Director: Ram Kumar
Cast: Vishnu Vishal, Amala Paul, Munishkanth
If an image from Raatchasan (Demon) crawls into your eyeballs and gnaws at the brain, it’s this one: a serial killer looms over a petrified little girl, a hammer in his/her hand, with its claw positioned under her chin. One upward stroke, and… The (suggestive) gore in that sentence is intentional, as is the gender ambiguity. Director Ram Kumar teases the boundaries of his “U/A” rating, with impressively disturbing imagery that’s closer to an “A” (gouged-out eyes, and so forth). As for the gender aspect, the fluidity is part of the film’s mystery. Also, the film was titled Cinderella, before the more male-sounding Raatchasan. Perhaps they thought the earlier name was too cute, too Disney. Then again, let’s not forget that in the original version of the fairy tale, by the Brothers Grimm, one of the evil stepsisters cut off her toes in order to squeeze her foot into the glass slipper. It isn’t all that far from a claw hammer under the chin.
Raatchasan begins very unpromisingly. Arun (an impressively focused Vishnu Vishal) is an assistant director looking for a producer who will back his filmmaking debut, but because of family circumstances, he becomes a cop. I wished this whole section had been written differently. Its relevance to the narrative is that Arun wants to make a film about a serial killer and his research will help him track down this film’s serial killer — but we waste a lot of time (this is a long movie), and the story wouldn’t have changed by much even if Arun had been an obsessive serial-killer buff, cutting out and preserving newspaper articles. This is a genre where the slightest flab is detrimental to the film’s well-being. But I did like the touch where Arun throws his bound script into the sea, and it’s borne back to him by the waves. He may never get to make that movie. But the events in it will keep returning to him.
Soon, teenage schoolgirls start vanishing, only to be found mutilated. Arun proposes that they’re looking at a serial killer, but his supervisor, Lakshmi (Suzane George), hates his guts. It’s a one-note character — but I liked that she is humanised when she sings a nursery rhyme to her child over the phone, in the face of mounting irritation that Arun may be right. Viji (Amala Paul) is less interestingly written. She isn’t roped in just for duet duties, but there’s otherwise no colour in the character. She’s just a way Arun stumbles on a vital clue. But Arun’s family is convincingly real: his sister (Vinodhini), brother-in-law (an affecting Ramdoss) and niece Amudha, who isn’t the cute brat we usually get but a sketched-out character. She’s a bad student, not above manipulating Arun to bail her out in school. Had she been better at studies, she wouldn’t have had to change schools, she wouldn’t have met the magician…
If you turn a blind eye to the coincidences (say, the plot point around an autorickshaw) and the obvious red herrings (a suspected killer), the bulk of Raatchasan works. Ghibran’s terrific score is the aural equivalent of bad airplane food — it makes your tummy queasy. In any serial-killer movie, the important things are (a) how the trail of clues leads to the discovery of the killer, and (b) what’s the psycho(logical) reason behind the killer’s elaborate, ritualistic MO. In Raatchasan, (a) is far more impactful than (b). There are many beautifully edited stretches (San Lokesh is the editor) that I sometimes watched slit-eyed. It’s almost an anticlimax when the killer is revealed, though this revelation comes with a flavour that isn’t without interest. After Mundasupatti and Raatchasan, I’m definitely pumped about what Ram Kumar has in store next.