Over the years, the word ‘commercial’ has acquired certain negative shades when used to refer to cinema. A ‘commercial film’ having an indomitable hero. It meant having songs and humour. You had to have a good dose of action as well. And sentiment to reach the family audiences. These masala movies have led us to believe a ‘commercial’ film has to be built on a specific template.
It couldn’t be anything else, especially if there’s a star in it. What will the fans say, you know? But around two years ago, Lokesh Kanagaraj, director of Maanagaram and Kaithi, emphatically stated that everything a star wants out of an ‘entertainer’, can be organically conjured even in so-called offbeat films. With Kaithi, Lokesh has delivered on his promise.
Would you believe me if I said Kaithi is a thoroughly commercial film? Let’s take that list again. Mass moments? Humour? Sentiment? Name it and you will find it. Some terrific writing coherently weaves all these ‘commercial elements’ into the fabric of the premise and the screenplay, much like in Lokesh’s first film, Maanagaram.
Kaithi is cut from the same cloth. Humour spurts from unlikely places. Both films have several ‘innocent’ characters who are pushed into extraordinary situations. They are also built around humanity, and the lack of it. Lokesh seems to enjoy expounding on the myriad equations that two strangers develop under extraordinary situations. But Kaithi is bigger, and in a way, better as well. The coincidences in Maanagaram had been a minor grouse, but here, there’s no room for it. Lokesh presents a complicated story with extreme clarity and confidence, respecting the audience’s intelligence.
Humanity isn’t the only theme of Kaithi. There is a sense of equality in the treatment of characters. Don’t we all have a story? At least the characters in this film do. What Kaithi does is shine an even spotlight on them all, not just on his lead. Again, similar to Maanagaram. Thus, characters feel whole, even if we don’t know much about them. The writing and convincing performances create a lot of flavour even with minimal information. The familiar faces which form the cast also help. Not only do they add a certain heft to the roles, but they also ensure we aren’t lost in the multiple story arcs. And what joy it is to see well-utilised supporting actors.
Sure, Dilli (Karthi) gets more whistle-worthy moments, but the film is aware of the creative liberties it indulges in. Some character or the other constantly catches the questions in our head and answers them as well. This leads to an ‘enna da build up over a iruku’ at one point. At another, it is about the number of bullets being used. Again, all indicative of a filmmaker who respects his audience.Kaithi just sweeps us along with its action. I would agree with Lokesh when he called Kaithi a pure action film. A special shout to Anbariv who give us some cool stunt sequences.
The action pieces are stacked like a game through the film, and they keep leveling up each time. And the bigger it gets, the crazier it becomes. The final act, in a way, reminded me of Varathan. Kaithi uses our Kollywood-conditioned minds to good effect in creating theatrical moments.Even when there isn’t any action, something is always brewing. Introductions are made, premises are set, hurdles are planted rapidly. Blink and you’ll miss a connecting link.
But most of this information is given to us in intelligible pellets. Kaithi moves at breakneck speed, its frantic cinematography and edit only slowing when Dilli talks about his family. The sentiment feels a bit incongruous but it’s understandable. Had Mansoor Ali Khan done the role, maybe Dilli would have more unconditionally grey? But with Karthi playing him, Dilli had to be someone who the larger masses will root for. He had to be white.
While the rest of the film is on firm ground, these are the portions that feel unmoored. But Karthi, the actor, reins it in. Dilli gets a generic flashback, but Karthi sells it with such genuine restrained emotion that we buy it. And the film turned meta for me for just a moment. With Dilli looking like Paruthiveeran, what if the latter and Muthazhagu had ended up together? The story of Dilli and his wife Viji feels that way. Suddenly, even the most common of stories gets a fascinating twist. There is more such clever use of popular content to the film’s advantage — the inspired use of Jumbalakka and Aasai Adhigam Vechu — which act almost like a commentary.
Remember what I said about being self-aware? No film is without flaws and VFX proves to be Kaithi’s Achilles heel, as is the increasing frequency with which we are expected to suspend our logical faculties. But then, these are minor grouses in a film that lands most of its punches. I was reminded of what Lokesh said in one of his interviews. Nothing that happens in Kaithi is really 'logical' in strict terms. The challenge was to present it as convincingly as possible. And Kaithi does one helluva job with that.
Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj