Kaappaan is what you’d ostensibly get if you fed the ‘necessary ingredients’ of a commercially successful film into a computer, and it spat out a script. The film feels cold, like a synthetic, lifeless product manipulatively designed to subscribe to a formula. Take the scene in which Joseph (Samuthirakani), the director of the Special Protection Group, and wife share their love story. The scene is calculated as a warm moment, warmth that you know will later be utilised to draw your empathy—something like the Madhavan-Soha Ali Khan relationship in Rang De Basanti. However, the story Joseph and wife tell us of they got together, is astonishingly emotionless. It’s like the computer scanned through hundreds of old Tamil films, and regurgitated what had often passed for a romantic proposal. That would also likely explain the existence of the ‘bar song’ in this film—the sort in which skimpily clad women dance to entertain drunken men, while the noble hero is in pursuit of the villain. The writers of this film are not beyond hinting at an escapist duet too, at a horrible, horrible time in the story, but thankfully, stop with a romantic scene. Instead, you get that song at the end of the film—a happily ever after—when Kathir (Suriya) and Anjali (Sayyeshaa) engage themselves in some sort of ritualistic dance in icy locales. By then, they are the only people smiling.
Even the romance between Kathir and Anjali is established under strange—disturbingly strange—circumstances. Like in Saaho, the heroine here gets drunk on a mission. Kathir, the responsible man that he is, escorts her to her hotel room. She suddenly picks up a knife because the computer responsible for this script said so. He tries to calm her down, but somehow in the process, and nobody will truly know how, her clothes end up getting torn. She passes out and wakes up confused and concerned about the night before. Somewhere around this time, Joseph, Kathir’s friend, offers him a nugget of sagely advice: “Ponnunga seiyaadha nu sonna, sei nu artham.” The computer has probably not watched Nerkonda Paarvai yet.
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Anjali has a job in this film—she’s an Assistant Press Secretary working for the government, and yet, is defined by the niggly inconveniences she causes the hero. Of course, she also gets into trouble from time to time, and the onus of saving her is on Kathir, who else. When she’s doing neither, she’s a puppy in love, desperate for romantic attention from the heartthrob hero. By this time, you have forgotten that this woman loses her father right at the beginning of the film, a loss that is treated as a gimmick. She’s a distraction at best, and Kathir treats her like a lovable pet. When she comes dressed in a yellow saree, he says something about amman kovil koozh. Later, a couple of transgender women mistake her for a sex worker. Someone passes a ‘double XL’ comment at her. In fact, Kaappaan is strangely obsessed, for a brief while at least, with double entendres. There’s talk of some ‘biryani aunty’. Joseph says the aunty is 40+, and then clarifies he’s not talking about her age. Was the computer fed some material from our unfunny adult comedies?
Suriya and Mohanlal seem quite serious about their roles, but the film not so much about its premise, about the believability of its setting. A young prime minister is shown joking around with the press and sharing his sexual exploits in response to some serious questions—and gets adored by the press for it. Quite a few of the twists in this film concern bugs being planted in seemingly secure spaces, and it’s entirely up to the convenience of the story whether these are easy or hard to find by the characters. In some cases, security professionals with scanners fail to identify them. In some others, like in Joseph’s house after an attack, they get discovered in a jiffy—even if they are in a chandelier.
Never do you truly believe that this film has a real understanding of the world and its politics. A scene between the Indian prime minister and the Pakistan ambassador plays out like some school student’s imagination of how it would probably be. A short exchange between the Prime Minister and the opposition leader feels like a skit. This is a film that’s testingly long at over 160 minutes, but one that doesn’t have the time to really familiarise you with one of the two antagonists. He’s a Pakistan recruit at one point, goes on to begin working for an Indian businessman, and at one point of time, seems to be in it for himself. He talks a lot more than he should—like in our old films when villains talk and talk until the hero’s in a position to take them down. Kaappaan feels like an old bore, one that lacks honesty and soul.
It tries to keep proceedings lively with its convoluted back-and-forth writing gimmick. Even trivial developments get bizarre flashbacks—like Kathir looking lovestruck at a book (Love Me in the Dark) on his table. It’s clear that he’s thinking about Anjali, but the film gives you a small flashback of how she gifted him this book. It also gives you the strange detail of how she chose this book owing to a discount. Anjali is probably joking and being all cutesy, but in a film that’s already bloated, such flashbacks only serve to heighten your frustration.
At the heart of this film—even though it doesn’t have one—is the idea that it’s all right to sacrifice an individual for the safety of a group of people. This question is an ethical dilemma, one philosophers have debated for centuries. Kaappaan hardly shows evidence of any interest or awareness to warrant its declaration on the matter to be taken seriously. It supports the sacrificing of an individual or two if a group were to benefit, but walking out among sullen faces, it felt like the inverse had happened. The computer, it seems, has much more to learn about us.
Director: KV Anand
Cast: Suriya, Mohanlal, Arya, Sayyeshaa
Rating: 1. 5 stars
(This review originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)