Kaithi – A Masala Movie Done Differently

As I returned home from MAMI, intellectual fatigue hit me hard with great films in Portuguese, Arabic, French, Assamese and what not! So, all I wanted was a well made tasty masala movie for my stomach that was filled with healthy organic films. And yes, Kaithi was that Chicken Biriyani that you have after Navratri(I’m aware of the odd timing of the reference)

At a point in Kaithi, Dilli, the protagonist is asked why he had to commit a murder that led to his 10-year imprisonment. A perfect juncture for a 20-minute flashback that could present the hero in a different look, and an opportunity to bring in a heroine, making it evident for a duet to pave its way into an action movie. But this doesn’t happen. Instead, we get Karthi, who plays Dilli, share his story at a verge of breaking down, and convey the pain of a lifetime through his eyes in a mere 2 minutes. Superlative acting, check.

Karthi as Dilli

Like Lokesh Kanagaraj’s previous, Managaram, Kaithi is also a story about characters’ wrangles to get out of the mess they are contrived into. If Maanagaram was about circumstances of these characters with Chennai gelling them together, conversely, we never get to see a city or even the daylight, for that matter. What Chennai was in the former is the commissioner office here, a more physical location that coalesces the narrative on the whole.

For a story that spans just over one night, the scope to explore any character in depth is minimal, and it is better when kept that way. All we know is that Dilli is a person who was released from prison after spending ten odd years there. Even though he is released, he hasn’t tasted the freedom yet. In fact, the first time we see him is when he steps out of a police jeep. All that Dilli wants is to reconcile with his daughter whom he has never seen, and the daughter herself is more than excited for some special person who is going to come and meet her, unaware that it is her father. So, obviously, the emotional connect feels pretty intense because we know what completes these characters’ arc. As he sits on the floor and serves himself biryani, the very first time he senses the aroma is like he got a flavour of freedom and life. However, he is still handcuffed and is forced to oblige the orders of a police officer, Bejoy, who is in dire need of help and uses Dilli for his own purpose. This makes Dilli still a prisoner.

After clearly establishing the conflict within 10 minutes into the film, the atmosphere is built for a mission and the action that comes with very high stakes. Two narratives flow parallelly, while the film comes together at the commissioner office at the end, the tension is held very well with innocent characters’ in the Commissioner office put in danger. The same cannot be said about Dilli’s thread where he has to travel 80 kilometres in a lorry accompanied by the police officer, Bejoy and Kamatchi(who is a riot with his one-liners). The threats this trio faces are very physical; it is either getting stabbed by knives or hit by various weapons. But we know that Dilli can handle dozens of thugs himself. So, while there is no tension in these scenes when these thugs confront them, they instead make up for fantastic mass moments one after the other neatly placed at a generic frequency. As said, the tension is pretty high at the commissioner office because there is no Dilli, i.e. the saviour, and these innocent engineering students and a naive constable(A terrific George Maryan) have to protect themselves as the whole building is under seize. They being not-so-important characters, the threat of death is high, and Lokesh Knagarajan plays with this tension very well.

George Maryan as Napoleon is terrific

From the trailer, I felt it was going to be a Deadshot-meets-fury-road, but amusingly, that is not the case. The action is terrific both with Dilli and without Dilli. I like the fact that the writer let the other characters breath in. Dilli is one among the others in a mess, the mess is not around him. There are aspects which Kaithi could have done better, the relationship between Dilli and Bejoy, being polar opposites could have been explored a bit more which would have resulted in a quirky yet focused duo. A little bit of texture to the students in stuck in the commissioner office would have amped up the tension by exponents.

The writing is razor-sharp. Not only is the film racing towards its destination, the road which Dilli takes, despite being bumpy(literally), makes up for some excellent moments of humour. Humour in the wrong place could be called dark humour, and this is where Kaithi excels in. Kamatchi, check.

A scene from the movie which has ‘mass’ written all over it.

All said and done, Kaithi is supremely entertaining new-gen masala entertainer. My favourite mass moment from the movie is when Dilli and knocked down, and a pile of living thugs fall on him to contain the animal he is. I expected Dilli to rise and these thugs to fly all over the place. Instead, Dilli uses his handcuff to hit on the heads of these thugs. See, it is the same masala movie, but done differently, which is pretty great!

With Kaithi, Lokesh Kanagaraj has built himself as a voice to watch out for.

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