Kalki Movie Review: Charming and occasionally rousing, but lacks punch
Tovino Thomas' first action-packed outing doesn't quite hit the mark
It’s admirable that the writers have not tried to carve Tovino Thomas’ protagonist in the image of the action heroes they grew up with. Despite being fearless and cocky, the character has been made to look like a chain-smoking everyman who at times seems like an extension of Tovino’s character from Theevandi.
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Samyuktha Menon, Shivajith Padmanabhan
Director: Praveen Prabharam
Though the film is titled Kalki, I don’t recall any of the other characters calling him that. He is mostly referred to as the “S.I”. This makes him, in my eyes, a man with no name, like the iconic bounty hunter played by Clint Eastwood in the Dollars trilogy. But I’ll call him K. He is essentially a Malayalam-speaking, khaki-clad cowboy who arrives to clean up a mostly arid land ruled by a fascist party. The police are held captive in their police stations and there is not a single lawyer in sight. The inhabitants are terrified at the thought of defying the party’s main strongman Amarnath (Shivajith), a dictator-like figure dreaded by everyone except his brother Appu (Vinu Vishwalal) and cousin Sangeetha (Samyuktha). It’s a setting characteristic of many iconic American westerns, captured effectively by cinematographer Gautham Shankar.
The film begins and ends with a punch but everything else in between feels relatively dull. K’s fiery entry—both literally and figuratively—would please a lot of Tovino fans. It goes without saying that the actor’s natural charisma helps to a great degree. In one scene, K tells a thug he is made up of iron and later he is seen drinking with his sub-ordinates. Though Tovino holds his own in the action sequences, Jakes Bejoy’s score can only do so much. Before K’s arrival, a considerable amount of time is spent establishing the villains, giving us a sense of the nasty things they’re capable of. Shivajith and Harish Uthaman are delightfully menacing, but then the film suffers from a ‘Marvel villain’ problem—the payoff doesn’t quite do justice to the build-up.
But putting aside Tovino’s charm, I’m in two minds about whether K is really a compelling figure. There seems to be some confusion as to whether to project him as an everyman or a superhero. It’s this contradiction that sometimes works to the film’s detriment. There have been action heroes in Malayalam cinema who are grounded and driven by an emotional backstory. However, in an action film of this sort, where the hero is bold enough to take on a bunch of thugs at the same time, I’d rather the hero didn’t have a backstory unless it’s something we haven’t seen before. A hero like this can be cool enough without a half-baked background to anchor his personality. K would’ve been a much interesting character had there been a certain level of detachment between him and us. Remember Bharatchandran IPS (from Commissioner) or Thevalliparambil Joseph Alex (from The King)? There was nothing relatable about them—they were not one of us—and that’s what made them cooler.
Having said that, there are a couple of cleverly written comical sequences that one doesn’t expect a larger-than-life action hero to be part of. These moments actually have a bigger purpose: to get the audiences to emotionally invest in a lovable supporting character who plays a pivotal part in the hero’s journey in the second half. But the same cannot be said for other background characters who are there just to take the edge off when things get a bit too intense. Though Samyuktha Menon’s Dr. Sangeetha doesn’t make a significant contribution—it feels like her character was written just to make up for the absence of a main female lead—it’s nice to see the actor try something different.
As something designed for a wider audience, Kalki has a few challenges to deal with.
1) To satiate the appetite of cineastes who grew up with the legacy of films like Moonaam Mura, Commissioner, or Inspector Balram,
2) To prove Tovino’s capabilities as an ‘action hero’, and
3) To present an admirable action hero for the present generation.
I’m sure about the second, but not the other two.