Kalari Review: A disappointing theatre of war
The film is largely unintersting and derivative, and is only somewhat salvaged by the final 15 minutes
The word kalari means battlefield and denotes the space for performing the ancient martial arts of Kalaripayattu, which was learnt by the kings of Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. Now it is important to set this context because this shows that the martial arts form was performed freely across olden day Kerala and Tamil Nadu and was not just popular in one state. The director of Kalari, the film, tries to bring this whole context of brotherhood and commonality between present day Kerala and Tamil Nadu in a town called Vanduruthy where the whole film takes place. This town, in a prolonged opening with a narrator voiceover, is established as one where problems consistently keep happening yet everyone lives on in solidarity. Later in the film, after a murder, one of the natives says that at least four murders a day are the norm for the town and this is nothing new. Religion crisscrosses the lives of the town's people much like the river that runs through it. The town wakes up to the sounds of a train thundering by. The director takes pain to establish the town itself as a character, a battlefield, a kalari.
Cast: Krishna, Vidya Pradeep, Samyuktha, Vishnu, MS Bhaskar, Jayaprakash, Krishna Deva
Director: Kiran Chand
Now once you establish a battlefield, it is important that the battle and the characters that participate in it are interesting. There are two battles in this film - the yawn-worthy external fight sequences and the poorly written, yet important, internal battle waged by the lead character, Murugesh (Krishna). Murugesh is a coward and abhors all sorts of violence. He submits to the demands of the nasty elements that patrol Vanduruthy because he has a sister he adores and he fears that something bad will befall her if he refuses to help these people out. But to his sister, Thenmozhi's (Samyuktha) credit, she is a crusader who takes both men and women head on in fights. Some of these fights end with the miscreants behind bars, who are then bailed out by Murugesh. All Murugesh wants to do is marry his sister off to someone outside of this town so that he can rest easy. In the midst of all this is Anwar (Vishnu), Thenmozhi's love interest, who is quite unruly himself and, unknown to Themozhi, peddles in human trafficking. Then there is Maari (a brilliant MS Bhaskar who is the only one who seems to have done his homework on the accent), Murugesh's alcoholic father who keeps getting money from building contractor Siddique (Jayaprakash) and his adopted son Moorthy (Krishna Deva) to the point that he wants to marry his daughter off to the latter. The rest of the story is about which of Murugesh, Thenmozhi and Maari's plans comes to fruition and what happens because of that.
Kalari's family battles are completely uninteresting and the twists that ensue are unimaginative and derivative. Some decisions taken, some dialogues uttered seem so completely out of character that you wonder why the director spent much of the first half on character establishment and development. Where Kalari somewhats redeems itself is in two places. First is the whole angle that delves into why Murugesh is the way he is. In one sequence, he uses his cowardly nature in a beautifully choreographed fight sequence, and in another, he tries his best to overcome that nature of his, but fails. Second is the climax and the last 15 minutes of the film when the town, Murugesh's character curve and the battle all come together for a satisfying end. But a quarter of an hour cannot not make up for the largely unsatisfying two hour runtime before it. And because of that, Kalari is more a wasteland than the blood-soaked arena it aspires to be.