Cast: Arun Vijay, Mahima Nambiar
Arun Vijay swaggers a tad too much, as if always aware that a photo op is around the corner – but he has a smouldering presence, and he's just right as Assistant Commissioner Vetrimaran in Kuttram 23. When we first see him, he's waking up, stretching. Almost as if by reflex, he reaches for his gun, checks it. I laughed – it's as though he's making sure it's waking up and stretching too, getting ready for the day.
But the real explosions are underway in another room in his house, where his brother and sister-in-law, celebrating their anniversary, fall at his parents' feet, seeking blessings. The mother is miffed because the couple is childless. The discussion continues at the breakfast table, when, over idlis, the father asks about an upcoming appointment with a fertility doctor. It's a reminder that, in India, babies are everyone's business.
The opening scene is set in a church, which is filmed in horror-movie angles. A priest drops dead. Shadows run across the walls. The soundtrack is filled with sawing violins and a bellowing demon chorus – I half-expected the gates of hell to yawn open. It's all very OTT, and it all fits perfectly with the plot, which is pulp heaven. (It's based on a novel by Rajesh Kumar.)
Some of the conversations are overly emphatic. And the film is far too long. But this length is what allows the story to unspool with tantalising slowness.
As the film progresses, we see that the breakfast-table scene at Vetrimaran's home was no accident. Pregnancy is the movie's motor, and there's some unexpectedly touching subtext about artificial insemination and the Indian notion of women's "purity." We get doctors playing god, and as in all self-respecting pulp thrillers, we also get unintended laughs. Like the villain with a psycho-motive who uses syringes filled with paralysing fluids instead of guns. When push comes to shove, when it's time for a fight, he declares, "I'm just not medically trained but also physically." Someone should make a ring tone of this.
The writing isn't great. I'm still wondering why the heroine (Mahima Nambiar, who has a refreshing girl-next-door prettiness) had to be involved with the case, and the unmasking of the villain is clumsy. Some of the conversations are overly emphatic. And the film is far too long. But this length is what allows the story to unspool with tantalising slowness. And the craft is impeccable – it always is in Arivazhagan's films.
I especially enjoyed the action sequences, which are shot and edited beautifully. When Vetrimaran fights one of the bad guys in a claustrophobic hotel room, we see not a hero but a man desperately trying to avoid getting killed. The camera gives the illusion that a television photographer was on the scene, running around and broadcasting live footage. This pulp has polish.
Watch the trailer of Kuttram 23: