Sujith and Vatsan Chakravarthy as Stephen). The movie they're watching is totally unimportant, for the inner lives of the three men are being discussed. Since Kalaiyarasan is the most well-known face amongst these people, Murali puts him in the center.
Just a few minutes later, the director takes you to a couple that's exchanging stolen kisses in a moving car. And, as the woman (Abirami Iyer as Shruthi) and the theatre appeared in the same frame, I sensed that the plot would thicken. Even then, I wasn't ready for the googly that was thrown at me. The old man who looks after the theatre (played by Chinni Jayanth) tells the passersby that he saw three men on a bike attack Shruthi to snatch her jewelry. As we've only heard Shruthi's shrieks, and, not actually witnessed the assault, it's difficult for us to take the old man's words at face value. Nevertheless, Kalavu picks up pace and makes you forget Ramesh's shenanigans soon after the title card flares up. Yes, it pops up only after setting up the premise.
Also, it becomes quite clear from the early stages that Sujith and his friends are far removed from the socio-economic class that Shruthi belongs to. Just a couple of scenes set in Shruthi's and Sujith's houses are enough to tell you about their backgrounds. But those issues don't erupt in this movie even though there's ample space for it. And the entire set of cop characters – from the junior level to the Inspector (played by Venkat Prabhu) – forms a sort of universe where they remind you of the deadly men in uniform from Vetrimaaran's National Award winning film Visaaranai.
Unlike Visaaranai, the cops don't resort to violence to make the innocents break down under pressure. Prabhu himself alternates between being a good cop and a bad cop. He asks the suspects if they want tea before questioning them (the qualities of a good cop) and when they say they don't know anything about the chain snatching incident, he uses another trick immediately – humiliation. Prabhu's performance is easily the best despite Karunakaran getting cast in a role that no filmmaker would associate with him.
Like the 2016 Telugu thriller Kshanam, some actors in Kalavu are cast against their type. There, Vennela Kishore and Satyam Rajesh starred in roles that required them to break stereotypes; and, in this Tamil noir, Prabhu, Karunakaran, and, to an extent, Chinni Jayanth, too, have come out of their regular caves.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Gautham (Karunakaran) take matters into his own hands the minute he learns some secrets about his wife. Karunakaran, who accompanies male leads in other films, is terrific as he delivers the lines he's been given as one of the protagonists here. Take the scene where he manipulates Chinni Jayanth's character, for instance. He invites the latter to drink with him and tries to extract some information about his personal life. When he gets what he wants, he makes him an offer he can't refuse.
In fact, the only female character that has an arc is on a ventilator in the ICU. Though Shruthi isn't Shiuli Iyer (Banita Sandhu) from the Hindi drama October, the movie daringly revolves around her.
This is surely Kalaiyarasan's finest film since Pa. Ranjith's Madras which released in the second half of 2014. If he, too, like Karunakaran, keeps breaking the boxes he's been put in often, he'll definitely come out with a lot more amazing screen turns.